11 November 2010

True Blue Indigo Dyeing - Final Wash

1. Tied threads are pulled to create a bit of ease
an opening for the tip of the seam ripper.

On Sunday, November 8, I took a workshop with Elin Noble on indigo dyeing. Titled "True Blue," the class was one event at A Quilter's Gathering, an annual quilt show and exhibition in New Hampshire. This blog entry follows the journey of my fabrics at home, after they were dyed. Two companion blog entries, The Vat and Preparing the Fabric, document the rest of the process.

After dyeing, we packed up our still-wet fabric bundles and finished the workshop at home, following Elin's directions. Working on an old towel, as dye was still coming off of the samples (this dye transfer is called "wet crocking"), I undid the stitching of my bundles. My fingertips turned blue from the dye, but I found it impossible to do this with gloved hands - it was so awkward I even managed to put a hole in a glove finger with the seam ripper. Missed the digit itself, fortunately.

2. The pattern emerges as the knotted stitches are removed
and the fabric is unfolded.
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3. Left: Dyed fabric curing in a paper bag, and bucket of soapy water.
Right: Grater and bar soap.

We've stitched, dyed, rinsed, and unknotted our pieces. The fabrics have dried for a few days - Elin lets them cure for a week - and now get a final sudsy wash. Elin uses Ivory soap. There's no need here for a discussion of the difference between detergent and soap (basically, it's all about surfactants) and I think the crucial element is to not use a detergent, as most commonly available laundry detergents have optical brighteners, enzymes, and other additives which we don't want or need on our cloth.

Anyway, I had a bar of natural soap - just soap - from Whole Foods, so I grated about one fourth of the bar, using a regular box grater, and put the shavings into a clean bucket with about three gallons of very warm water. It was quite a soapy mixture. In went the fabrics for a little swim. The water turned an alarming blue, but with a sole opportunity for immersion in a one-day workshop, it's not surprising that there would be considerable color loss.

After some gentle swishing in the suds, I gave the fabrics three rinses; by the third rinse the water was clear. Elin mentioned that heavier cloth, or darker colors, may require two soapings. During the class Elin shared with us some textiles from Africa that had not yet had their soap bath; the color came off on her hands while she held the fabrics. Such color migration is called "dry crocking." However, Elin is reluctant to wash these African samples, as the fabrics still retain traces of the thread and stitching used in their design.

4. Left: soapy bath - water is quite blue,
with excess indigo being shed by the fibers.
Right: Above is second rinse; third rinse, below, is finally clear.

Next, the fabrics dripped dry, and were ironed while still damp. Ta-da! A wall of indigo... well, maybe more a medium blue, but still pleasing.

5. Some of my finished product.