Aug 17, 2018
Last year I was scanning the shelves of the Providence Public Library looking for books on dyeing and shibori, when a title caught my eye: Woven Shibori. (An aside: PPL has an incredible collection of textile books.) I immediately checked out this book by Catharine Ellis, and eventually bought myself a copy of the second edition, which focuses on natural dyes.
Inspired by the book, I immediately put on a warp and have been experimenting with this technique these last few months. Woven shibori is done by weaving with supplementary weft (I use cotton, color-safe embroidery floss) to make the pattern on the loom. Once off the loom, I pull these weft tight and dye.
With each experiment I’ve learned something new.
Soak the fabric for a few hours before dyeing.
In fact, overnight was even better. Once the threads are tied, the fabric is very tight. Soaking it overnight made sure it was very wet, and took the indigo much better.
Take very good notes!
Why is it that I seem to need to learn this very simple fact over and over again? I recently brought a box of notebooks home that had been stored in my parents basement and was in awe at what good notes I used to take. Woven shibori involves many steps, and each step is another decision. It’s so frustrating to see a finished piece and not know what I did to get it.
Add in elements slowly.
It’s tempting to try and add in many different design elements. An interesting ground weave, an interesting pattern using the supplementary weft, and then there is still dyeing it. I find it’s been better to take my time and add in elements slowly. There are already a bazillion design choices all while only using a plain weave ground! It’s funny how it's often harder to keep things simple.
Woven shibori really is an exercise in patience.
While weaving, I really have no idea how it will look once it’s off the loom and dyed. Will this pattern look good? Will the ground weave work with the pattern created by the dyeing? Maybe this is why it’s even more exciting when I undo the threads after dyeing, there are so many steps before I see what the finish fabric will look like.
Here are a couple examples of the woven fabric off the loom, and the finished dyed fabric. These are all made using an 8/2 Tencel yarn in the warp and weft that I bought from Gist Yarn. This yarn has a gorgeous hand when woven, and dyes beautifully. My warp is set up with a sett of 24 ends per inch.
For the supplementary weft, I’m using an inexpensive embroidery floss. This floss is color fast and won’t bleed when dyed. It’s also very smooth, with helps for gathering, and also ties easily and tightly. I cut off the excess after I tie it to try and get the most out of the floss as I can, as there is a lot of waste otherwise.
On my loom at the moment is a warp from which I’m attempting two scarves. Since I actually took good notes on my last sample warp, I’m seeing if I can recreate a pattern based on these notes. Hopefully I’ll have something new to wear this fall!
Feb 19, 2018
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.
Feb 19, 2018
Urban living has it drawbacks. Such as, having to ask myself “Will my loom even fit into this place?” every time I’ve looked for an apartment. Also, sitting on a set of dyes for years because I have no space to rinse anything messy. And often, creating alone in my studio.
Enter my friend Cathy and her brilliant idea to host an outdoor indigo dyeing party. I could not accept the invitation fast enough and joined fellow textile artists in sharing dye baths. Together we explored indigo dyeing, shibori techniques, and I attempted ikat.
I accepted the invitation because I wanted to dye again, yet I came to realize it was about more than just the dyeing. Participating in these indigo dyeing parties filled a creative void that I didn’t really realize I had. My 16-harness Macomber loom is anything but portable, and I no longer work in the textile industry. I miss the days of working in a space with creative people, all of us working on our own projects, sharing ideas and offering feedback.
I also don’t push myself to learn about new techniques or research textile history and culture. These projects and these gatherings connected me with other artists, and also reminded me of the value of slowing down and taking the time to learn new skills.
By working together, we inspire each other to try new techniques, and share tools, resources and ideas.
I came away with many interesting samples, and a burning urge to try more ikat. Technically, it was the biggest challenge for me. My first time wasn’t great, but good enough to make me want to try again. My second attempt seems better, and I’m already planning out a third.
Creating can get lonely, it’s important to get out of that rut every now and then and be inspired by your community and hopefully inspire others.
Where have you found a creative community?
And there’s good news for those of you in Southern New England. What started out as a group of friends getting together, has evolved into actual workshops taught by the talented Cathy Wilkerson of The Indigo Squirrel. Sign up if you’re interested in learning shibori techniques.
Resources I found helpful:
Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shape Resist Dyeing
Japanese Ikat Weaving
This post was originally published on The Common Thread.