Friday, 11 September 2015

Tie Dyeing Wet and Dry Silk in a Japanese Indigo Plant Extraction Vat

Even when I weigh and measure, I find the colour every plant dyes will shift with each batch.  While that is annoying when a whole jumper's worth of one colour is wanted, unpredictability seems to be part and parcel of the process and half the fun.  It is harder to fathom how experts can consistently achieve colours so similar than to understand why my own are so varied.  Look at these two bits of chiffon and skeins of wool.  Both 
were dyed in vats of Japanese Indigo with similar amounts of leaves from plants growing side by side in the greenhouse. The plants giving greenish toned indigo on the right were harvested for my second vat, which I blogged about last week, while the indigo purple from vat three was cut one week later, at the beginning of September.  Maybe it was the effect of colder nights.  Wish I knew, as the purple rainstorm is lush.
Arashi is Japanese for storm and though I deviated from the classic shibori method, that chiffon scarf was dyed after pole wrapping. After a discouraging start, when the string came off the top just when the last scrunching phase was coming up, I can report that the whole process is a great deal easier with a really long 'pole', or in my case, length of plastic drainpipe.  This time, I wound the string at wider intervals, shuffling up deeper folds of fabric to stick out into the dye bath.  To improve dye uptake, the whole thing had 24 hours to soak in a bucket of water before going into the vat.  Didn't consider how to get the pole in the pot on the cooker, in retrospect, I could have stood the pot on the floor. 

The indigo did get taken up by more of the silk than last week, but I think in future, I might try massaging the pole while in the vat, as the combination of string and scrunching and three layers excludes the dye pretty effectively.
After these efforts to make the blue penetrate chiffon in complex oriental folds, I tried a simple experiment with tie dye on dry silk.

The picture shows chickpeas in silky bondage, with cotton yarn making a crochet start loop pulled tight behind each one, the pattern random, though the lengths of yarn between pairs of chickpeas was kept approximately equal. That way, when the yarn is picked up under a wire, the silk droops in uneven folds with the chickpeas held at an equal height.  The wire can be used to suspend the silk for ten minutes, partially

immersed in the indigo vat, and again while it airs for another ten minutes to oxygenate and fix the dye.

The silk at the top stays dry until its second dip, when the whole piece goes into the vat for another ten minutes before airing again. Hang each piece of silk up with clothespegs on the top corners and release the chickpeas from their loops to see the final effect.
Dry fibres take up dye unevenly, which is why the books always recommend soaking wool and silk in advance. On wetted material, repeated immersions in an indigo vat even up the blue, I suppose because most fibres have had the chance to reach dye saturation point.  This experiment aimed to exploit the haphazard shadowing of indigo on dry fibres, on a background of deeper and more even double dipped colour.  The result was strongest on fine habotai, which must have soaked through most quickly, moderate on the medium weight habotai and palest on heavy habotai silk.  I think the pattern is like flowers.  I daresay this has all been done before, nonetheless, I shall name it Daisy Tie Dye.

Since the deeper background gave the best effect, a couple of days ago, I tried the same thing with fewer chick peas, deeper droops of fabric between them and a sequence of three ten minute dips at three levels.  Vat Four was made with indigo plants growing outdoors, which gave a cerulean blue, so Vat Three's purple tint can have had nothing to do with cold nights, after all.  

Anyway, here it is - Double Daisy Tie Dye. 


  1. Beautiful! I love your chick-pea trick!

    1. Thanks :) Using chick peas isn't original, I think various objects get tied into fabric for tie dye effects, in this case, they do stop the yarn from slipping off.