Woven Shibori and First Indigo Dyeing

First attempt at indigo dyeing!

Perhaps four years ago or so I purchased “Woven Shibori,” by Catherine Ellis, and was fascinated by the both the technique and the results when dyed.  A year or so ago, I signed up for an online self-study class, “Let’s Dye with Indigo” by Glennis Dolce – Shibori Girl, http://shiborigirl.bigcartel.com.  The class is set up with lessons on a blog, you work at your own pace, and there is also a student forum where you can post photos of your work, ask questions, and get answers.  I’d also picked up a couple books on the subject including “A Handbook of Indigo Dyeing” by Vivien Prideaux.  

Finally, a couple months ago I beamed an 8″ wide warp to weave samples, leaving it set up for the 10 shaft twill I had been weaving.  The warp and weft were Swedish 22/2 cottolin which I had on hand.  Needing something strong for the gathering threads, I used seine twine, having a couple partial tubes on my shelf.  I’ve never been able to break that  with my hands, so felt pretty sure it would not break during the gathering process.

The second cottolin warp was made 10″ in width, the loom was re-tied and threaded for Monk’s Belt, for a couple samples and two or three scarves.  Cottolin is not my first choice for scarves, but for experimenting with ideas, it is working fine.  I also expect as I go finer with threads, the results are going to change somewhat.

Not having a good indoor space for dyeing, and living where winter sometimes seems endless, I had to wait for decent weather to begin.  I finally set up yesterday for my first indigo dye attempt.

The outside temp was about 64 F., so I decided to set up on the lakeside porch and enjoy the sun and view (photo above).  I brought out all my supplies, and using the directions from Dharma Trading Co., mixed up my first indigo vat using Pre-Reduced Indigo, Thioureau Dioxide (Thiox), and Soda Ash.  (Follow the instructions carefully and use recommended safety precautions!) 

Pre-reduced indigo vat with “flower” forming on surface.

After mixing the vat, I waited a bit, expecting to see more “flower” on the top.  When that didn’t happen, I cut about 1/4 yard+ off a bolt of PFD cotton, cut it into thirds, and after soaking those pieces of cotton along with one woven shibori sample in water, wrung it out and lowered it into the vat.  Bringing it out, it was yellow-green, and as the indigo oxidized, turned a beautiful bright-dark indigo blue.  I dyed the other two cotton swatches, giving one a second dip for a darker navy color, then the woven shibori sample.  All were rinsed five times, and still blue was coming off in clear rinse water.

Woven shibori sample, tightly gathered, one dip in vat.

Freshly indigo dyed cotton swatches and woven shibori sample (on right).

I laid them over a drying rack, with plastic underneath to catch the drips, and let them start drying, later moving them inside over a floor heat vent.

Had I pulled the gathering threads tight enough on the woven shibori sample?  Did indigo penetrate all the way into those tight “pleats?”  Would I need to untie all the knots on those remaining samples and tighten those gathering threads even more?  I had to find out before dyeing the remaining nine samples and scarf. 

After cutting a few knots I started to gently open the pleats.

So mid-evening last night, I carefully clipped the tight knots along one edge of the sample.  I’d read the threads would not come out easily if the piece was still wet, which it was (not dripping wet, but not beginning to feel dry, either).  Now on this piece, I had started with four rows of plain weave between pattern (twill) rows, after a few inches had increased it to eight rows, and a few more inches later, increased to ten rows. 

Sample nearly half open, and changes visible.

In the area of four rows of plain weave and gathering threads close together, I could start to open it but it wasn’t easy.  I changed from small pointed scissors to a blunt needle to, thread by thread, ease the gathering threads out.  Further down, at eight rows of plain weave, the pleats opened easier, and at ten, easier yet.  Why had I woven the sample that way?  To see the effects of the indigo, to see what happened with the now elongated twill line, and to see what kind of effect the spacing of the gathering threads would have on how far in the indigo penetrated the pleats.

All gathering threads removed.

At four rows, you see the now steep twill line moving across the piece; at eight rows the movement has nearly stopped and there is a bit more light blue appearing; at 10 rows the vertical lines appear a bit wider and more blue penetrated into the pleats.

I rather like the few “irregularities” in it where short lines cross the long vertical lines.  I believe they are the result of a few areas where the pleats, when gathering, didn’t gather and line up exactly as all the rest, despite my attempts to fix them.   

So today, I will examine the other samples to see if I want to tighten anything up before dyeing them, particularly the Monk’s Belt, where the gathering threads are long floats with I believe ten rows of plain weave between each pattern row.  I expect, as in the  bottom of the above photo, more indigo will be work its way into the pleats. 

In a video in Lesson 1, Glennis demonstrates how to take amounts from the original vat, add to water, to get lighter shades of indigo, something I will also be experimenting with for these samples.  

I did notice on the plain weave on each end of this sample, with one dip, the indigo had not totally penetrated the threads, but I did not want it any darker.  Reducing the strength of color will allow me to dip the samples more than once.   

There is more warp to weave off, perhaps a couple scarves worth.  And now there are tubes of 16/2 Swedish cotton (from Glimakra USA) waiting, along with tubes of 20/2 cotton (from Lunatic Fringe), so a lot more weaving and dyeing coming up. It’s going to be a wonderful summer!

P.S.  Glennis Dolce is about to leave for Japan, leading a silk, indigo study tour, so if you contact her, please be patient! 

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