Shibori Indigo Dying Workshop

I recently participated in a shibori indigo dying workshop held by the Council of Adult Education in East Melbourne.

Our teacher Colleen Weste, is a former weaver, enthusiastic textile artist, silk painter, nuno felter and shibori expert.

Colleen had us prepare synthetic and natural indigo vats. Her experience was such that she was very relaxed about the process – she knew what would work and what wouldn’t and didn’t express any particular concern about stirring this way or that. Some of the books I consulted ahead of the course were very particular about stirring direction.

Indigo vat preparation showing the indigo flower

Indigo Flower

The book I found to be most helpful in preparing for the workshop was A Handbook of Indigo Dying. The author Vivien Prideaux described fabric preparation (scouring) methods for plant based and animal based fabrics and covered shibori techniques in a straightforward way.

I’m not a huge fan of silk so chose to prepare lengths of cotton for scarves. I bought washing soda at the supermarket (the brand name in Australia is Lectric, available at both the national chains) and immersed my fabric in a stock pot of simmering water mixed with about 2 tbsp of washing soda and 1 tbsp of Lux soap flakes. That stayed on the stove top for about 30-40 mins, then I let the fabric drip dry and added it the to the family wash load at the next opportunity.

I was lucky enough to find a stock pot at my local charity shop and have reserved it for scouring and dying as dye manufacturers warn against re-using dyeing equipment for food preparation.

My classmates purchased silk scarf lengths from Colleen. This gave us the opportunity to compare results. My double dipped cotton came out a much inkier indigo blue than the single dipped silk scarves that had a more delicate violet hue.

I pre-hemmed the long edges of one length of cotton using my quarter inch hemming foot, which is great once you get going but is a PITA to get started with tweezers required. If anyone out there has good tips on that, please comment. I left the other lengths unhemmed but sewed them together on the long edges to make a double thickness. I had been aiming for a deconstructed look but changed my mind on that as a design strategy when it had come out of the vat and dried. Raw edges just don’t look ‘finished’ to me so I decided to finish that scarf with a row or two of hand stitched hemming using fine dusky pink embroidery thread, which makes that scarf officially still a WIP at this point.

Colleen guided us all through a pole wrapped scarf first up, to ensure we all come way from the workshop with something we could wear. Next she wanted us to try a sampler on a small square of cotton. My sampler was on a large scale and used clamping at one end, some ties in the middle and then insertions and stitching at the other.  I felt the overcast stitching across a fold showed the most promise and I’m keen to try that again when the weather gets a bit warmer and I have got my hands on some indigo powder.

The clamping was an innovation that I’m sure has been tried before but was my own idea at the breakfast table that morning. I was looking at the UHT milk carton and thought I’d try cutting it up to use in place of wooden blocks to use as a resist. I didn’t have any wooden blocks to hand and besides, Tinkerer can get a bit tetchy about ‘wasting’ marine ply, though he’d probably throw me an off cut if I asked nicely. The UHT carton worked brilliantly.

Update: If you’re looking to learn shibori from a dying and technique perspective, don’t waste your money on a book entitled modern Shibori by Silke Bosbach. I just borrowed it from the library and I will be taking it straight back after leafing through it for a few minutes. There’s not a lot there for the learner.

While I know shibori masters invest many hours of labour achieving perfection in their craft, the opportunity also exists to get a fast and satisfying result, as proven at the workshop. There’s a lot to like about indigo dyed shibori fabric.


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