• (Re)learning to Dye

    I've had a box I've been moving with me for longer than I care to admit. A small box full of fiber reactive dye from ProChem. By now, it's been so long since I packed this box, I'm not even sure what I have, what is still good to use, or (most importantly) how they work. The shibori and ikat indigo dyeing I've been doing inspired me to pull it out and figure out what was inside. Luckily for me, Prochem is located in nearby Fall River and hosts classes and workshops. 

     

     

    Using two vacation days for a workshop felt like an indulgence, but I had an incredibly productive experience with a fun group of women, all learning to dye for different projects. It had been nearly 20 years since I last dyed with anything beside indigo and this class was the perfect refresher.

     

     

    I had a couple of revelations as I (re)learned to dye. 

     

    Color is chemistry. 

    Whether done with natural dyes derived from plants, or dyes made in a building in Fall River, dyeing is chemistry. Fiber molecules and dye molecules are getting together and the end result is color. Not to mention what you need to make the fiber ready to take color, and then fix the color.   

     

    Color science is endlessly fascinating. 

    As much as I think about color and feel inspired by it, it had been a while since I thought about how it works and interacts. Color matching and color mixing is a delicate undertaking, and how our eyes perceive color adds another dimension. Then factor in how that color will interact with other yarn in woven cloth, and how those interlacings will be mixed by our eyes into yet another color and there are endless possibilities. 

     

    Really good notes and careful trials are essential. 

    I have a lot of patience when it comes to tasks (I'm a weaver after all, this is no instant gratification type creative outlet!) but it's hard to remind myself that learning something brand new is going to take a while to perfect. Dyeing is a science, and it will take a lot of trials and errors before I get what is in my head accomplished. Keeping track of what I'm working on, doing thoughtful trials and noting my process and reflections along the way are absolutely essential for dyeing. 

     

     

    I came home from this class with new dye, all the items in my box labeled, and some gorgeous dyed fabrics and yarns, including a new ikat warp.  


  • Ikat Explorations

    When I started exploring indigo dyeing last year, I couldn't wait to attempt ikat, despite knowing that it is an incredibly laborious technique. For those unfamiliar with the technique, the first step  is to wind a warp. The warp threads are then bound in a design so that when dyed, the dye will resist those bound areas and the design will be visible. The warp is then dyed, rinsed, and the tied areas are unbound. At this point, the warp is ready to be put on your loom, and weaving can finally begin.

    Ikat is a technique used in cultures around the world, with each culture making it uniquely their own. For my explorations, I was looking an examples of simple designs, made with just one dye bath.

    During my first attempt, I had used regular household plastic wrap to bind the yarns, which proved a terrible idea. The plastic wrap clings to itself, which is handy in the kitchen, but not so much when binding warp threads. For my second attempt, I used plastic tape that artist and friend Paula Becker passed along to me. It made all the difference as I was able to bind tightly, and work with it more easily. After wrapping with the tape, I reinforced the area with a strong thread to be sure that it was tight and no dye would penetrate.

    In my first piece, I used weft that had also been dyed, along with yarn that had been bound for use in weft ikat effects. (Thanks again to Paula for giving me her weft ikat yarn!)

    In my second piece, I used dyed yarn as a ground weft, with an inlay technique in areas to make the white areas more white.

    I hadn't used inlay much recently, but had used this technique extensively in college. It slows the weaving process down a lot, but the results it yields are worth the extra effort. (It doesn't look quite so slow in time-lapse!)

    Lastly, I had threaded my loom with a pointed draw so I could play with twill structures. While I do appreciate seeing the structure more on this piece, I found I prefer pieces woven with plain weave as the pattern already has so much interest.

    When binding my ikat, I imagined the shapes would hold together more. Yes, ikat is known for its shifting edges, but my pieces seemed to be shifting more than I expected. I'm not sure if I'm doing something wrong, it takes more practice, or if I should ask a friend to help me  crank the warp on next time. Regardless, as I wove my warp, I loved the shifting more and more. The shapes became their own, and I was surprised to find that I felt liberated by that.

    Each ikat attempt inspires me to do another and to research more about how this technique is done around the world.

    This month I'm making a quick visit to Toronto and am excited to see that the Textile Museum of Canada currently has an ikat exhibit on display. Hopefully I'll come back feeling inspired, with lots of ideas of new projects.

    This post was originally published on The Common Thread.



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