Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Natural Dye Day & Bundle Bash

Fabric dying is a love-hate sort of thing for me. I'm always attracted to felt and fabrics dyed by other people, especially Christi over at Sweet Pea Path. I get all excited about trying it, and take classes or experiment on my own. But the total unpredictability of it, the incredible number of variables that can throw the results one way or another, seems overwhelming sometimes. In the end, there's a daunting amount one needs to learn from others (like India Flint) and by experimenting PLUS lots of luck before one can expect to get pleasing results.

Still... when opportunity comes along, I always jump right in again....

This time, a group of Lopez Island fiber artists experimenting with shibori invited me to join them for a natural-dye play-day! We met July 13th, each bringing plant materials, fabrics and dye pots of various metals.

Here's my basket o' goodies: drift wood for wrapping the bundles, madrona leaves and bark, a bunch of flowers, leaves, berries, and some lichen. Being new at this, I didn't have a clue what might produce color on the fabrics. Fortunately other participants brought botanicals known to work.

Here's my stash of fabrics, all torn from used clothes purchased at our thrift store. Mostly it's linen, with a few pieces of cotton and silk. I boiled the linen and cotton fabrics in water + alum to pre-mordant them, making the fibers more receptive to taking color.

The thing that looks like a washcloth is blended cotton/silk yarn that I knit into this swatch. I threw it into the mordant bath as well. This is what I unraveled and used to wrap/tie all of my bundles, knowing it would take dye too (you'll see further down)!

Here are a few other things I planed to include in my bundles - rusty nails and washers, copper spirals, and tyvek tags for noting what I put in each bundle and what dye treatment it received.

And these are packets of spices - turmeric,  curry, cayenne, paprika, and yellow mustard. Why not give them a try too?

After wrapping our bundles, we put them in one of several dye pots. One was just a steam bath. Others included boiling mullein, boiling eucalyptus leaves, hot tansy ragwort, and cold berberis. The picture above shows my bundles after being in the dye or steam bath for an hour or two.

Then came the waiting and the mildew.  The bundles need to cure as long as possible. We decided to have a Bundle Bash, a grand opening of our collective bundles, on July 30. We agreed not to open the bundles until them. A problem developed with some of them... they started growing mold... black spots/areas, especially on the underside of the bundles. A second steam bath halted the growing, and a very slow bake in the oven to hasten drying seemed to prevent new growth.

So here we are two days ago, gathered like kids at Christmas, unwrapping our bundles, hard pressed to take even one moment to hold up a sample for the picture.

Here's a picture of all of mine. They need to continue curing for at least another week. Then I'll dip them in salt water (hoping to further enhance the colors) and let them air dry. Finally, after all that, I can wash/iron them, and see what they REALLY look like.

As I look at them together like this, they seem so muddy, so similar to old paint rags or maybe fabric scraps from making costumes for an end-of-the-world zombie movie. Harsh words, I know. That's what I mean by love-hate relationship.

On the love side, some of them, some parts of them, have potential. For what? I'm not sure... some sort of quilted, hand stitched fiber art, I guess.

This is the one made with the spices. It's the only bright one that I made, and it's much brighter than anything anybody else made. The fabric is silk and the dye bath was just steam. Obviously color from spices has potential. I'm thinking it could be sprinkled over leaves or other resist objects to leave patterns of un-dyed fabric showing. Hmmm... that's one to try!

This one is madrona leaves and rusty nails/washers on linen. The dye bath was tansy ragwort.

This one is eucalyptus and mullein leaves in a eucalyptus bath cooked in an iron pot. The fabric was some that Christi gave me; I think it's raw silk. I was surprised and pleased with the green color of the prints made by the eucalyptus leaves.

This one is clematis, lichen, and copper spirals wrapped with a pale lavender linen in a berberis bath. The clematis and lichen didn't seem to give very much color. But the mildew made some nice marks, don't you think?!

Lastly, here is the yarn I used to wrap the bundles. I expect this will be quite fun to use!

A lot of time and work went into getting this far. Is it worth it? I don't know yet.  But I can say this... I'm eagerly anticipating giving these a salt water bath next week, so I can get them washed and ironed!!! be continued....


  1. I had no idea it was this involved to dye fabric.

  2. Perhaps its not the outcome of the dying, its the sharing time you have with others. I'm sure there must have been a lot of laughter involved, and that's all good. Glad you had a good time with it. Now...what are you going to do next?

  3. I love your results! I couldn't wait to see your pieces unfurled, and they certainly didn't disappoint. I wish I lived in close proximity to the ocean, so I could do a final sea bath for my pieces. I think that eco dyeing/printing provides such a connection between us and nature, that it is almost irresistible. Joining 'our group' and becoming aware of this whole process has been wonderful for me. I am meeting some class act folks and learning to appreciate nature, while slowing down.
    Your blog pose was wonderful!


  4. well, ahem, your pose wasn't bad, but your post was awesome! LOL


  5. What a fun post! The results are beautiful, particularly the golden one, which is in my favorite color palette. Thanks for sharing this!

  6. What a great post! Especially returning home (Israel) from Whidbey and its wonderful vegetation :) thanks

  7. Well I am not really a fan of the textiles but I do love how your yarns turned out. My sister has been trying this kind of dying recently and also got mixed results. I suppose you need to do more tests to get the result you want.


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!