As you might have noticed, we've been dye happy here and we'd love to share with you some tips for creating beautiful patterns and designs using natural indigo dye!
Indigo, which is derived naturally from plants of the genus Indigofera, has been used since ancient times to provide a blue hue to natural fabrics, such as wool, silk, hemp and cotton. The earliest use was most likely in India, which is reflected in the Ancient Greek word for the dye (indikon) (thanks, Wikipedia!). There are also some traditional Japanese techniques, called shibori, for creating beautiful patterns using this type of dye. In all, indigo dyeing is as much of an art as it is a science! For those starting out, you can readily purchase a kit to give it the 'ole college try, as they say. Just be sure to wear gloves and to be cognizant of splashing and dripping, unless you want to be blue for a while!
First, you want to choose some fabric. We suggest using natural fabrics, such as the ones listed above, and ones that you have purchased from an ethical supplier, second-hand or have lying around. Once you've set up your vat to prepare for dyeing, there are many different types of binding and tying techniques you can employ in order to create interesting patterns and designs on your fabric. You can use rocks, washers, binding clips, beer caps, corks, popsicle sticks, twine, piping, rubber bands, and other objects to aid in your creating some beautiful end products. Here are a few techniques that will help get you started:
Perhaps the simplest way to get an abstract, classic "tie dyed" look is to bunch up fabric and tie up pieces with elastic bands. If you're looking to create a repeating pattern, you want to accordion fold your fabric, both vertically and horizontally, in order to create a square. To create a repeating open circle pattern, you can fasten a washer to the square with a clamp or rubber bands. Or try a bottle cap for a closed circle! When you go to dye the fabric, be sure to gently slip your [gloved] fingers in between the folds to distribute the dye amongst the layers of your folds.
Another simple technique is dip dyeing. Simply dip a bit of your fabric into the vat. You can create cool ombre effects this way too!
The possibilities for patterns and designs are vast; just be willing to experiment (and perhaps fail in order to learn for the next time). Jot down some notes as you go through the process so you know which patterns are produced by which techniques.
Once it is time to do the dyeing in your vat, you don't need to submerge your fabrics for too long to achieve that famous blue (30 seconds to a couple of minutes is really all it takes, depending on how much oxygen has been introduced to your vat). You can even re-dye your fabrics as many times as you'd like in order to produce the saturation you are going for. Just be sure to let your vat sit for an hour between dyeing sessions. Once you introduce oxygen to the vat, it needs time to 'chill' (i.e. de-oxidize) in order to produce the famous deep color that is indigo. Speaking of oxidation, at first and once you remove your fabrics from the vat, they will appear greenish. They need to sit out in the air (i.e. oxidize) in order to turn blue. If you don't want to double or triple dip your fabrics, then untie them and let them sit in the open air for at least 30 minutes before rinsing and then washing them. You should always wash your fabrics in cold water and with a mild detergent before use! Your vat, if kept properly, can last up to a few days.
And there you have it, some quick tips to get started on an ancient, natural way to dye (existential homophonic double entendre alert!).