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Going Green with Natural Dyes and Shibori
With spring approaching, my thoughts turn to “green” and what that word means to me as a woven shibori expert and natural dyer.
The Range of Greens
From a technical perspective, the natural dyeing of green requires two different steps: attaining a yellow dye from a plant followed by dyeing in an indigo vat. There is no shortage of yellow dyes and each one will result in a slightly different green. From the mordants used before dyeing to the strength of the indigo vat at the end, these variables determine the final green shade.
But “green” also means a responsible approach to mordanting and dyeing. This is something I’ve been very conscientious about in these last few years. Last winter, I taught a week long class at John C. Campbell Folk School that was all about dyeing green. We combined indigo with different yellow dyes to create a variety of green shades. Here are some of the initial naturally-dyed color/dye tests we did at the right–top to bottom: pomegranate, marigold, weld, osage, and myrobalan with various mordants and indigo.
A Collection of Shibori Fabrics
Then each student was encouraged to experiment with all the yellow dyes, but when it came time to dye their shibori woven fabrics, they were restricted to using only ONE yellow plus indigo. It was interesting to observe how that limitation resulted in very coherent “collections” of fabrics.
A “Green” Process for Shibori
This year’s weld plants are just starting to come to life in my garden after a very tough winter. It seems like a good time to explore green and new growth shades for a spring scarf. The weld I dried from last year’s garden makes a clear, beautiful yellow and, when combined with my organic indigo vat, it should result in some lovely greens. I’ve used one of the woven shibori scarf blanks The Oriole Mill weaves for me. Refer to this past blog on using a shibori blank–no need for you to weave your own. Following is the abbreviated process I took to make my new scarf for spring.
Step 1: Scour the fabric.
The shibori scarf blank is woven of mercerized cotton–it’s very clean with no waxes in the fiber, but it will dye best if scoured. Put it into a pot with a little bit of neutral soap and boil it for about 10 minutes. Then, rinse it well and squeeze out all the excess moisture.
Step 2: Mordant the cloth in aluminum acetate. Let it dry. Then gather the cloth by pulling the blue threads and apply thickened ferrous acetate to the edge of the pleats.
This mordanting approach is based on mordant printing processes originally done in India and Europe. It is a great approach for environmental sustainability and working with woven shibori. The DVD, “Colors of Provence Using Sustainable Methods,” produced by the Natural Dye Workshop with Michel Garcia (2011), describes this process in detail.
Step 3: Fix the mordant in a chalk or bran bath.
Step 4: Remove a third of the gathering threads at the two edges in order to create layers of resist. Dye in a bath of weld.
Step 5: Remove another third of the gathering threads. Dye in a weak indigo vat.
Step 6: Remove all gathering threads. Neutralize the indigo in vinegar and water and boil out to finish. Let dry, iron, and it’s ready for spring.
If you want to try your own hand at dyeing a shibori scarf, I’ve simplified the process for you. Here’s a link to a short video on using the shibori blanks. Give it a try and you’ll have your own lovely shibori scarf.
Thanks to our guest contributor Catharine Ellis, woven shibori artist and author of Woven Shibori (Interweave, 2005). Catharine created the woven shibori, a process of weaving and resist. She teaches natural dyeing and shibori around the world. All images are courtesy of Catharine. Find out more at ellistextiles.com.