Shibori Dyeing: Part Two: Into the dye

In the shibori dyeing class I was taking at the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival, we had each worked to create a variety of strange-looking cloth bundles during the first hour of the class, and we were now eager to see what the dye would do to them.

When it came time to finally dye the sampling projects my classmates and I had been working on, we were uncertain how we would be able to recognize our own pieces once they came out of the dye.

Our teacher pulled out several five-gallon buckets, filled them halfway with warm water, and opened a few boxes of Jacquard brand indigo dye kits. These kits had the indigo already reduced and ready to go, just as soon as we were done stirring according to the directions.

While the class watched, the teacher piled our samples into two white cloth shopping bags. She handed one to my husband, and another to a younger girl in the class. Moments later, the bags full of samples were submerged into the incredibly dark, slightly sour-smelling buckets, and the dyeing process began.

The beauty of using an indigo kit is that the indigo inside is quite potent. The bag went into the dye white, and came out of the dye two minutes later, already a dark blue. Inside, our sample pieces appeared yellow, and began turning green before our eyes.

Indigo is the color most commonly associated with modern blue jeans. The fabric comes out of the vat as a bright yellow color, and as soon as it is exposed to the air, it begins turning darker. The indigo dye first turns green, then changes to blue as the air affects it.

I witnessed this in my class as my husband opened the bag and poured our pieces into a nearby container. In order for the dye to fully set, it had to be left alone for 20 minutes.

My husband was oh-so-careful to only lower enough of the white cotton bag into the dye to cover the projects within. This resulted in a multi-toned bag, with the bottom part dyed a dark blue, the middle part dyed a lighter blue, and the top completely white.

When the teacher discovered this, she was surprised. She could not help but laugh at the unique coloration of the cotton shopping bag.

She knew we would never get it all to be the same color now that part of it was one color and part of it was another.

Once all of the test pieces were done dyeing, my husband peeled back his blue vinyl gloves and discarded them in the trash. Moments later, I responded to his squeal of surprise, rushing to his side to see what had happened.

Apparently, my husband’s gloves had developed holes in them while handling all of the metallic pieces in the sample batches. Bright yellow spots were scattered across his fingers and hands, quickly turning green on the last hand he had taken the glove off on, and blue on the first hand to be de-gloved.

The blue splotches on his hands were not the last spots had in class that day. The other girl who had helped with the dyeing vats had submerged her gloves too far, flooding her gloves with indigo dye, which resulted in overly blue hands.

By the end of the class, everyone had splotches of indigo on their aprons and hands. I had worn an old black t-shirt, so I was not upset with the spot of blue that ended up on it, nor was it the last thing to be accidentally dyed that day.

Join me next week as the 20-minute timer on the dyed pieces expires, and we begin seeing the results of our experiments.


Gretchen Richards-Meunier is special to the News and Sentinel. She is a fifth-generation artisan, and skilled in multiple art forms.