Monday, 27 July 2015

Beautiful Blues: Indigo Dyeing

Indigo dyed fibres

Indigo dyed fibres

On a not totally horrible Sunday I decided to have a go at indigo dyeing. I've always been interested in natural dyeing and over the past years have collected a number of recipes and possibly one or two supplies! I have played around a little bit with natural dyeing and I really like the unpredictable nature of it. The idea of being able to create colour from something I've grown also appeals and as we are in the process of doing up the garden this will hopefully soon become a reality.


Fibres and materials


Wetting the fibres before dyeing

I set aside the whole day which turned out to be a good move, although it's not difficult it is helpful to have time to work through the different stages of the process. I like dyeing as it's a mixture of science and art. It involves basic chemistry and the results are always exciting to me. I have a fairly loose approach to following the 'rules' for dyeing. I prefer to follow the basic guidelines and embrace the quirks that emerge from making errors.

Mixing the indigo dye

Indigo solution

That said, I was a little more careful with the indigo dyeing as it is important not to introduce oxygen into the dye-bath as this is what 'fixes' the dye, which I obviously don't want to happen until the dye is attached to the fibres I'm dyeing. I'd prepared a range of fibres including wool, silk, cotton and linen so I could see how each fibre reacted. I'd also prepared a couple of bits of fabric with a stitches resist to see what effects that would yield.

Hi tech insulated dye-bath

Making sure the temperature was right

Keeping the temperature right

Having mixed up the dye-bath and prepared all my fibres I got to the exciting bit, dyeing! It really was exciting lifting the fibres out of the yellowy green murk of the dye-bath and watching as they turned from bright acid green to beautiful blue indigo in a matter of moments. As the dye oxidises and fixes in the air amazing marbled patterns are created on the fabric as the air hits different parts of the fabric at different times. I didn't have either of my cameras with me (one I'd left at the prism studio and Mr. Stitches was borrowing the other one on a trip out) so I was only able to capture a few shots on my 'phone's fairly rubbish camera. However, it gives an idea of what happens (and gives me an excuse to do it all again!)

The dye-bath, when ready, goes a yellowy green colour

Fibres in the dye-bath

Fibres ready for dyeing

Indigo dyeing is a little different to most other dye processes. For one thing no mordants are required as the dye is fixed by being exposed to the air. Usually when dyeing to obtain darker or more intense shades you leave the fibres in the dye-bath for a longer period of time but in indigo dyeing darker shades are achieved by repeating the dipping process. So, for a darker indigo you just dye it more times. The fibres spend about 2 minutes in the dye-bath each dip. I had fun experimenting with dipping the fabrics repeatedly to achieve a range of shades from palest blue to much darker hues.

Amazing colours as the fibres come out the dye-bath

Amazing colours as the fibres come out the dye-bath

Amazing colours as the fibres come out the dye-bath

Amazing colours as the fibres come out the dye-bath

One of my favourite parts of the process was hanging all my dyed fibres on a line and watching them flap about in the wind. The different shades of blue against the green of the hedge and the grey of the sky looked so beautiful, almost an artwork in themselves. I'm really pleased with my dyes fibres and am looking forward to using them in my work. I'm also looking forward to some more experiments in natural dyeing...

Flying in the wind

Fibres on the line

Fibres on the line

Fibres on the line
Cotton, stitched cotton and wool

Silks, dipped multiple times to create different shades

Silk and linen

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