Indigo Dye Soiree in Sonoma

Take one gigantic vat of indigo dye, one beautiful Sonoma backyard, and a handful of textile lovers and you get one very beautiful Sunday afternoon. That's the formula. My dear friend, Kathryn Clark, hosted her second annual indigo soiree this past weekend and it was something of a natural dyers retreat.

We each pitched in a potluck dish to pass, Kathryn outdid herself with gorgeous main dishes and desserts to die for, and we brought our light-colored cotton, linen, wool, and silk goods to her backyard for an afternoon of dyeing.

I love the community building nature of many textile gatherings. A clothing swap, a mending circle, a dye party, or the classic quilting circle--it creates such a beautiful space for community, conversation, and getting the job done. There's something inherently political in these humble and heartfelt circles.

Like our simple gathering is an act of resistance against a much bigger consumer industry that would much prefer we just go to the store and buy whatever it is we are making, mending, or designing. It makes me breathe a little easier when these gatherings occur. I do believe it matters when we take the time and attention to make things with our own two hands. Even more satisfying when we can share this making with friends and colleagues.

I'm convinced that indigo wants to be shared. Unlike some other simpler, smaller dye vats (a small pot of onion skins, a pile of wild fennel, or a few cups of coffee grounds) the indigo vat requires more in-depth preparation, calculation, and tending. There are several different types of indigo dyeing techniques--stemming from different cultures, different customs, and different times in the history of industrialization. But regardless of the method used, it seems to me indigo wants to be shared.

It wants conversation, connection, and communion. And what better way to share shibori techniques or compare folding, twisting, and tying experiments than with a group of friends? It reminds of me graduate school, or an artists residency, or more simply summer camp for adults. There is a great pleasure in learning from somebody else's experiments and also sharing what you've learned with the kind and receptive women around you. I concur.

I am still rinsing, drying, and finishing my indigo dyed pieces from yesterday's vat. So I can't yet show you my finished creations. They dried overnight on the tiny clothesline on my back steps and this afternoon they soaked in vinegar water before being rinsed with cold water and a mild detergent.

By tomorrow they should be ready for another washing to avoid too much crocking--that's when the blue of the indigo rubs off on your skin, your light-colored furniture, or anything else it touches. It's also why our blue jeans fade with time. I'm researching techniques to reduce crocking. Thinking, a few cold rinses and line-drying should be enough.

I dyed two of my own tops, one pair of my son's pajama bottoms, a vintage baby gown, and two pieces of fabric. The dye vat was much stronger when we started than when we finished as you can see in the range of blues from very dark indigo to a pale sky blue.

You can see hints of the shibori techniques on the pajamas and fabric while the tops and dress received a full, untied dunk. (You can see the damp vintage baby gown here below, I couldn't resist.) With such a crowded vat each garment received a mottled color as there wasn't enough room for it to move freely and receive equal parts dye. I like this variation though. I'm okay with mottled.

I can't wait to add these garments and fabrics to my wardrobe and studio but I also admit that it raises my spirits each time I walk into our tiny back porch and see the indigo dyed goods strung from my tiny back steps. Like my own urban homestead is very much alive and well.



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  2. Maybe adding vinegar when you wash them would prevent some of the crocking?

    1. Yes, I did actually do a vinegar wash on this batch. Seems to be mixed reviews about vinegar on plant-based fibers... seems maybe it was used on animal-based fibers but some debate about it's usefulness in cottons, etc. Hmm. Other folks suggest that indigo must crock as part of it's finishing process. I'm still experimenting. But, yes, vinegar soak this time around. Fingers crossed!


Thank you for your comments, friends. I like to think we are creating a dialogue in this space--building a virtual community.