fabric dying

Feb 132018

On Friday night, as I was laying in bed and NOT falling asleep, I was thinking about singing wineglasses and crystal bowls – that particular sweet sound their resonance makes when played. At the same time, I was remembering the cold outside that I’d spent an unusual amount of time in, earlier in the day. (At one point I realized I was thinking poetry about the cold and had to grab a notebook and catch the words, but I diverge – the poetry is not part of this.) That night was a foggy, wet cold we don’t often get in dry Wyoming, with the temperature at 7F (-14C) at that time. Those two things blended together with the mental inventory I had of the excessive fabric scraps in my workshop. I’d spent the previous evening at the sewing machine mending (blech) some clothes and had to keep clearing spaces. So, as I finally drifted off on those Alpha waves towards sleep, I had the visual and texture of my too many blue and violet fabric scraps laying around, the feel of that clingy, damp cold against my face from earlier (alongside the even-colder, black, night a few feet away), the sound of singing crystal resonance, and an ardent desire to sew for pleasure.

This is how quilt inspiration works for me – I tend to think in concepts. Ymabean and Christina have both mentioned to me that the explanation of my inspiration enhances their experience of my work and they’d like more of that. I’m trying it out here and plan on making small zines exploring the inspirations for the quilts, or other items. Although, background inspiration for smaller items like paintings or pouches won’t fill a zine – those will probably be a postcard size.

Cut to Saturday, fresh baked goods are done and I’m in my workshop. I love Saturday mornings in the workshop; it’s the best feeling. Quilt “planning” based on the inspiration that gelled the night before. Some friends gave us a HUGE crystal bowl as a wedding gift – it has an incredible sound – and YouTube has a variety of pieces played on glass harps by hard-working musicians around the world. Bach’s toccata and fugue in D minor by Robert Tiso got played many times.

Music-inspired sketched flower and stamp.
While high on coffee and music, I was compelled to draw and the lines were all very long and swoopy. I ended up with a simple flower in my nearest sketchbook and turned it into a small carving. There’s also a separate leaf I shaped from the off-cuts to go with it.
I threw some almost indigo colored procion powder into the dye pot. I’d thought to stamp it after dying, but I found a small pot of Jacquard Color Magnet which is a dye attractant. It is meant for silk screening, not stamping, and I can understand why; this stuff has the viscosity of ectoplasm from the movies. Slimer-type stuff right out of Ghostbusters. A bit of water and I mostly got it onto the stamp and partly onto the fabric before being dried thoroughly, then going into the dye pot. It worked well, considering my inability to get it onto the fabric neatly. Gloopy! The pic below is post-dye-processing.
Dyed fabric with dye attractant stamping.

You can see the Dye Magnet worked as titled. Everywhere I did manage to glob this stuff on pulled more intense dye concentration than surrounding areas. I’ll use this stuff again, but will have to put some more thought into the handling and thinning of it. Then I used a mix of black and violet fabric paint to stamp on top of the same spots as if it was a surround glow background.
Dyed fabric with stamping.
A closer look at a single stamping. Looks okay, especially for something I’m planning on cutting up and adding to a small-scraps quilt.

Dyed fabric with stamping.
I did another piece of fabric in a more blue-gray shade and without the dye attractant, only with fabric paint stamping on top of the dry, dyed fabric. I like this better – the look is cleaner. The lines in the fabric are because I did a gentle accordion fold on the prepped fabric before putting it in the pot and then didn’t stir it around at all, just let it sit in the dye pot for 10 or 20 minutes. A sublte, resonance line echo.

Thus, without purchasing any new supplies, I was able to have brand new, custom, inspired fabric to use in this quilt. This quilt will look similar to Tintamarre with its small-scrap base, although this will be more harmonious in the color palette. Progress to come!

Jun 292017

I had a few leftover dye samples from making my last swatch board, and I decided to give them another, final use. The colors left were odd, and I did a couple sprinkles of raw powder dye to make them a smidge more interesting. I wasn’t too much into this process, so I tossed each into a bucket and dumped the dye on top. Easy.
Dyed cotton.
This was watermelon and power berry. Worked well, definitely can use some of this in my current quilt.

Dyed cotton.
This was terracota and an unidentified green. I grabbed some reddish powder and it left tiny splotches that never dissolved. I love this effect. I might have to pursue how to make it on purpose – it reminds me of my powdered watercolors.

Dyed cotton.
The last one is on a long strip of fabric which is folded in half over the line. It is a natural scarf like this, maybe a low-key hem treatment to finish it off. The soft orange dye color seems to glow with the sunlight behind it like this. Maybe I’ll leave this piece, maybe I’ll add to it. I’ll let it sit for a while and see. I definitely like it.

I’m kinda tired of dying fabric and will take a break. Now that the samples and leftovers are used up I don’t have anything pushing me to dye. Also, I’ve used that single bottle of dye fixative up and need to order more. I use it as a double-safety fix on my printed fabrics as well as these dye pieces, so I will always be ready with supplies one way or another.

May 182017

After the dye party, I was looking at the fabrics and thinking about the amount and distribution of ice and how it influences the end result. My hypothesis was that more ice would both dilute the dye and create greater melt patterns with the dye. So, I did a little experiment and this is the result.

The piece on the left had about twice as much ice applied as the piece on the right, but about the same amount of powder dye. As expected, the additional ice did wash out more dye, and also produced more variance spots (once you account for the less dye). Good to know.

This is not one of those things I’m going to test a lot. A large part of the charm of this process is the unpredictable results and I want it to keep that with me. Also, I’m a bit tired of dying fabric now. I have a line of things to finish up and am itching to get stitching. Although, we are right now at the start of a huge spring snowstorm that could mire the entire town in heavy, wet, snow, so perhaps I will get another piece or two in yet.

May 172017

This post took a while, but I wanted to wait until the fabric was done so it could be seen at the same time.

Everyone was warned to wear old clothes and showed up on a Sunday. It rained the two days before, so I was concerned, but without cause. Sunday was the brightest, sunniest day yet! In fact, it was so warm and sunny that the ice ended up melting much faster than I anticipated. That worked out. We gathered inside beforehand to discuss the process, dye blending, and to chose colors combinations.

This is one of my two sample dye combination boards. The two together show all the fiber reactive dyes I have, minus the black dyes (since they vary so much with handling) and some Jacquard brand little jars that I’m not going to buy again. Everyone looked over the colors, picked out their combinations and away we went.

I handed out the fabric to all, fresh from its chemical bath preparation (soda ash, urea, salt). Everyone got a large piece (42″ sq) and a quarter piece (22″ sq) and cotton embroidery thread, if desired.

Here is everyone arranging their ice onto the scrunched up fabrics. Slick helped out greatly by running out to get ice, then loading it into a wheelbarrow in the shade for us at exactly the right time. I know that sounds like a little thing, but when your whole process depends on ice on a sunny day, it becomes a big deal.

Everyone applied powder as desired. The little squares were placed on grids below the big ones, so as to catch the runoff dye. Dye dispersion results varied wildly for those pieces.

Once that was done, we all went inside and had some lunch. I put out a spread of finger foods and many gals brought foods, too. No cooking today! We had a whole table full of deliciousness and sat around talking for a few hours, which was quite nice. Afterwards, we went back out to see the progress.

A lot of the ice was melted. The gal on the back left there wanted extra blendy, muted colors, so she piled some more leftover ice onto hers. Now it is largely waiting. Everyone departed.

A few hours later, when it was getting darker in preparation for rain, I went out and checked on the pieces. The little bits were getting dry around the edges, so I put some of the chemical bath in a spray bottle and dampened them, then moved all the grids together for ease of covering.

All condensed and covered in plastic. I used rocks to keep the edges down, but I also went in with a staple gun when the wind began picking up to keep it all secure.

Then, the hard part, waiting two days. So impatient! At about 52 hours, I processed the fabrics: rinse in cool water, fixative in warm water, rinse, wash in Synthrapol and hot water, rinse for finish. With this many pieces to be washed at once, I was able to toss them in the machine and save myself some work! Nice. It was raining again, so I used the dryer. I did give all the pieces a quick trim with the scissors to remove threads that had washed loose. There weren’t many since I’d hemmed the fabrics before hand. I was tempted to iron them, to completely bring out their beauty, but I calmed the hell down instead.

I highly recommend clicking on the photos to see a bigger version. There are wonderful depths to all the pieces.

This gal had a plan. This piece could easily come live in my stash and join a future quilt. Rich and deep.

I love all these bold, intense, twisting colors. There is so much movement and drama.

Hers looked like rainbow candy sherbert. It looks so tasty on a sunny spring day!

This is an unusual color combination, but she had a theme.

This is the gal that added more ice.

I have to say that after having all these beautiful and vibrant dyed fabrics in my workshop, waiting for their delivery day, it was sad to see them delivered to their artist-creator-owners. They are so pretty I don’t know how they’ll have the heart to cut into them. If they were my pieces, I’d have to simply seam the edges and leave them as one of two pieces, tops.

May 102017

Last week we had one more bit of snow and I took advantage again.

This is: Bright Green (Jacquard – all others Dharma), New Emerald Green, and Mermaid’s Dream on snow, already partly melted.

Wet on the clothesline in the bright afternoon sun.

Four hours later, dry on the line in the dappled sunset. The light has changed the look, but the fabric is still quite vibrant when dry and I am happy with it.

It took me a while to get these photos up because I was busy getting ready for the dying party, which happened on Sunday successfully. The fabrics were complete last night and I’ll share about it as soon as I get photos of the pieces done by guests. They are all wonderful.

May 022017

More spring snows mean more snow-dying!

I wanted darker colors, bolder and stronger than I got even last time and those from last time looked pretty good. I did a few things to accomplish this:
1. Pretreat fabric with soda ash, urea, and salt.
2. Leave wet dye on fabric for about 22 hours.
3. Used a dye fixative after batching.
4. Used only Dharma Procion dyes (instead of Jacquard Procion MX dyes, brand difference only) *
5. Used bolder, deeper color dyes.

If you know me, you know that when I really want to succeed in something, I will take every extra step even remotely reasonable. That is what I did here, and got total success.

Snow, plus dye. This blob is a combination of Deep Space blue, Mermaid’s Dream blue, and Imperial Purple. I’m trying a new setup with the racks over wood studs so that I can both stand instead of squatting while working and have room to put another rack with fabric underneath this one. This process is inefficient and wasteful, so I thought I’d recoup some of that runoff dye with a second piece. For the group dying session coming up I’ll use saw horses to hold three or four studs so that multiple racks can go side by side with space. Raising them up like this should also allow easy placement of more runoff fabric catchers.

After a few hours, much melt. Those studs are now the most colorful wood we own. Slick said we should open an artisanal stud shop. That would be neat, to have things made of artist-dyed woods.

The next day, after setting, fixing, washing, these are wet on the line. There was a lot of wind that day, so this was the best shot I could get. I had to untangle the pieces from themselves, each other and the line itself a number of times over the hours as they got whipped about.

And completely dry. Good, bold colors, and that runoff recoup piece is pretty, too. My stash of hand dyed fabrics is growing.

In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, I’m trying to show process photos not only for people who might decide to try this themselves, but for people coming to the group session soon that might want an idea of what will happen. Stepped out photos help when you’re trying to achieve results using an unfamiliar process.

* About list item #4, I don’t think there is much, or possibly any, difference in the brand of procion fiber reactive dye. However, I have had slightly better results with Dharma brand than Jacquard brand dyes, there is a bit more in Dharma containers (which are also larger), they are a smidge cheaper, and there are more color choices with Dharma. Any differences are most likely due to my novice mistakes instead of the brand, but like I said, I’ll take any reasonable efforts for advantages.

I’m going to have to buy more PFD fabric – all these spring snows and prepping for the group session are depleting my supply. Oh darn, I have to buy more fabric! HAHAHA!

Jun 302016

For my non-fabric-loving readers, let me explain. Ice dying fabric means to use ice as the method of applying powdered dye to fabric. You can also do snow dying for a more subtle effect.

A few days ago I juiced some cherries to make more schnapps (yummy!) and thought I’d use the leftover cherry flesh pulp and pits to try to dye some fabric. It turns out I had a lot less pulp than I thought and the mush didn’t have a lot of coloring power left in it. The resulting fabric turned out a terribly pale bluish-gray (parts where I added baking soda) and a hint of pinks (where the original cherry touched) and was generally not what I was in the mood for. Faced with a stretch of wet, boring fabric, I decided to try ice dying.

Ice dying fabric.
Step One: Most pictures on the internet show people arranging this setup over a tub to collect the dye. Most people don’t have a crappy back yard they don’t care about ruining with dye, I imagine. Me, I have that. So, I put my cooling racks right on the dirt, raised with a couple rocks. You have to put some mesh of some type under the fabric so it doesn’t just sit in a muddled puddle of dye – and in my case, dirt. This is the still wet fabric, scrunched gently onto racks.

Ice dying fabric.
Step Two: Ice. I emptied our ice drawer onto the fabric and tried to arrange it somewhat evenly while the cubes tried desperately to stick to my damp fingers.

Ice dying fabric.
Step Three: Dye! Concerned with too much muddling of colors, I stuck with basics, a Cerulean Blue, Chinese Red and Golden Yellow, sparingly. I was a little concerned I put too much on, but this is all experimental anyhow. The sun set, and I left the fabric to be melted onto overnight.

Ice dying fabric.
The next morning, all the ice had melted and the dye had been distributed onto the fabric. It is still wet in this photo. I gave it a few washings, trying to get all the dye out – you know how red anything can be.

Ice dying fabric.
The finished product. The vibrant colors mean I used the right amount of powder for my desires. There is a lot more red than I thought, based on the scrunched layout. The parts I like best are the most mottled, with the most wrinkled fabric, as in the yellow and green in the upper left area in this shot. When I do this again in the future, I’ll know to be less gentle and more squishing-focused on the fabric. I was afraid the dye would have trouble getting onto the fabric evenly through all the ice, but that seems to be no concern at all. I had only a tiny spot of white on the whole cloth. Next time, more squish, same ice, same dye amount. Although, I will use less range of color, perhaps closer to analogous. Additionally, the dark spots were chunks of powder gathered intrigue me, so I may add a random sprinkle of black as the final powder of the lineup.

Now what to do with it?! No solid idea. It could be a small quilt on its own; a simple whole cloth with stippling. Maybe I will add paint and stitching in a deliberate fashion to make an image form from this color cloud. I don’t see what it might be, yet, but I’ll let it rest for a bit and see if it speaks to me.

What do you think? Does it speak to you? What does it say?

Jun 132016

Previously, I told you about one of my Experimentation projects this year, to make batik fabrics. The process is to layer wax and cold dye to create designs. Below, I’ve walked you through the steps on three pieces I created.

First, get fabric to your first color. I used PFD (Prepared For Dying) fabric, but you could use any fabric, including already colored fabric, if you’re willing to do a little chemistry and waiting. The aversion to waiting is the reason I own a bolt of PFD – so I can merely cut a piece off and get to printing, dying, painting, whatever-ing. When the muse calls me, I jump, if I can. Take that fabric and stretch it out over a frame. Put a pile of trash papers underneath as the wax will go through the fabric and drip onto the surface beneath. I used stretcher bars and a light-duty staple gun.

Batik fabric steps.
Here, I have a piece of a lavender color fabric. I didn’t take pictures of the plain dyed fabric – that would be boring. This picture is of the first application of hot wax. I melted a chunk in a small electric frying pan. For these big dots, I used a 1″ chip brush. You want tools dedicated to this process as you’ll never really get the wax back out. That dark, noticeable color is what you want. If the wax is too cool, it sits atop the fabric, looking white and being useless against dye. If the wax is too hot, it will catch fire.

When the wax has cooled on your piece, take it off the frame and put it into your second dye color.

Batik fabric steps.
This is a different piece (obviously) but it also started as a lavender color. After the first wax application, this one was put into an Amethyst dye overnight. Here it is drying on top of my trash can. Once it is dry, stretch it back into that frame. It will be marginally more difficult because of the wax in the fabric making it less flexible than the first time. Next you put on the second application of wax. You now wax everywhere you want the second dye color (Amethyst, in this case) to stay. You must also wax any pieces that are broken from the first waxing – IF you want them to stay that color. I had a hell of a time rewaxing some of those circles and dots that broke a lot on this design. Again, once the wax is cool, deframe and put into your third color dye.

Batik fabric steps.
Then it will look like this. This piece started off a baby blue, with a first wax of big dots and a second dye of Amethyst [Hey, I already had it out! Besides, they’ll coordinate well now.] Then it got a second wax of dot outlines before its third dye of Blue Violet. In this shot, it is still quite wet, so the colors look darker than they will end up.

Once you are done with the dye, wax, dye, wax, dye process you have to get the wax out of the fabric. The best way is to boil it out.

Batik fabric steps.
This is the pot I use to process jars during canning, so I don’t mind that it will forever have a waxy residue. I didn’t want to ruin any spoons, so I cut a solid stirring stick from the yard waste pile. I felt like I needed a cauldron and dark night after that. This part is simple – boil the wax out of your fabric, stir well and a lot, then let the whole thing cool off. The wax will float to the top, allowing you to simply pick it off the surface in a fat slab. The fabric might want to float up, too, which would ruin the whole process, so make sure it stays at the bottom. I used a couple rocks to keep it down.

Batik fabric steps.
After the boiling, stirring and hours of cooling, I used my excellent stirring stick to break the wax seal along the edges, then simply lifted it out with my hand. The blue color is bleed from the dye. I will be able to reuse this wax in the future.

Batik fabric steps.
Once you get all the wax out of the fabric (one of my pieces took two boiling sessions) you are done. Here are the three pieces shown above drying on the line. Pretty cool, right?

My thoughts on the process
1. MESSY!! Personally, I find dying fabrics messy enough. Adding hot wax to the equation? 300% more messy.

2. Too much dye. Two layers of dye is fine, I can tell you what I’m going to get at the end – you saw my grid of colors. Three layers of dye? Roll the dice, as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure professionals and experienced folks have learned all the combination nuances, but I am not willing to invest that much effort, time, and material. Example, The first and second fabrics above had Blue Violet as their last color. It nearly washed completely out of one, but dominated the other. If I do this again, I’ll stick to two dye colors for allover dying. Or – I will only paint dye onto the fabric directly to avoid conflicts.

3. Wax! Wax removal sucks! I know it sounds easy, but hot wax gets everywhere and doesn’t want to come off of anything.

4. Time. The whole process takes a lot of time.

This was a fun experiment. Will I do it again? Probably, but not for fun. The four items I listed above make it not fun and I am not a masochist. If I find a design I want to create that is ideal for batik, I will do it. I will still dye, print, and paint fabric, but I’m leaving off the batik from my list.

May 102016

Almost six years ago, I made my first serious efforts with fabric dying when I converted a bunch of scraps into more appropriate colors for my quilt. I used RIT and Tulip brands in my kitchen and did NOT enjoy the experience. I later tried better brands and was happier. It helps that I don’t have to use my kitchen anymore.

Now that I have a workshop with a sink (a nice, deep utility sink, with a flexible spray head, with excellent pressure) I’ve been getting back into fabric dying. With the Centzon Totochtin quilt, I was in a corner to get some canvas dyed. Between a couple small Crock Pots and that sink, it went swimmingly. Since then, I’ve dyed a few things (the Moxie print fabric, for example) and am actually starting to enjoy it. I don’t know that I’ll ever get into dying a lot, or often, as with my other preferred creation methods, but I’m up for some experimentation.

One of the experimentation subjects is batik. It is a wax resist plus dye technique for fabric which feels, in process steps, very similar to reduction printmaking. Anything that combines two of my creative loves excites me, so I am eager to try this. I am sure my initial efforts will be equal to that of a small, uncoordinated child, but that is how most things start anyway. Since I don’t work with overlapping dyes, I thought one thing I could do to start would be to see how the dyes handle and combine on fabric. Thus, this dye combination grid:
Dye grid
Every cold dye I have overlapped with a second layer of each color. Now I can see how they will look together, which should be valuable (nay, essential) in batik. As for handling, they feel like watercolor on fabric, expectedly. We’ll see how it goes when I add hot wax to the process.

Once I get to the marginal beginner stage, I want to branch out. I enjoyed using the Moxie print with dye, then stitching up an item from it. So, I want to see how I can use my lino block prints on fabric which is then batik’d. What will the hot wax do to my acrylic paint in the fabric? Can I use ink effectively after the batik process? I look forward to finding out these answers this summer. Hopefully, many of the batik learning experiments will become useful or merely pretty sewn items, or even ingredients for larger sewing projects.

I haven’t sewn anything for twelve days. After the FMQ investement into the quilt, I was sewn out! I took all of last week to clean up garage storage items, carve blocks, and work on the workshop itself. I will take and share pictures of the progress – you can come back later this week for that update. I find that I’m itching to sew again. My fingertips are tender from using new tools carving and I feel the pull to make needle, fabric, and thread meet.

Apr 092014

Alright, everyone has had a chance to anticipate, so here is the whole quilt.
Centzon Totochtin quilt.
All 400 of the Centzon Totochtin rabbit gods of drunkenness and parties. These Aztec divinities met for frequent parties and drank lots of pulque, which is a potent alcohol made from fermenting the juice from the heart of the maguey plant, seen at the bottom of the quilt. The Centzon Totochtin are the children of Mayahuel (the goddess of maguey) and Pantecatl (the god of fermentation). Of course they all had other responsibilities and qualities as well. Being a drunken rabbit god is not a sinecure, after all. Lots of god-stuff to do.
The borders are blocked chevrons with matching color star embroidery in the center. These colors are a bit too … primary, bright and bold for my taste, but I was trying to stick with Aztec colors. The whole thing is canvas instead of my regular choice of fine thread count quilting cotton. I figure Aztec fabric would have been rougher than modern technology products and canvas was the best choice of fabric I could get on short notice in my small town selection. I bought a bunch, but there weren’t many colors, so half of what you see was dyed in my workshop. I enjoyed the fabric dying process a lot more this time than the last time I tried it. I used a small, cheap Crock Pot (since I was only dying eighth-yards per batch) and I had a utility sink right there. Much better and I was able to get the colors I wanted. The canvas made all the stitching and ironing more difficult and the quilt is heavy for its size, but the effect is exactly what I wanted, visually and texturally.

Centzon Totochtin quilt, the one inch bunnies.
The majority are one-inch bunnies. I spent two days drawing a mass of bunnies, scanning them, then cleaning them up in PhotoShop. I didn’t draw a full 400 individual, probably just under a hundred. Many of them are pulling double and triple duty on the quilt.

Centzon Totochtin quilt, the two inch bunnies.
The two-inch bunnies. These guys got slightly more nuanced lines, with the scale. You can definitely see my style of bunny drawing here. Having to scan and edit these guys means I have them all for later use, as desired. I’ve already turned one odd bunny into watercolored art and made it into a pin-backed button and worn to work. I’ll make some more like that to have around, just in case.

Centzon Totochtin quilt, star embroidery.
I’d planned to have 400 stars embroidered. But, while I had about 385 done when my fabric arrived, I had to cut many of them off to fit the top together. I wanted to add the now-shy-40 stars in the separating lines betwixt the panels, but I had less than no time left, being late already to deliver the quilt to the show. Thus, the quilt currently has 360 stars.
Since I’m fairly confident it will not sell during the show, I will add the remaining 40 stars when I get it back at the end of the month. At that time I can add the remaining embellishments. The show requirements stated 2D work only and most arrangements consider anything more than a quarter inch as dimensional. This meant I had to leave off not only the leather-wrapped feather tassels but also any beads or cottontails, in case they poofed up atop the quilting. I have the stuff sitting in a labeled bag, waiting for May.

These aren’t great pictures, but I will definitely take better ones when it is down from the show and after I’ve added the last “illegal” bits to it. While this whole thing isn’t exactly my own personal style, I am very glad I made it. Now, a quilt about a collective of drunken Aztec rabbit party gods entered into an Easter art show? That is absolutely my own personal style.

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