Archive for the 'Dyeing' Category

Indigo vat continued

Having an indigo vat in the garage is a very pleasant thing. It was started in the last days of 2014 with Claire (posted 3-Jan-2015) and now it sits there, ready to colour and pattern in just minutes. In odd moments over the past week there’s been:

  • a time series experiment in a mid-weight cotton fabric, 11 swatches, single dips in the vat for periods from 30 seconds to 30 minutes (not shown here because the gradation is minor and it makes a boring photo)
  • some paper-based work (waiting for a sketchbook post)
  • a series thinking about the patterning on the Emperors’ cloak, from my Aztec research (see 17-Nov-2014). That’s the subject of this post.
  • Codex Mendoza folio 108r

    Codex Mendoza folio 108r

    This was spurred on by an article I’ve only recently found, A New Look at Tie-Dye and the Dot-in-a-Square Motif in the Prehispanic Southwest (an aside: one of the advantages of blogging – in my stats I followed a link from a referrer, which was a page of citations of one of my previous sources, and included a link to this new source).

    Earlier attempt

    Earlier sample

    Could I get the appearance of a dot in a square? I chose a white voile cotton as my base – it had produced the brightest, clearest colour and patterning in the comparison done the first dye day.

    indigo_dot_02On the left are a tied and a clamped sample. The tying was done with teflon tape – I didn’t want any additional patterning from thread or cord.
    indigo_dot_03The first idea was white squares in an offset placement, each with an internal dot of blue. I ironed folds in the fabric to help align my ties. It didn’t go so well. Placement is off and there is huge variation in shapes and sizes of “white squares”.
    indigo_dot_04The second piece was accordion folded in one direction then the other, then two rectangles of perspex were tied around – being careful not to distort the fabric or introduce any extra patterning from the thread. I wasn’t clear about the pattern I expected, but this fits the “dot in a square” brief quite well. While this is a good, strong and clear pattern I really wanted a border of blue around the white squares, and to have the squares aligned with the grain of the fabric instead of on the bias. The scale is also rather larger than I was looking for.

    indigo_dot_05On the left is the next set of prepared fabrics. The sample in the centre is the critical one. This time the accordion pleats were folded on the bias, to align the pattern with the grain of the fabric. The package is held in two places, which I planned thought would produce the desired blue border. Instead of the 5 cm wide perspex, the resists are now paddlepop sticks.

    indigo_dot_06I am absurdly smug about the result. The sticks were wide enough to be effective (I hadn’t been sure), all my other adjustments worked as I hoped. There’s a lot of extra layers of patterning, on the bias where the fabric was folded, plus a faint grid in blue – presumably from the bowing of the thin wooden sticks in between the two end ties. The white squares are about 8 cm across, compared to 19 cm on the first attempt.

    By this time a plan was forming for a garment – although not a cloak. The other two fabric pieces shown prepared above gave the results shown below.
    indigo_dot_07The tied pink fabric gives me a small stock of fabric pieces with that colour, and patterning at a smaller scale. It’s interesting to see the different effect on each side. The white stitching was seen on a linen sample earlier (2-Jan-2015).

    My final pair of fabrics is shown above, with a few process shots and the result. Pink and white fabrics accordion pleated, then wrapped around a pole, tied and scrunched arashi-style.

    indigo_10I’m now playing with everything, looking at how they sit together. More later as the project progresses.

    Laurie D. Webster, Kelley A. Hays-Gilpin and Polly Schaafsma “A New Look at Tie-Dye and the Dot-in-a-Square Motif in the Prehispanic Southwest” In Kiva Vol. 71, No. 3, Recent Perishables Research in the U.S. Southwest (Spring, 2006), pp. 317-348 Published by: Maney Publishing [online] Available from (Accessed 11-Jan-2015)

    Indigo dye day

    Earlier this week fellow OCA student Claire and I spent a day dyeing with indigo. The idea came up when I was researching Aztec culture and design for the Cultural Fusions project. That project is on ice while I transfer courses in OCA, but we weren’t going to cancel the indigo (nor the cochineal – coming soon). I’ll add a link to Claire’s post about the day when it’s up. Claire’s post is here.

    indigo_07Both of us have done a little dyeing with indigo before, but always with a vat prepared for a group – never by us. We used synthetic indigo from Batik Oetoro, weighed, measured, mixed, and waited an hour. We were so excited by our first sight of the result – photo to the left. A thin film of dark purple-blue on the top, and underneath a beautiful yellow-green.

    indigo_08This is Claire, gently stirring. Oxygen is the enemy in an indigo vat. The indigo will react to it, turn blue … and not be available to dye your goods. Lower damp fabric gently into the vat, leave for a time, lift it out (trying not to drip into the vat – that would introduce oxygen). The fabric comes out yellow green, then before your eyes the indigo blue develops. Very satisfying.

    Both of us came prepared with experiments. There are some basics with indigo – the vat must be alkaline, the indigo must be reduced (oxygen removed) – but every resource I checked seemed to have its own “magic” process. How long should the fabric stay in the vat? Longer means deeper blue – but is that two lots of 15 minutes, or 1 dip of 5 minutes followed by repeated 1 minute dips (up to a dozen), or 20 minutes followed by 2 minutes followed by repeated 30 second dips? One source referenced a traditional Japanese process involving multiple dips over days, with rinsing and drying in between (more variables).

    I had a complex plan based on a total of 30 minutes in the vat. I would dip 6 swatches for 5 minutes. 5 would go back in for a second 5 minutes. 4 in for a 3rd dip etc. Secondary plans were also based on 30 minutes: a swatch would go in for the full 30. Another would have 2 dips of 15 minutes each. Et cetera.

    It didn’t happen. I did the first 5 minutes, then let the swatches oxidize while pottering around with other things. They looked a very dark blue, so we kept using 5 minutes as a standard. I rinsed and ironed dry a swatch and it looked a good, rich colour. I wish now I’d been more disciplined – with calmer eyes that blue isn’t quite so rich and deep.

    indigo_04A second experiment was based on weights of fabrics. Three 40 cm squares of cotton were pleated and each was tied between a pair of DVDs acting as a resist (that is, reserving an area that won’t be dyed). The cottons were a gauzy open weave, a voile, and a mid-weight cotton (left to right in the photo). All spent 5 minutes in the vat. The colour is richest and brightest on the voile. I speculate there is less material to hold the dye on the gauze, and not enough time for the dye to penetrate the thicker fabric.

    indigo_02Claire brought along a cold wax (emulsified paraffin wax), also from Batik Oetoro, for us to try. I was very excited by the brushmarks I was able to make, and with the easy washout in warm soapy water. My choice of a pink fabric looks a little dull in the end result. It was a mid-weight cotton I’d dyed some years ago, probably with drimarene K.

    indigo_01This shows a series of experiments with a pink voile (commercially dyed). A swatch of the original fabric is top right. Below that is part of a 40 cm square that was pleated and tied between two squares of thick perspex. After 5 minutes in the vat this had rich blue where the dye wasn’t resisted and a halo of off-white around the protected pink. On the left are 6 swatches. Each had a simple knot tied in the middle to provide a resist. My plan was to dip them for increasing times. My original idea of 5 minutes, 10 minutes etc was reduced, based on the earlier sample. Unfortunately I chose 30 second increments – so the samples range from 30 seconds to 3 minute dips. There is more difference in real life – trying to sort them by eye I swapped a couple, but had the general sequence right. With the glories of hindsight I wish I’d used 1 minute increments.

    indigo_05I tried the same process with a yellow, heavier cotton. The 5 minute resisted sample on the lower right almost has some blue. Most of the dyed area is a sequence of greens. Once again I was able to sort the 30 second increment dip swatches by eye, but the differences were tiny. A part of that was the unevenness caused by the knot and incidental folds of the fabric, but really it was that poor choice of timing. For this heavier fabric 2 minute increments would have been better.

    indigo_06It’s interesting to see the pink and yellow resisted samples side by side. There is no sign of colour mixing on the pink sample. It is indigo blue where dyed, that halo of off-white, then clear pink. The yellow has no halo, then colour mixes to green. I believe the sodium hydrosulphite in the vat, used to reduce the indigo, is the cause. That chemical can also be used to discharge – that is, intentionally remove dye colours. A discharge agent acts differently for different dye types, and even different colours within a dye type. I think the pink commercial dye was very susceptible to discharge by sodium hydrosulphite, so was completely removed where ever it was touched, even if there was insufficient indigo to leave colour. The yellow dye was much more resistant – so I got colour mixing and no discharge halo.

    indigo_03My stamped linen sample was seen in an earlier post (2-Jan-2015). I had a couple of other fabric samples, nothing too exciting. Some white panne velvet ended up a very pale blue. I didn’t expect any colour at all, given it is 100% polyester. I suspect it is not at all wash-fast. My other main area of inquiry was paper, but I’m keeping that for another post. As the host of the dye day I still have the indigo vat and have been visiting it each day with experiments as part of my daily sketchbook. More on that in my next sketchbook roundup.

    When you’re juggling lots of things…

    …some get dropped.

    This ikat-ish project was last seen as a damp warp back in May.

    I wound the dried yarn into a cake, then wound the warp using the warping wheel with little excess loops of yarn where I tried to get each end to line up according to the plan. This went moderately well. My ties to resist dyeing weren’t exact distances apart, then there was some slippage and various inaccuracies in handling, not to mention yet another muddle in my calculations (I really need to learn to read the planning notes I make. Going by memory, I gaily changed from 25 to 20 to 24 epi, and ran out of yarn while warping. Nothing like necessity to encourage flexibility!). Given all that was going on I decided to hand stitch the shibori threads in the finished cloth rather than adding extra warp ends to do the gathering.

    Here is the warp shown from the back of the loom. The edge areas are narrower than intended. It’s not a great photo but you might be able to see that overall arrangement is not too dissimilar to the sketched plan. The dark dashes kind of line up – viewing from a galloping horse in the dark may assist in seeing it.

    The actual weaving was straightforward – plain weave in undyed 20/2 silk. I had enough warp length to do a little extra to use in sampling the next steps.

    I did running stitch up each side of each red/orange stripe and gathered tightly, then dipped in a mix of yellow and brown dye and steamed.

    It’s ugly. So, so wrong. The colours don’t work. The values don’t work. The patterning is a mess. There is no particular definition or variation in the brown. There are all the technical problems in winding the warp already mentioned, plus the previously dyed areas bled.

    Lydia Van Gelder. Twice Dyed #8

    I based my efforts on a piece in Lydia Van Gelder’s Ikat II. I didn’t expect it to be the same of course – “slightly” different levels of expertise (!), plus I was working from a photo and deliberately changed a few of the things I saw/understood, let alone the things I didn’t see/understand. I’ve included a shot from the book, which I think fits within fair use.

    I was careful to wash the actual scarf before gathering and redyeing – there was no sign of colour in the water. I used the same stitching. I had some ideas to try in the hopes of a better result. The photo shows the gathered cloth ready to be soaked and dyed.

    Then I dropped the ball. I put it to soak (a couple of hours is good), thinking I would have time for the dyeing later that day. Time passed – two weeks worth.

    This morning I finally brought myself to look at the sorry, soggy thing. The soak water was a pale blue. The dyes had clearly bled and run. In a spirit of “let’s just get this over” I went out to the garage, grabbed the bordeaux dye stock and applied it, undiluted, with a brush. I’ve been writing this up while I waited for it to steam.

    …Next day…

    What do you think?

    For me it very nearly works. All the dyeing errors are still there, but not so intrusive. The narrower range of colours helps. The stronger value of the overdye and its horizontal tendency gives some balance to the verticals. In person the fabric has a nice sheen, drapes well and is very soft and smooth to the touch. (I ended at 24 epi for the 20/2 silk plain weave).

    I don’t love it, but I expected to hate it.

    For my own memory, rather than that the world needs to know, what else has been happening the last few weeks:

    • Visiting The White Rabbit Gallery, a collection of contemporary chinese art plus lunch at the Mission Restaurant under the Ng Gallery nearby, rounded off by a quick visit and some remnant-box-diving at Elsegood Fabrics (can’t find a working website, but come out of the restaurant, walk across the laneway and you’re there). I’m usually a bit wary of contemporary art (I like happy and beautiful, not so keen to spend leisure time with tortured, depressed or self/society-flagellating). The current exhibition here had lots of beautiful, including very interesting textile work, with intent and meaning but not dark-dark-dark.
    • Nalda Searles drifting in my own land exhibition at Mosman Art Gallery.  Really beautiful, thought provoking textile artworks. Nalda had come over from WA and gave a floor talk – to quote the website “revealing the imagery and processes that have informed the art practice and vision of one of Australia’s unique and evocative practitioners”. And they didn’t over-promise. Nalda spoke very directly and personally. Plus lots of people to natter with afterwards.
    • The poetry of drawing – Pre-Raphaelite designs, studies and watercolours at the Art Gallery NSW. Stunning details and pattern-making. I always find it interesting to see preparatory work and all the adjustments and changes in the finished artwork. Sample, sample 🙂
    • The Sydney Craft & Quilt Fair – lots of inspiring work, talking (on the ATASDA stand and just running into people) and just a touch of shopping.
    • Family lunch (my original nuclear family) at Ottomans for mum’s 83rd birthday, which was so nice I took Geoff and the boys (current nuclear family) there this week for Geoff’s 55th.
    • Some clearing and re-arranging in my workroom-formerly-known-as-the-dining-room. The idea was to display as much as I could of previous work and larger samples (smaller odds and ends of sampling are in folders) – basically to remind me of possibilities and actually use the samples actively. The photo shows the area behind the loom, with two of the five hangers.
    • Mending socks – yes, there was enough to make this a separate item. I knit socks for all the family and with colder weather arriving there has been a mini-avalanche of holes to be darned and toes to be cut off and re-knit.
    • Plus bellringing, work, gym, shopping, cooking, laundry…
    • Which may not sound much to some, but I really like lots of quiet time pottering around by myself and all of this in a couple of weeks is … phew.

    Ikat-ish dyeing

    For my next ikat-ish experiment I want to reproduce? interpret? a piece in Lydia Van Gelder’s Ikat II. There are stripes of of warp dyed in long dashes (purple in the layout), stripes of solid orange and a simple woven shibori effect over. The idea is to custom dye the dashes, but in a skein of yarn from which I will wind the warp, so almost or fake ikat, not the real deal.

    This weekend was the dyeing. I used my warping wheel  to create a big skein, then tried to mark out the dashes evenly. The best wrapping material I could come up with was plumbers’ teflon tape. There were 100 revolutions of 20/2 silk on the wheel, which compacted down pretty well. In the photo you can see there were a couple of tricky spots where I had to complete the wrapping after taking the silk off the wheel.

    Dyeing was my standard immersion in Lanaset dyes. I rinsed the result with the wraps still in place, then took them off for drying. In the photo there is the pink teflon still in place, the next section with the wrapping off but the silk still compressed, and another section I have opened up a bit to look at the boundary of dyed and undyed areas. Generally it seems to have gone fairly well, although there is a consistent problem where I tied the starting end of the wrapping. On every section there is a spot where dye penetrated. Quite acceptable for a first attempt I feel, and I’m pretty confident I can fix it next time.

    Here is the unwrapped skein, still wet. The dyed parts are darker than I intended, though they will lighten a fair bit when dry.

    The next step will have to wait for next weekend – trying to wind and beam the warp with reasonable alignment.

    Bristol Maximus in Supplementary Warp

    This has been a long time coming.

    Back in February inspiration struck – could I represent complex bellringing methods using supplementary warp floats?

    I did some sampling – the idea held some promise if only I could get the right sett. Advice from Liz and the weaving group was very welcome.

    In March I was dyeing yarn, then redyeing!

    Next step was warping using my new AVL warping wheel. It went very smoothly, onto the sectional beam for the ground warp and the plain beam for the supplementary. Tension held nice and even throughout weaving 🙂

    However the weaving didn’t go well. The first few centimetres looked streaky, obscuring the patterning.

    Weeks passed, some pleasant (Forum in Orange), some less so (virus in tummy). Finally I bit the bullet, and on Monday unwove all that had been done and resleyed.

    Weaving restarted, all looked well – until I realised I had mucked up the ringing pattern.

    Deep breaths.




    There is still some streakiness, but the patterning is clear and readable  (I tested it on the other ringers this morning). The hand and drape of the cloth is good and with finished measurements 184 by 19.5 cm plus fringe it’s a great weight and size to wrap around the neck in Sydney’s autumn.

    I was able to include 4 leads of Bristol Maximus – a ringing pattern with 12 bells. The brown ground cloth squares show the path of the treble (highest note) – it follows a path ringing first, then 2nd, then first, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th etc, forming a jagged but regular line going from 1st to 12th and back 4 times. The blue supplementary warp float blocks show the path of one other bell – it could be any of the other 11 bells since they all follow the same Bristol Maximus pattern, just starting at different points (it’s a bit like 4 people singing “row row row your boat” in rounds). If you’re a ringer and the photo doesn’t quite look right, the pattern is mirrored and doesn’t start exactly at a lead end.

    After all the palaver it was pleasant to weave. I did some experiments at the end of the warp to see if I could further reduce the streakiness and did manage to get improvements, but only with a lot of fuss lifting and manually clearing sheds that I didn’t actually weave in order to keep the ground and supplementary warps in proper alignment. Given I like the final scarf, the cost/benefit of the extra fussing isn’t worth it. Maybe playing around with reed size and denting would be useful if I revisit this.

    The foolish dyer

    How did I mess up? Let me count the ways!

    1: you didn’t see this last week. I miscalculated drying times in a humid Sydney and the planned warping time came and went with yarns still damp.

    2. After all my warp calculations… I forgot about dyeing some weft!!! D’oh!

    3. Dyeing yarns in the same pot doesn’t mean getting the same colour. I chose colours from my dye marathon earlier in the summer – the brown and blue middle top. The base warp is the same 20/2 silk, the supplementary warp a 50/50 silk/merino mix. The browns I dyed together – the results are the next two cakes of yarn moving around the photo anti-clockwise. The silk/merino yarn gobbled up the dye, giving a darker brown and leaving the large amount of 20/2 silk pale.

    4. Finally I dyed some weft – the brown at the middle bottom. Actually this is OK. A different brown again, but in the ballpark.

    5. The blue silk/merino at the right. I was using the whole hank and didn’t check the ties. Lesson learnt.

    All of which has ended up working well for me 🙂

    a. I took the samples to weaving group on Monday night. Based on them I was planning to warp at 30 epi (15 each base and supplementary). Liz suggested the 40 epi sample was fine, or 36 epi could be even better. I only have a 10 dpi reed – to which the class pointed out both the possibility and a source for acquiring a 12 dpi. Since (fortunately!) warping had been delayed (see above) I can change plans and use the new reed which should arrive in a week or so.

    b. In the meantime other new weaving equipment arrived – an avl warping wheel. I took it for its first spin (ho ho) today and you can see the first few sections of 20/2 silk sitting smoothly on the sectional beam.

    Not everything has to be new. I decided to use all the browns in the warp and my lazy kate worked very nicely to keep things moving smoothly and separately.

    c. I still need to redye some blue silk/merino, but this gives the opportunity to go for a somewhat lighter depth of shade. Maybe it’s different fibres and sheen which is causing the darker shades.

    Current plan is to overdye the old blue with lots of black, which will surely come in handy one of these days.

    After all my trip-ups, not a bad outcome. A foolish but fortunate dyer.

    Colour gamp shawl finished!

    It’s done – 66 x 252 cm finished and hemmed (around 26 x 99 inches)! That’s one big piece of cloth to call a “shawl”, so it’s lucky I’m on the tall side.

    Seen flat it doesn’t work for me – it looks like a picnic table cloth!. In a jumble or draped on a person it looks more interesting. That’s basically because I was focusing on its future use as a referencing and design tool, at the expense of the design of the particular piece itself.

    Of the 63 colours dyed, seen here, 62 are used in the shawl (oops!!). There are 30 warp colours and 45 weft colours, including 13 colours in both warp and weft. That’s 1,350 colour combinations (possibly 1,194 after subtracting the duplicates if I’ve got the sum right) from the original 3 dye colours used.

    At the detail level I find it fascinating. My original goal was to explore the different effects available by mixing colours in the dye versus optical colour mixing in the cloth. I think it’s going to take a long time to explore the answer(s), plus how far they can be generalised. For example, I find myself drawn to the chromatic neutrals (subdued almost greys, the result of including all 3 dye colours). I think they are beautiful in themselves plus work very well as a unifying and enhancing element as weft across a wide range of warp colours – which could probably be predicted, given the shared dye colour “parentage”. I wonder how far I can take that with a different range of original dye colours.

    Some detail shots to finish. Regard the colour on your monitor as indicative only. I haven’t played with the colour in the software at all, but I’m seeing the photos on 2 screens at once (laptop plus a separate screen), and the colours displayed are quite different – rather a jarring effect.

    Related posts:

    Work in progress 2:

    Work in progress 1:

    colours and sample:


    Sweaty palms

    Charming title, eh? I’ll get to that in a moment.

    The huck silk warp is on the loom. I’ve found one sleying error (which was an easy fix) and everything else is looking OK. I had some trouble with the warp twisting and am a bit worried about how the tension will hold up, but not worried enough to feel the need to do something about it. (famous last words??)

    I used 30 colours in the warp, in a variety of depths of shade. Going from right to left:

    section 1 moves from pure violet to pure yellow;

    section 2 moves from pure yellow to pure bordeaux;

    section 3 goes through the “inner triangle” with varying proportions of all 3 dyes;

    section 4 is the steps between bordeaux to violet without actually including the pure colours (since they’re already in the warp).

    The weft plan is to go through the same sequence twice, with a few repeats but mostly different depths of shade. The end piece should have all 63 colours included.

    The sweaty palms are both literal and metaphorical. Literal because it’s hot – I just checked a weather site and it’s currently 40.5 degrees celsius (104.9 F). I have a ceiling fan but no air-conditioning. The computer driving my loom is being a bit skittish with random reboots and I’m keeping to short bursts so as not to overheat the control box (or the controller – me!). The metaphorical sweat is nerves – this is the widest warp I’ve ever attempted and I’ve invested a fair bit of time in the dyeing and preparation; so far my throwing of the boat shuttle is just not doing the job so I’ve resorted to a stick shuttle – effective but not efficient or a good way forward. I can’t find the source, but I’m sure it was Syne Mitchell who wrote about learning outcomes being a weaver, not a piece of cloth – and after all the original question/concept was learning about colour interactions, not wanting a particular fabric. It also helps in my head if I call it “fear of learning” – much more scarey and unacceptable than “fear of failure”.

    So the plan is one small step at a time, keep my cool, enjoy learning and improving.

    Related posts:

    colours and sample:


    First things first

    I have the completed yarn palette.

    I finished winding the 0.2% DOS triangle last night, and the results can be seen at the front. I’ve also redone the first couple of yellow/bordeaux mixes in DOS 3%, with better results (first time I must have been dribbling bordeaux – it just didn’t look right).

    I’ve also completed, washed and pressed the huck sampler. I’ve been calling it lace, but it’s really texture – warp floats and weft floats, but never in the same place.

    I’ve measured myself (fingertip to fingertip), measured existing shawls, searched on the internet, and come up with some basic ideas on dimensions and number of warp and weft colours.

    But first things first… I’m just playing with my colours 🙂

    Another layout, trying to get a visual combining DOS with the movement through colours as the mix changes. [later edit – Geoff just wandered past, admired (clever man!) and pointed out two colours swapped in the 2% DOS violet to bordeaux transition. Oops. No harm done except the photos aren’t quite right.]

    The more saturated and deeper colours led by the magnificent Violet B are beautiful.

    But the inner heart of chromatic greys and neutrals …
    happy sigh…

    Huck colour update

    While mulling over the possibilities for my problem scarf, I continue to potter along with the huck project mentioned here and here.

    I’ve dyed more mixes using Lanaset’s violet, yellow 4g and bordeaux. The first set was 3% depth of shade (DOS), shown here in a very poor photo (oops…). Left is the 1% DOS shade. Still being wound into balls is a 0.2% set.

    The second photo gives an idea of the impact of the different DOS. It shows the top of each triangle. So the top 3 are all 100% violet; the second row all have 80% violet with the remainding 20% either yellow or bordeaux.

    The little sample is done – photo to come. Tomorrow’s plan is to finish winding all the dyed yarns and do some heavy duty calculating on shawl size and how many little rectangles of colour I can have. My 3 basic dye colours become 21 in a colour triangle, times 3 DOS sets means 63 colours. In theory that would mean 3969 rectangles for every combination of warp and weft (63 of each), but almost half would be repeats. I’m going to have to trim a bit!


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