The story is quite funny really.
As you know I have been testing the Birkin Jeans, which call for stretch denim. There is all manner of denim available in shops and on the internet but I could not find what I wanted. I wanted light blue, like it is faded, not light blue like it’s middle aged Mom jeans. Plus stretch. Know what I mean?
I made nice deep blue ones (and yes, I am wearing them below), but I thought for summer, and especially for my SWAP I needed the lightest shade – a bit like a blue sweet pea. It’s a bit of a cheat as my Mother’s garden didn’t have any blue ones, but they do exist!
So for my Summer Sweat Pea swap I had the idea of getting some white stretch denim, and dying it myself, with indigo. Good plan? I thought so! I was thrilled to bits to find an Indigo dyeing class, in London, at Morley college – a full weekend for £80. I booked the course and ordered 2 metres of white stretch denim from Favourite Fabrics. A few days later Joe wrote a very apologetic email to say the batch of white was faulty. He agreed to send me the 1m they used for photography, free of charge, so I could test it. Nice of him, but it arrived a day late.
Anyway I attended the course which was great. I dyed lots of fabrics, mainly using Shibori (tie die) techniques. I also got my wax pot out overnight and prepared a range of pieces for dyeing.
Have you ever used indigo? I hadn’t, but of course it’s in our jeans!
I made about ten pieces over the two days. I was really happy with how the velvet scarves turned out. I made one by scrunching it on a plastic pipe; one was sewn with a large basting thread and gathered and one I tried to Ombre by dipping it in the vat over the day.
This turned into the scarf on the right. The one in the middle I tried to do an ombre effect – which was so-so. The one on the left is created by sewing two lines of machine stitches and gathering them up tightly. I really liked these scarves and will find it hard to give them away as Christmas presents.
Here are some hints if you are thinking of doing this at home.
- Buy your Indigo (if in the UK) from Kemtex as it is the best value. The synthetic indigo (still made from the same compounds) is more stable and doesn’t have to be kept warm
- Make it up in a plastic dustbin or similar as it will stain a bath and you need a fairly big vat
- You also need a flatter container to allow the fabric to oxydise after dyeing. It just needs to sit in the air for say 5 to 10 minutes. It goes from a yellowy green, to green, to deep blue (see the top picture)
- Put lots of newspaper on the floor, or if you have a yard or garden, do it outside
- You must wear rubber gloves because the dye is alkaline and burns and dries your skin. A pair of very long gloves is handy to reach into the vat although you can have your work on a piece of string so you can pull it out.
- You must be gentle with the vat, not letting air in under the reddish “scum” on the top. The process works anaerobically and stops working once it comes into contact with oxygen
- You can use metal tools; wood and plastic are fine but will stain
- Always soak your (natural) fabrics first in water to ensure the dye will penetrate effectively
- For a light blue a few seconds will be enough – for a darker shade around five minutes will suffice
- To build up a darker colour let the dye oxydise, then put it in the vat for a second (and subsequent) coat.
I am not sure when I will make these fabrics into garments but you can be sure I will write them up when I do!