A grand day out

Indigo dyed fabric drying on a washing line
Indigo dyed fabric drying on a washing line

In between avoiding pouring rain and riots, My Grate Friends and I found a day dry enough to do some indigo dyeing.  Alison very graciously offered to host it which was wonderful as she has a beautiful light and airy kitchen where we could do the preparation and then a garden where we could set up the dye bath and put up temporary lines to dry the cloth.  She also knew exactly what she was doing which was reassuring.  There was a fair bit of cake eating and a glass of wine at lunchtime, but mainly we were busy stitching and wrapping and tying in the morning and then in the afternoon the fun part started.

Dyeing indigo really is magical.  I saw it done on a commercial scale in India when I went on a fantastic textile tour with my mother, and was thrilled to see the indigo flowers in the vat, less thrilled to see people doing it without benefit of rubber gloves and face masks.  The resist there was largely mud block-printed onto cloth.  I also did it with the Spectrum group which I used to belong to and doing it with Alison, Ceri, Ruth, Becky and June last week  was the third time.  It never ceases to amaze me seeing that colour transformation from sea green to, well, indigo blue, start the minute the sun hits it.

We used a simplified form of shibori, a sophisticated Japanese tie-dye technique.  I used the technique of stitching a long tube ‘jacket’ for a pipe and then scrunching it down as hard as I could before putting it in the vat.  This gives a lovely stripy effect:

Drainpipe dyeing
Drainpipe dyeing

I also used peas and beans to make circles and bound them with very small rubber bands sourced from an equestrian suppliers. I bought three bags of rubber bands and three reels of linen thread.  These are sold for plaiting horses’ manes.  The woman on the till said, ‘You’re going to be doing a lot of plaiting.’  ‘No, bookbinding,’ I said, because it’s the cheapest way to buy thread for books.  Silence.  Thought mentioning indigo dyeing might be a step too far.  The tiny rubber bands are great because they really speed up the process.  I also use clothes pegs which is really quick.  I do a bit of stitching, but not that much:

Pegged sample
Pegged sample

I quite like a lot of white when I do it, but I can see that it is too stark for lots of tastes.  I also find it is really successful on prepared for dyeing fabric, and that not tying things too tightly is quite important.

The big question now is what to do with all these samples.  They are really good fun to make, but quite difficult to incorporate into patchwork because the patterns are so bold.  I think I might sew them all into a throw, or even, piece them into a large piece of fabric and make them into a tunic, possibly supplementing them with some commercial cotton batiks.  I understand from my other Grate Friend Beatriz, that tunics are going to be very fashionable this Autumn.  Which is a relief if you are built like me.  I wasn’t made for body-con styles.  Pictures will follow if I ever get round to this.  Although it might well take several years.

Nb. It has come to my attention that not everyone has read the classic children’s book really written for adults, Molesworth.  It is supposedly written by Molesworth, the Gorila of 3B, but was really written by Geoffrey Willans and illustrated with cartoons by Ronald Searle.  The books were published in the 1950s and revolve around a fictional very minor English public school, St Custards.  Despite the fact that I didn’t go to public school or have a little brother like Nigel Molesworth, the books still make me laugh outloud, and during one particularly grim flight home over the summer had both me and the historian crying with laughter in a departure ‘lounge’.   So, I really recommend them.  Molesworth has a Grate Friend Peason,  which is where the term comes from.  He also uses the phrase ‘as any fule kno’ which has passed into my everyday lexicon, I’m afraid.  There is a terrific website www.stcustards.free-online.co.uk/, but it is really worth buying the collected Molesworth which is still gloriously in print.  But here are a few quotations to try to persuade you to have a look:

  • “‘Reality,’ sa molesworth 2, ‘is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder.'”
  • [on History] “History started badly and hav been geting steadily worse.”
  • [on Colin Wilson] “Advanced, forthright, signifficant.” (a line I am determined to use in a review one day…)
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