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Indigo Dyeing Class

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A friend and I took an indigo dyeing class at L’Ecole Des Beaux Arts (LDBA) in Brooklyn last Sunday.  LDBA is part housewares and hardware store part artist supply destination and part classroom, featuring workshops and classes taught by artists and tradespeople from the community and elsewhere.  The class kicked off with a brief introduction to mixing and maintaining a vat of indigo, the dyeing process in general, and different shibori–the Japanese word for  resist dyeing–techniques. (Doesn’t shibori sound much more chic than tie-dye?)  We then donned our matching indigo smocks and yellow rubber gloves and jumped right in.  Each person brought 3 or 4 white  items to dye–including t-shirts, pillowcases, kimonos, scarves and handkerchiefs.  Silk, cotton and linen items seemed to take and hold the dye the best.  The process was surprisingly forgiving and the results, across the board, were gorgeous.  My personal favorites were small accent pieces, like a handkerchief or scarf, with high-contrast patterns, and heavy saturation of indigo.

The vat of indigo dye was an unexpected bright green.  The items were a sort of greenish brown color when you pulled them out of the dye but turned a deep blue over the course of about 15 minutes as the air oxidized the dye.

Everyone had a slightly different approach and was eager to experiment with the different techniques, the length of time an item should stay in the vat, and the number of dips to achieve the perfect shade of blue.

These ropes were used when we tried arashi shibori, one of several different techniques that we played around with. In arashi, cloth is wrapped on a diagonal around a pole and then tightly bound by wrapping rope or thread (depending on desired thickness of the pattern) up and down the pole. Next, the cloth is scrunched on the pole and then the entire pole is submerged in the dye.  When you un-scrunch the cloth and unwind the rope, the result is a sort of pleated effect with a pattern on the diagonal. “Arashi” is the Japanese word for storm and the pattern is thought to resemble driving rain during a heavy storm.

These once yellow gloves show what a rich and vibrant blue you get with repeated dips in the vat.

(Photos by Ulla Johnson)

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