Honing my shibori knowledge

Fabrics on displayUp-front warning: If you’re already a knowledgeable dyer, this post will be of minimal interest to you. I’ve written it with a lot of explanation for my friends who are not fiber-addicts or have never thought about dyeing fabrics beyond the occasional box of Rit from the grocery store.

Are you saying to yourself, WTF is shibori? Glance at this blog post, discovered while writing this post. xo to Erica, executive editor of HonestlyWTF.com.

Some of you know that I’m traveling in late June to the International Shibori Symposium in Japan. I’m mostly self-taught in fabric dyeing and shibori techniques. I’m at the experimenting and dyeing stage. I have not moved to the chemistry stage, where I treat the preparation of the fabric in a more scientific fashion, weighing the fabric to determine the required amounts of dye and other chemicals. Right now, I’m still in the hobbyist phase.

My Bali travel partner, Tina, and I each have 4+ yards of “prepared for dyeing” (PFD) cotton lawn to make pajamas for our Bali trip. She is very experienced and knowledgeable about shibori. (Visit her Etsy shop filled with gorgeous hand-dyed fabrics.) She has dyed her fabric and finished her jammies. On Sunday, while at a standstill on the duffle bag I’m making—in a distance sew-a-long with Tina—I dedicated time to dyeing the fabric for my jammies.

PFD cotton is natural cotton, after weaving and washing. It has had no sizing or finish applied, and is an off-white color like a light shade of ecru or cream.

For this learning exercise, I relied heavily on Lynne Caldwell’s “Shibori: A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Color & Texture on Fabric.”

I use Procion MX Fiber Reactive dyes, manufactured by Jacquard Products (or Dharma Trading’s equivalent house brand). Fiber reactive dyes are designed to work on cotton, silk, linen and rayon fabrics. They are colorfast, washfast, and lightfast and create a chemical bond with the fiber. They work with room temperature or warm water, and don’t require any special processing to set the colors. (An acid dye requires a steam bath to set the colors.) And if you live in Ohio or a midwest area that has a Pat Catan’s store, they stock a small selection of Procion MX colors. I can run pick up a bottle and get right to work, rather than having to order online.

I wanted to try Itajime Shibori for the pajama top. I had cut the 4+ yards into two 2+ yard pieces, one for the pajama top, one for the bottoms. I have a Pinterest board for shibori ideas, which primarily amounts to resist techniques for dye application. I also have numerous books. But what I saw recently that inspired me was a different method of folding for the triangle application. I thought. And yesterday I folded and wrapped according to what I thought I saw. Instead of making one great big stack of folded triangles, I folded one continuous length of 3″-4″ folded fabric into triangles, then made two equal-thickness conjoined stacks.

Once I had the fabric folded as I wanted, I needed a resist to force the dye solution to the folded edges of the stack of fabric. I had a very nice cutting mat I purchased in a set of four at Sur La Table. Then I sacrificed the vegetable mat in the great bat-trapping incident. Afterward, even with much scrubbing and bleaching, I knew the mat could never live in my kitchen again. (The bat? He revived quickly when I moved him outside. May he never return!) I was able to take my heaviest Fiskers upholstery shears and cut the mat into eight triangles that I could use in and on the stack for the resist. I needed a bucket of clamps that’s somewhere in my disorganized basement. When I couldn’t find the clamps, I grabbed some light twine and wrapped that around the conjoined stacks to hold the resist triangles in place. Looking at the stacks after I was done wrapping, I wished I had placed the two rectangles more centered across the “bridge” between the two stacks. But when one is experimenting, there are no errors.

For this piece of fabric, I wanted the edges of the triangles to be an orange-rust shade. Then I would dye a second time with a lighter, orange-yellow shade. For the orange-rust, I used Procion MX Rust Orange, 16. For the orange-yellow overdye, I used 50:50 Procion MX Soft Orange, 5, and Golden Yellow, 10. What you see in these two pictures is the Rust Orange. The white is where the triangle-shaped resists prevented the dye from penetrating the fibers.

After rinsing the fabric with Synthrapol to remove any excess dye that had not bonded with the fabric (and to prevent bleeding on subsequent washings), I prepared the second dye bath. I wanted a yellow between the rust bars. There are numerous steps one must complete when dyeing fabric: wet the fabric and “scrub” it (if it’s not PFD) to prepare the fibers to accept the dye; immerse the fabric in the dye bath; after half an hour, add a soda ash solution to further open up the fibers to absorb the dye; rinse until the water runs clear; run through a short washing machine cycle with Synthrapol. The amount of dye powder used in the dye bath depends on how saturated a color you want. If you want a light shade, use one teaspoon of dye powder in one cup of water. Medium, 3 teaspoons. Dark, 6 teaspoons. My rust bath was dark—6 teaspoons of dye powder dissolved in a cup of water, mixed into the two gallons of water required to fully immerse the fabric. For the overdye I used one teaspoon of Soft Orange and one teaspoon of Golden Yellow.

After removing the overdyed fabric from the dye bath, rinsing it in my big cast iron sink, and throwing it into the washer with the Sythrapol, I turned around to the work table and saw my measuring cup of soda ash solution waiting to be added to the dye bath. Oops. How much of the dye would still be on the fabric after the Synthrapol rinse removed the excess?

Look for the good. The beauty of this inadvertent error was that my dye bath was still usable for my second piece of fabric. Because I had this great geometric print on the top, I decided to just scrunch the fabric into the dye bath for a mottled look. I put it in, let it sit for fifteen minutes, then picked the whole mass up and turned it over, letting it sit for another fifteen minutes. Then I pulled it aside, stirred in the soda ash solution, and shoved the mass back into the dye/soda ash liquid. After about ten minutes, I squeezed some of the dye out, put it in the big sink, and rinsed it several times.

The first piece was sitting in the washer, waiting for its partner to get out of the bath. By this time, the first piece had been through two Synthrapol rinsings. The rinsed second piece was placed on top and a kitchen towel I had been using to wipe up spills was thrown in on top, then I ran another short cycle with another teaspoon of Synthrapol. When that was complete, I ran a full cycle with detergent.

Returning an hour later, I stretched it on my basement clothesline for pictures. I was a little sad to see that more of the rust lines had dissipated, so that the grid wasn’t as prominent to the design. Compare the second grid picture, above, pre-overdyeing, to the top picture, post-overdyeing, after three Synthrapol rinses.

I spent about fifteen minutes in various parts of the house trying to get true-color photos. We had a rare day with bright sun. Note to self: must set up a corner in the basement where I can get decent photos.

(I think this picture I just took this morning shows the colors the best.)

So what do I think of my results? I’m happy to see the difference with and without the soda ash. Without the soda ash to open up the fibers, the spaces “under” the grid are sort of a flan color—you know, a good housemade Mexican flan. The piece that was treated with soda ash is more pale butterscotch. It’s a richer shade than the sans-soda ash piece.

Am I pleased? Yes, I’m very pleased. I love the colors, and I love the fact that when I hung them on the line after the final wash, they hardly wrinkled. Very soft. Perfect for pajamas for a hot and humid climate. In the day or two before my missing parts for the duffle bag arrive, I’m going to get started on my pajamas.

Shibori Photo Gallery

Hand[le] Me My Laundry

Laundry BasketHere’s a quick Sunday tutorial. You know the big plastic laundry baskets you can get in the hardware or home goods stores? Have you ever felt they were incredibly uncomfortable to carry when returning the clean laundry to its home? Or what if you have it overloaded with sheets and towels and you can’t carry it with one hand? Try walking up two-and-a-half flights of stairs, carrying the basket with two hands and risking falling head over heels down the stairs?

Here’s your solution.

Taking your quilting ruler or whatever straightedge you’ve got handy, measure and draw a horizontal line about ½” above the highest circle. Turn the basket around to the opposite side and repeat. Now using heavy duty shears, cut the handles off along that line. I used my heaviest Fiskars shears that are intended for home decorating projects. Do not use any of your dressmaking shears or any scissors reserved for fabric.

Cut off handlesThe leftover pieces will look like what you see in this photo. You can throw them in the recycle bin. I’ll put mine aside with my other odd things that can be used as a resist in fabric dyeing.

Now you need some webbing or belting in a width between 1″ and 1½”. Cut two pieces about 36″ long. If your webbing frays, coat about ¼” of each cut end with FrayCheck or glue and let it dry. Lace the ends of the webbing through two of the holes. I chose the second hole out from the center hole. I laced mine from the outside to the inside, and then turned the edges out so they matched the concave top of the hole.

Make sure you have laced each piece of webbing through the two holes on one side, not across the body of the basket. If this doesn’t make sense, look at one of your double-handled purses. (Or check out this cool Betty Bowler bag from Swoon Patterns – my favorite bag pattern designer.) You want to be able to carry the basket lengthwise, not crosswise.

Here’s the trickiest part of the project: Arrange your sewing machine in the middle of your table so you can balance the basket on the table.

With the basket balanced to the left of your machine, turn about 3″ of the end up and stitch back and forth over the raw edge, attaching it to the webbing on the outside. I kept angling my presser foot to have about eight rows of stitching covering about a ¼ to ½” near the end.

Et voila! That’s all it takes to make transporting your laundry less painful. Okay, so you still have to deal with the washing, drying, and folding part. But isn’t this a great solution? You’re welcome.

Now I bet you want to know where I got the gawdawful neon coral webbing. My Portland sewist friend, Tina, and I are making duffle bags for our trip to Bali. Tina ice-dyed the canvas (exterior fabric) and cotton (lining). The bag needs handles and I wanted to use cotton webbing instead of sewing and folding the canvas into straps. It required shopping online and trusting the colors on my display to match one of the orange/yellow/pink shades in the dyed canvas. When I went to cut the straps the other night and held the webbing up to the fabric under good light, I realized I had misjudged the color. Grossly misjudged! So I ordered some undyed cotton webbing and a couple of colors of Procion MX dye to make new webbing that will match the fabric more closely.

And what to do with the old webbing? I realized I was sick of hurting my hands on the old laundry basket.

So there you go!

Swoon Ramona #4

About two years ago I made a Swoon Ramona crossbody bag for my younger grandchild. I don’t think they have taken it off except to sleep in all the time since receiving it. With that much use, it’s now threadbare. And all the ScotchGard in the world cannot guard against that amount of wear. It’s feeeeelthy!!

I begged and begged for my babe to take it off and give it to me so I could wash it. When they refused, I just ordered fabric to make another. Happy grandma, happy teenager.

Ramona #1, in a madras batik with cloud-print lining.

This is the third Ramona I’ve made. Number 1 was made for myself, during my 2015 summer working at Interlochen Arts Camp. Number two was the one Cody is carrying in the first picture. Number three was for a close friend of Cody’s, who is also a devoted Whovian. That was blogged here.

So, on to number four. I forgot about the quilting I did on the base of #3. Wish I had read that again before making this one, but every make is about the learning for me, so that’s fine.

Bag liningFor this bag, I used SF-101 interfacing on the lining and fusible fleece on the exterior. I made the strap connectors wider by folding in thirds rather than fourths. I felt that held the ring better and gave me less bulk to have to sew over. And the adjustable strap was a little shorter than designed. Somebody forgot to think carefully about how she was laying the pattern pieces out and didn’t leave enough width at the top of the fabric to cut the two 4″-wide strips.

Clara's AdventureThe fabric, purchased online at eQuilter.com, is from the Doctor Who line – the exterior is Infinite Tardis and the lining is Clara’s Adventure.

I prewashed the fabric, then sprayed with Mary Ellen’s “Best Press” and ironed until it was crisp and oh-so-easy to work with. After I dropped the bag at my babe’s house, I texted, “I hope you love it.” Here is the response I received: “I do! It’s so sturdy (and clean lol)”

There’s a teenager who knows the way to Grandma’s heart.

Happy Accident

I blame my tendency not to read and re-read instructions on the four years I spent in law school and all the reading I had to do there. That’s my story; deal with it. 😉 This happy-accident story is a result of my not carefully reading the instructions for this little bowl.

A year or so ago, I had a nice leftover ball of merino wool in a beautiful rich blue shade, enough to make into something small. For years I have loved flipping through Joelle Hoverson’s “More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts” and dreaming of making each one of these darling projects. (Yes, I do also own Joelle Hoverson’s “Last-Minute Knitted Gifts.” One can never have too many books.)

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While writing this, I read Joelle’s bio on the back of the book, then googled her. I never knew she was one of the co-owners of one of my favorite shops in the world, Purl Soho. If you’re a knitter or quilter, you must visit Purl Soho on your next visit to Manhattan, or just click over to see their sleek site. I receive their newsletter on a regular basis and greatly admire its understated elegance. Go visit!
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Knitted Bowls

The bowls, as they’re supposed to look.

So, a while back, like a couple of years ago, I quickly knit up this little bowl. But I never wove in the ends. (If you have no idea what that means, it’s the final step in finishing a knitting project. All the strands of yarn that are left hanging at the beginning and the end and anywhere you changed yarn in the middle of the project must be woven into the knitted “fabric” so they don’t come loose during its life.) And in my mind, this bowl was to be felted. (Again, if you don’t know … to “felt” a 100% wool project, you throw it in very hot water and beat it up in a washing machine or in a pot on the stove. This causes the wool strands to join themselves to each other and it becomes a much denser fabric.) Here’s a better explanation, with pictures.

Of course, if you read the description of the bowl in the book, you might notice right away that not only is the bowl not to be felted, it’s not even suggested for knitting in wool!!!

Felted Bowl side viewWhen I pulled the little bowl out of my antique wringer washer, I was a little disappointed that it didnt felt up very well. The individual stitches in the fabric are still visible. Now as I’m explaining things here, I realize I forgot an important aspect of the process: soap. Dang!

So how can I make this soft little bowl (which I truly do love, even if it’s a misfit) more useful. I’ll start by spraying a little Aleene’s Fabric Stiffener Spray on the base and see if that gives more of the effect I want. If you’ve read much of what I do here, you’ll recognize that I’m all about experimentation and learning. Next step: ordering some high quality cotton yarn to try these bowls the way Joelle envisioned them.

And in the meantime, what else might I do with the bowl, besides hold cool African trade beads that I bought at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show fifteen years ago? Well, it could be a hat for an American Girl or other 18″ doll.

Or a teddy bear.

Smaller felted bowlUpdate after lots of soapy thoughts:

Felted Bowl side viewThe more I thought about this floppy bowl and its lack of true felted texture, I decided I wanted to try it again. I put hot-from-the-tap water in the wringer washer, then added a teakettle full of almost-boiling water and a scant teaspoon of Dawn dish determent. I coiled two accidentally-felted wool socks into the center of the bowl and slipped a rubber band around the entire bundle. I slowly submersed it in the hot water until it was completely wet. Bear with new hatThen I closed the lid, engaged the agitator, and walked away for thirty minutes. When I came back, I was amazed and thrilled. It was really and truly felted this time.

And if you want proof of its shrinkage, look at its new place as teddy bear hat. Now that’s the right fit for a hat! 😉

Put Some Cork In It

Cork and cotton bagToday was a snow day and in my neighborhood, the snowplows come around infrequently. I had a “Music at Noon” performance scheduled with a Dana School of Music musical theatre student, but morning classes were cancelled, and the head of the musical theatre department wisely cancelled the Music at Noon performance. I was supposed to go to an activity with my granddaughter, but knew with the six or so inches of snow we got last night and the dearth of snowplows, I’d never get out of my neighborhood. So snow day = sew day.

Cork and Shibori BagHave you seen the cork fabric that’s become available over the past eighteen months or so? I really love the feel and the look of it. The bulk of the world’s cork forest is in Portugal and Spain, and I believe the fabric I’m able to get my hands on is from Portugal. Sewing with cork is really no different than sewing with leather and not as expensive. But it is more expensive than fabric, so treat it carefully. If you’re thinking about experimenting with cork, read this blog post first. Or google “sewing with cork fabric.” There are lots of hints and tips out in the sewing world.

Faux Leather BagI’ve made one or two small cork bags before, but I wanted to experiment some more, so I did another modification of the “My Favorite Zipper Pouch” that I’ve made a dozen or so of already. In fact, the most recent one only got shared to Instagram and never made it to the blog. That was made of a faux leather designed by my talented next-door neighbor. A good-sized piece was gifted in my direction, and after the success of that bag, you can bet that more will follow.

My goal with that bag was to be able to fit a spiral-bound notebook inside. I cut the pieces 10″ tall x 13″ wide. But I forgot to take into account that the bottom is boxed with a 3½” seam, so it was not nearly tall enough for a notebook.

Box Bottom of Cork BagToday’s effort was cut 11″ tall x 14″ wide, with only 1¼” square cut out of each bottom corner, rather than 1½”. I fully expected to have a 2″ depth to the box bottom. Alas, the finished depth is in excess of 2½”. The finished size is about 9½” tall, 11″ wide, and 2½-3″ deep. Maybe I can put a 5″x8″ spiral notebook in this, but an 8½”x11″ notebook is not going to fit. If I analyze the math on this bag and the previous one, maybe I can figure out how to translate the flat cut proportions into the finished bag size.

Inside Zippered PocketAnother thing I did with this bag was to add an inside zippered pocket. And trying to stretch my brain, I thought I could do it from memory, as I’ve made so many bags with zippered pockets like this. After screwing it up and unsewing several times, I dug through my pattern drawer and looked at the directions on the Swoon Patterns “Ethel Tote.” (a free pattern!) That zippered pocket was much easier than I was trying to make mine, and in 45 minutes or so, the pocket was complete and I was ready to finish the bag.

The other lesson I learned is that a 5½”-6″ opening is insufficient for one’s hand to be able to dig around in the depths of a pocket for some desired little doodad. Next time I’ll make the opening 7″.

Finished BagFor the first time in making these bags, I pieced the front. My goal was to marry the cork fabric with some of my friend MaryLou’s shibori scraps she gifted to me. The cork was cut 6½” tall, with top and bottom ¼” seam allowances. The shibori, then was cut 5½” tall. The zipper takes a ¼” seam allowance; the join between the two fabrics takes ¼” on each piece; and the bottom seam takes off ¼” from the front and back pieces. The lining to the bag is all MaryLou’s hand-dyed fabric, in a little lighter colorway. I’m so lucky to have such talented and creative friends!

So there you have it. Do I know what I’m going to do with this bag? Will I use it myself, or offer it to one of MaryLou’s and my mutual friends—her fabric and my sewing. I don’t know. But I learned a lot making it, and that makes me happy.

So that’s my snow day. I didn’t push myself on this project. I just had a leisurely day, watched a couple of movies while plodding along, thinking and doing and learning. I can’t ask for a better day than that!

And the hot fudge topping on this icy day? When the Jazzman got home from his 12-hour workday, spent outdoors in weather that didn’t exceed 24°, he fired up the snow blower and took care of the driveway and the sidewalks. I feel guilty when I don’t get out and do it myself, but the gas fumes give me migraines, so he indulges me and freezes some more so I don’t get sick.

It’s now 10:00 p.m. As I’m typing the final paragraph, the weather app tells me it’s 16° and feels like 8°. The snow is starting again, and it looks like we may get another inch tonight.

You think maybe I’ll get another snow day tomorrow?