How to Indigo Dye Fabric
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Last week I drove nearly 1,000 miles to my family’s cabin in northern Montana. I fought some serious drowsiness along the vast open stretches of I-25 through the entire state of Wyoming. But as the miles to Swan Lake, Montana decreased, I could fill my excitement shoot through the roof. I was headed home for a sewing weekend with my family. And this year, at my mom's suggestion, we decided to give indigo dyeing a try.
In reality, I never expected to love indigo dyeing fabric. I've had a few bad experiences dyeing fabric with RIT dye resulting in super splotching fabric. It just seemed too hard, messy, and kind of toxic. But I’ve loved the shibori trend I’ve seen over the past few years. The rough squares, hexagons and circles I’ve seen dyed into fabric amazed me. I figured it was a difficult and tedious technique. The designs seem so perfect and intricate.
But it’s not difficult or tedious. Not even a little bit. Today I’m showing you the process we used for indigo dyeing using shibori techniques. Indigo dyeing is a great activity to do with a small group of friends or family. Everyone can get involved (we had two kiddos under the age of 5 helping) and it’s a bit of instant gratification. We had a total blast with this experiment.
So, here’s what we did.
Get An Indigo Dye Kit
If you’ve never ventured into fabric dyeing, I recommend starting small and buying a kit. We used this kit from Dharma Trading and it worked great. The dye mixture will dye up to 15 yards of fabric and will last for several weeks in a sealed container in a temperate climate.
Be sure to read the full instructions in the dye kit and create the dye mixture accordingly. Once the indigo dye mixture is ready, it doesn’t like to be disturbed by constant stirring.
Gather Your Supplies
Any fabric dyeing is messy and, of course, permanently dyes fabric and other porous surfaces it comes into contact with. I recommend dyeing your fabric outside in clothes that you don’t mind getting ruined. Wear gloves to keep from having blue fingers that will dye whatever you touch.
Before you get started, you’ll also want to set up a clothesline to dry your fabric on. Here’s a little behind the scenes look at our line tied between two cars.
Grab a few five gallon buckets, one to house the actual dye mixture and one to set your dyed fabric in before you unwrap it. Again, use containers that can be turned permanently blue.
Gather several yards of white or cream colored fabric. Natural fabrics like 100% quilting cotton, muslin, linen and silk work best for this process.
Scour your Fabric
Next, you’ll need to scour your fabric. What is scouring? Well, it’s basically simmering your fabric in a giant pot with some washing soda and a little detergent for several hours. This post
does a great job of explaining how to scour fabric. This process removes any chemicals from the fabric production process and makes it easier for the dye to absorb into the fabric. Be sure to use a non-reactive pot for this step.
But we didn’t scour all of the fabric we dyed. I brought a cotton/silk blend I purchased at the Fabric Store
in LA and dyed it without scouring. It turned out a shade lighter than the scoured fabric. So if you want a deep, dark indigo color, play it safe and scour your fabric first.
Prepare your Design
If you buy a indigo dyeing kit, it will likely come with a booklet that explains different ways that you can fold and secure your fabric to achieve different patterns. There are also a ton of resources online that cover different shibori techniques, like this post
Before I cut a large piece of fabric to dye, I played around with a few different ways to fold, iron and secure the fabric with about an 1/8 of a yard of cotton. It was during this stage that I realized how easy and fun this process is.
The first technique I used on a full yard of fabric was to fold the fabric around paint stirrers and secure with rubber bands at regular intervals. Before it went into the dye vat, my fabric looked like this.
There are also many great designs achieved using wooden squares, balls, and just rubber bands. I recommend experimenting in this phase to see what design you prefer.
Dye Your Fabric
Now that you’ve come up with a few different designs, fold and clamp (or rubber band) your fabric into its final shape. Some sources suggest getting your fabric wet before putting it into the dye, so as not to disturb the indigo with the bubbles that dry fabric creates when it’s submerged. We didn’t have great luck with this technique and found that the fabric didn’t soak up nearly as much indigo as dry fabric.
Slowly lower your fabric into the dye so that it’s completely submerged.
You’ll notice that the dye mixture is actually quite green. The dye doesn’t turn blue until it’s exposed to oxygen. Keep your fabric in the dye for five to 30 minutes. The longer your fabric is in the dye vat, the darker the indigo will be and the more the dye will soak into the middle of the fabric.
When you're ready, remove your fabric and immediately transfer it into a separate pot to drip. Don’t let the dye drip back into the indigo vat as it will disturb the dye mixture.
Notice how green the fabric is when first removed. It will immediately start to turn blue as it’s exposed to the air. Once it has drip dried for a few minutes, unwrap your design and hang it on the drying line. The inner parts of the fabric will still be green.
Let your fabric dry completely on the line. If you’re not super happy with your design, you can always refold that piece and re-dye it.
There are endless designs you can create with shibori dyeing. I also folded a yard of fabric into long, rectangular strips and then into triangles. Then I banded two wooden stakes through the middle of the triangle. Here’s what that contraption looked like after being dyed, but before unwrapping it.
And here’s that design completely dry on the line:
My sister came up with another great triangular design. She only submerged the outer edges of her fabric into the dye.
And the final result looked like this:
At the end of the weekend, when the vat of indigo dye was nearly used up, we tried our hand at dip dyeing. I’ve been so inspired by Anna Joyce’s stunning wall hangings
that I decided to give it a go myself.
I asymmetrically dipped the bottom of the fabric into the vat for around five minutes and let it dry completely. Then I dipped the fabric a bit further into the vat for just a few seconds. This was the result:
Rinse and Dry Your Fabric
Once your fabric is completely dry and you love the design, it's time to heat set the dye. First, put your fabric through a wash cycle in your washing machine with cold water and no detergent. Then, dry your fabric on a medium or high heat tumble dry cycle. This will set the color and prevent it from fading in the next wash cycle.
If you're paranoid like me, you might consider washing your indigo dyed fabric by itself or with dark clothes for the first few washes in case any residual dye washes off.
All in all, the dyeing experiment was a huge success. It’s a quick and easy project that lends itself to total experimentation and creativity. At the end of the weekend my mom and I were painting indigo onto fabric and feeling like inspired artists.
I’ll be back next week with a post showing you the garment I made from my shibori dyed silk/cotton fabric. For now, here’s a sneak peek!
Have you used indigo dye and shibori techniques at home? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the process and any tips or tricks you’d like to offer. Leave your helpful comments below. As always, make sure you’re signed up for our newsletter below to stay in the know on deals and new product launches!
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