Sticks and Stones

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Kanoko Shibori

When tie dye first became popular in the US, it was a much less complex art form than it is today.  Artists have developed modern techniques that  have transported tie dyeing into a highly sophisticated artistic endeavor.  Looking back at those early tie dyes, as well as the methods used to produce them, has been an assignment for my apprentices and textiles students each year.  They get a real kick out of those 1960s and 1970s fashions and hair styles.  They also gain a first-hand view of how far the art form has evolved.

Modern tie dye is heavily influenced by an ancient  Japanese resist dyeing method known as Kanoko Shibori.  There are numerous different styles of shibori dyeing techniques, all traditionally using silk fabric as the base for surface designs.  In Kanoko Shibori, tiny puffs of material are tightly bound with  thread, making circles. Sometimes the circles are placed in an irregular fashion, sometimes they create an image, or more frequently, the fabric is folded into layers to create a repeating pattern.  The bound fabric is then dyed by immersion.  It is a time-consuming, painstaking process with beautiful, monochromatic results.

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Silk bound into hundreds of tiny puffs, tied with thread.

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 The elaborate floral result of the tiny puffs after dyeing.

When tie dyeing first came to the US, the fabric of choice became cotton. It was common to place small objects, known as inclusions, inside the fabric then tie around the object to mimic Kanoko Shibori.  Coins, dried beans, pebbles, marbles, and all sorts of items were used.  My personal favorites were checkers, or gambling chips.  The dyeing was still generally done by immersion.  A clever alternative was to use inflated balloons as the inclusions. Since the balloons would float at the top of the dye bath, the possibility of using different colors of dye was conceived.  Eventually, direct dye application became popular, opening the doors to even greater creativity.

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Glass marbles bound in silk.

Recently, several dyeing artists  have been  melding  the old techniques with the more modern style of tie dyeing with some astounding results.  Nashville, Tennessee area tie dyers Mollie Martin and Jonathon Dixon, of Pieceful World Clothing, incorporate inclusions with pleating and spiraling into stunning creations of wearable art.  Mollie and Jonathon were kind enough to allow the use of their work as an illustration.

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 Cotton tapestry, bound and stabilized.

Several different sized inclusions can be used as shown in the above photograph.  By binding tightly, a  fabric bubble is formed around the inclusion, making a perfect circle on the cotton fabric.  Notice how they have stabilized using bamboo skewers to prevent the risk of the  bound garment from buckling and to make handling easier. The coloration visible is washable marker the artists use to plan for dyeing by direct application.

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 Cotton bound with inclusions, pleated, and spiraled, and dyed.

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Cotton Sundress by Pieceful World Clothing, 2014

By combining spirals and pleats with the inclusions a whole galaxy can be represented in a single piece of stunning wearable art.

An interesting variation takes a bit of color planning, but can yield pleasing results.   Dye the fabric a single color by immersion, wash out, dry, then bind using inclusions.  A second dye bath results in circles of the first color against a background of the second color.  Binding a second time and using a third dye bath is another option worth exploring.

At a workshop recently, a question arose regarding the use of irregularly shaped items as inclusions.   My experimentation was inconclusive.  Oval objects made nice ovals, and rods made oblong shapes, but the irregularly shaped objects made irregular blobs, rather than  recognizable images.  It is my intention to investigate this concept further.  Stay tuned!

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Keeping the white White

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Moon Tie Dye

A big challenge for most tie dyers is leaving no white, or undyed, areas.  An even bigger challenge is deliberately leaving an area white as part of the design, or in preparation of using the white area as a canvas for an additional design element. Several of my most popular shirts, such as my Moon and Snow Folks, have large white areas.  Frequently, I combine tie dye with ‘painting’ with fiber reactive dyes.  For the dye colors to yield true, a clean, white area is needed in which to paint.

Here is how the white area is kept white in my studio.

  • Pre soak the washed and dried garment in a solution of 1.25 cups of sodium carbonate and 1 gallon of water.
  • Wring, or spin in washer, until just damp.
  • Pleat in desired pattern.
  • Bind off the portion of the design intended to remain white with rubber bands, so tightly the bands will have to be cut off to remove.  I recommend rubber bands for this technique, rather than artificial sinew.  Why?  With rubber bands a great deal of resistance can be created due to the tension of stretched elastic.  
  • Using a zip lock- style plastic sandwich bag, cover the area.
  •  Zip the bag as far shut as possible.
  •  Wrap another rubber band tightly around the bag.
  • Place the tied item on a slanted drip rack, elevating the side of the rack nearest to the area to remain white.
  • Dye the  area nearest to the bagged portion by applying the dye close to the second band, allowing the dye to wick to the first band.
  • Batch for 12 -24 hours.

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  • Remove the bag from the protected region first, rinsing in cool water.
  • Rinse the entire item in cool water.
  • Unband under running cool water.  This first rinse should be thorough enough to remove all the sodium carbonate solution.
  • Soak the item(s) in hot soapy water for at least 5 minutes, but not longer than 15 minutes, with white areas sticking out of the soapy water.

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  • Rinse in cool water until waste water runs nearly clear.  At this point some back coloring might be evident.  If so, continue rinsing until the white is white again.

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  • Machine wash and line or tumble dry.

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Now the white area can be left white, or is available for further embellishment.

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Dyeing Arts Retreat Spring 2014

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“Painted” with thickened dyes

It has been a while since I have had time to do any blogging, and this one is quite brief.  Learning the different forms of resist dyeing is best accomplished by DOING rather than reading.  All the text books, videos,  manufacturers’ instructions, and blogs can not compare with hands-on instruction and personal experience.  That is why I train apprentices and offer workshops.  It gives those new to the art form an opportunity to gain basic skills.  It also allows the more advanced practitioner the opportunity to sharpen techniques under the guidance of an experienced Master Dyer.  The third Saturday of each month I host a Beginners and an Advanced workshop in a classroom at one of my retail outlets in Cookeville, TN, USA.  These 2 hour workshops are a great way to give resist dyeing a brief try.  But my patrons have demanded more in depth learning experiences.

Therefore it is my distinct pleasure to invite you to attend a Retreat Workshop in the hills of Tennessee near my home.  I have reserved a rustic lodge at Standing Stone State Park at Hilham, Tennessee for the evening of March 28, 2014 through the morning of March 31, 2014.  We will  explore several resist dyeing techniques, including three methods of Batik, Shibori, Tie Dyeing,  Discharging, and the use of thickening agents to paint with dyes.

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Batik using soy wax and fiber reactive dyes

All lodging, meals, supplies, and materials are included as a package for only $350 per person.  Due to the intensity of our curriculum, the workshop is limited to six participants.  A $100 non- refundable deposit is required by Dec. 31, 2013, with the remaining $250 due by March 1, 2014.  Interested individuals may seek more information, and registration procedure at the Events section on my Facebook page–link at upper right of this page.

In all likelihood, I will offer more Retreat-style Workshops in the future, perhaps covering different topics. In the event that this time it is not feasible for you to participate, Fear Not, other opportunities will arise!

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“Painted” using thickened fiber reactive dyes on cotton

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Discharged with household cleanser, then re-dyed using thickened fiber reactive dyes

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Shibori Dyeing

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  Arashi shibori is a type of Japanese resist dyeing where fabric, usually silk, is wound around a pole or pipe, then bound, then dyed by immersing the fabric wrapped pole in a dye bath.  The end result is a beautiful diagonal ripple stripe.   A few modern adaptations of arashi shibori include wrapping and dyeing fully made garments, direct application of the dyes and the use of pvc pipe for the wrapping pole.  Sheer cotton, rayon, gauze, and other light weight fabrics of plant origin can be successfully used for this form of resist dyeing along with fiber reactive dyes. For intense multicolored shibori, my preference is for direct application, rather than immersion dyeing.

Supplies needed:

  • Sodium carbonate pre-soak solution:  one cup of sodium carbonate dissolved in one gallon of water.
  • Fiber reactive dyes in squeeze bottles, or small cups.
  • Cylinder– I often use a large clear food canister, so I can see both sides of the bound fabric.  Wine bottles, plastic tubes, PVC pipe, two liter soda bottles, 5 gallon buckets, are all cylinders that can be used successfully.
  • Cord,  elastic, or sinew for binding.
  • 1 yard or more of white or pastel light weight rayon or cotton fabric 45 inches wide, or a light weight garment, washed and dried omitting fabric softeners and dryer sheets.
  • Masking tape.
  1. Soak the item to be dyed in a solution of 1 cup of sodium carbonate dissolved into 1 gallon of warm water for about 30 minutes.
  2. Wearing gloves, wring the fabric or garment out over the pre-soak bucket until just damp. Spinning in a washing machine is recommended.
  3. The cloth is wrapped on a diagonal around a cylinder.  Depending on the size of the cylinder, the fabric can folded, or over lap several times.  The cloth can be secured with tape at one end and the cylinder turned to wrap. GE DIGITAL CAMERA
  4. This is a XXL Tee shirt folded diagonally.
  5. The cloth is very tightly bound by wrapping thread, or cord or sinew up and down the cylinder.  Here the binding cord  is a rubber band at one end.  
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  7. Usually at this point the bindings are wrapped around the fabric.  My Tee shirt is so thick and damp, it will cling to itself with only binding either end with a rubber band  to hold the shape of the pleats, once scrunched.
  8. Next, the cloth is scrunched on the pole.  It should be a snug fit.   The result is a tightly pleated cloth with a design on a diagonal.
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  10. Dye is applied with squeeze bottles, or sponges, or brushes.
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  12. Batch for 12-24 hours.
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  14. Unband, washing out excess dye in hot soapy water.
  15. Machine launder.

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Cotton fabric is 36 inches wide  by 108 inches long, dyed in four colors.  The above photo is from the middle layers.

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The outermost layers have the darkest, least distinctive dye pattern,

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 while the inner most layers have the tightest and lightest dye patterns.

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The two ends compared.

A technique frequently used in shibori is over dyeing with black or other very dark color.  This can be accomplished by over dyeing the first dye application 20 minutes into the batching process.  Or, more commonly, the entire binding and dyeing process is completed twice.  The first time the dyeing is done in pastel or light colors.  The second time the dyeing is done in dark colors or black, sometimes going in different direction.

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Twice dyed using shibori technique, 36 x 36 linen, 2011, by Ruth Cooper

Another fun variation is reverse shibori, where dark fabric is wound around a cylinder, bound, scrunched, then treated with a discharging agent for about an hour.  The fabric is then unbanded and the discharging agent is neutralized.  Work in a well ventilated area when discharging, please.

There are many variations to explore with shibori, from how the fabric is folded before wrapping, to how the wrapping is done, to how the binding and scrunching are done, to where the dye is placed.  The combinations of variables is endless! My studio was once located next door to a restaurant that received shipments of condiments in tall square 3 gallon pails.  Using those  square pails as  wrapping poles created several unusual shibori dyed fabrics.  Who says the pole must be a cylinder??

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Over Dyeing with Black

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Heather models a Rainbow Spiral Black Over Dye by Up and Dyed

One of the most enduring color combinations that I have marketed over the years is the Rainbow spectrum with a black over dye spiral, and its cousin, the black over dyed rainbow fan.

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Eric in a Rainbow Fan with Black Over Dye by Up and Dyed

Over Dyeing with black changes the entire dynamic of the rainbow spectrum, adding depth, contrast and motion to the eye-pleasing color sequence of the rainbow. It is common for patrons to ask if this process began with a black garment to achieve this end result.  No, it began life as a white garment. It is probably my most requested secret. If I had secrets.

Over dyeing with black is doing exactly that==  Applying black dye over fabric already dyed another color.  

  • Mix the black dye powder at the ratio of 1 Tblsp of dye powder and 1 Tblsp of table salt per 4 ounces of warm water.
  • Thickener can be added to the black dye to reduce spreading.
  • The garment is dyed to the saturation point on both sides in the 6 colors Yellow, Orange, Red, Purple, Blue, and Green.
  • Allow dyed item to batch for 10 minutes.
  • Apply a heavy over coat of black to ONE side of the garment.
  • Leave the item black side up on a drip rack.
  • Allow item to batch for 12 – 24 hours.
  • Wash out in very hot soapy water.

Another method for over dyeing with black is to dye or tie dye a garment, wash it out, re-pre-soak, then re-tie using arashi shibori resist techniques.  The over dye with black in shibori creates stunning contrast.

Recently, a patron requested an earth with a black over dye rainbow fan.  I took pictures along the way to share with you.  My camera is not the best and I am a poor photographer, but perhaps the lesson is illustrated well enough to follow.

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  1. The globe was painted using thickened Turquoise and Kelly Green fiber reactive dyes on the waist of a pre-soaked tee shirt, directly below the sleeve.
  2. Shirt was allowed to batch for 48 hours or until the dye is completely dry.  
  3. Re-dampen garment with water in a spray bottle, protecting the globe image from the spray.
  4.   Accordion pleated around the globe.
  5. Place bindings about two inches a part, the length of the garment.

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Dye in the rainbow spectrum repeating pattern.

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Black dye covering one side.

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Finished product.

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Color Blending with Procion Fiber Reactive Dyes

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There is a point in every tie dye workshop that I ask the group to name the three primary colors.   The group members usually bumble around and eventually come up with the right answers, only mildly embarrassing themselves when someone says “pink”.   In the world of fiber reactive dye the primaries are lemon yellow, fuchsia red, and turquoise.  All the secondary and tertiary colors are blended from the three primaries.  In the Beginner Tie Dye Workshop this discussion of colors and their relationship to each other on the color wheel leads to an exercise with white paper towels.  We drip out the three primaries dyes in a triangle and observe the colors bleed together forming the three secondary colors.  Using that color wheel concept, the students dye rainbow spiral Tee shirts.  Nice lesson for the beginner.

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Tie Dye Rainbow Spiral Tee Shirt in three primaries and three secondaries.

In the Advanced Level Workshop, we explore color blending in greater detail. Still using paper towels as  test palettes, we experiment by controlling the value, or depth, of color as  we blend.  Plan extra time when next you mix up a dye lot for the creation of a color mixing chart of your own.

  • Create a stock solution of the three primary colors of concentrated dye solution, carefully measuring or weighing the dye powder and measuring the warm water. Add salt or urea as needed. Use the dye distributor’s recommendations for yield to determine dye powder to water ratios.
  • Dilute the stock solution with water to one half strength for medium values of each color.
  • Lighten stock solution  in 4 ounce increments, making at least three values of each color, light, medium and dark.  Make cotton color swatches, or a paper towel journal.
  • Blend small amounts, 4 ounces at a time, until the desired ratio is achieved.
  • Write down the proportions!
  • Adding dye from lightest to darkest is the preferable mixing sequence when blending new colors.

 advanced color wheel

  • Adding black or weak black in small increments can deepen many dyes.  A light touch is required when adding black.

I found these color wheels by Googling “color wheel”. And you can probably find better ones, but I highly recommend you make your own, with your dyes.  Label with the formula you created.     Your own color wheel will become the corner-stone of your favorite color combinations.   Dye is too expensive to waste making mucky looking colors and odd combinations due to poor planning of color and color placement. Learn which colors provide harmony, blending well and which ones provide pleasing contrast.  Explore ‘warm’ verses ‘cool’ colors.  Practice for hours, all on the safety of  paper towels before making final selections  on a project.  A well recorded history of your dye mixing experiments provides a valuable reference for future projects and ideas.

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Marketing Wearable Art: Pricing

During the years I marketed tie dye and batik clothing at weekend festivals in the Southeast US, I met hundreds of other craft artisans.  In the Up and Dyed gallery, 12 other creators of wearable art were represented under my management.  Many of those great folks were gifted artists as well as skilled artisans.  What is the difference between an artist and an artisan?  Can you be both?  An artist is a person who creates one item of art work at a time, from their own imagination, without intending to ever make another one exactly the same. The creation is an expression of the artist’s very specific artistic thought.   An artisan is a person engaged in the creation of similar art work over and over, usually of their own design and style, but perhaps using some one else’s pattern or instruction.  I am both an artist and an artisan.

Many professional craft artists, like me are also artisans in order to make a living at their craft.  Way too often, skilled artisans and artists struggle to sell their high quality handmade products. Several factors can contribute to the struggle. One is having an appropriate venue, not just any venue, but a venue in which the products are recognized and valued by patrons and potential patrons.  Another of those primary factors is appropriate pricing. Sometimes the products are over priced by local market standards. While far too many craft artisans greatly under price their wares, not earning enough to realize a profit.  How to arrive at a fair market retail price for the items you produce by hand? There are numerous considerations when determining a retail price for any item of  wearable art.

  • Calculate every single penny of your overhead and production costs.  Leave nothing out, no matter how trivial it may seem. Arriving at this calculation will be a difficult and hellish task, but once completed will be a valuable tool in the successful pricing of your wares.
  •  When marketing at consignment shops, consider the percentage paid to the shop part of YOUR overhead, as it helps pay the shop’s overhead.  
  • Consider travel expenses, costs of shipping for supplies, all expenses related to making your business function.
  • Learn to estimate time spent on production of the item by jotting down amount of time spent on each step in the process on a note pad.  Add up the time–you may be spending more time than you thought!
  • Research the competition.  Investigate the price range of similar items in similar venues.
  • Be very realistic about workmanship.  An enthusiastic beginner’s skill  level and production time will be quite different from an experienced master.
  • Use a formula to create a fair price list, such as Cost multiplied by a set percentage rate, based on the wholesale cost of the supplies used.  

Cost X 3=retail price is a common formula for beginner artisans,

 up to Cost X 6=retail price for master artisans and artists.

Art patrons are willing to pay for well made unique items.  When they are treated to fair pricing standards, they will buy more art work, from you and from other artists.  Educate your patrons in the price difference between a one-of-a-kind item verses a multiples of similar items.  Value the work you do, and others will, too.

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Batik for Beginners

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“Everyone’s Rainbow”, 2012-13 R. Cooper

Vintage Bedsheet made into Batik Fabric made into a Whole Cloth Art Quilt

Of all the art forms I have sampled thus far  in my life–and there are many– the ancient art of wax resist dyeing known as batik is my very favorite.  There is the aroma of the molten wax, the magical way the dye flows around the hardened wax, and the mysterious science of blending waxes for specific results plus the timing and controlling of the final dye bath.  I love every phase of the process!  Each finished piece is an exploration in color layering.  As a production artisan, I work on several batik projects at one time.  The process is slow, with long periods of waiting for dyes to batch. Having several pieces in progress simultaneously is much more profitable and time efficient than completing one item at a time from start to finish.  For the purpose of our discussion today, however, the steps described are for a single item project.

SAFETY!!

Wax hot enough to effectively penetrate fabric is hot enough to burn and blister the human flesh.  Over heated wax can emit toxic fumes, even burst into flames!!  Only heat wax in a thermostatically controlled vessel.  Do not heat wax for batik in the microwave oven, toaster oven, or conventional oven, or on a stove top.  Any vessel or tool used in the batik process should never be used for food preparation again.  Work in a well ventilated area. Have a tight-fitting lid for any vessel used to heat wax. Have a fire extinguisher handy.  Use the same safety precautions for handling the procion fiber reactive dyes that are described in the May 29, 2013 blog regarding Dye Application and Batching.

Equipment

  • Natural bristle brushes
  • Clothes pins–wooden spring clasp style
  • Metal objects for stamping with wax, such as cookie cutters, hardware, forks, kitchen tools, carpentry tools
  • Tjanting (optional—a traditional Indonesian batik tool that is a tiny metal funnel, with a long wooden handle, for scooping up hot wax and creating uniform lines).
  • Tacks
  • Wooden frame. I use retired picture frames and embroidery hoops for small pieces, and have built large frames for yardage.
  • Wax thermometer
  • Dish pan, or bucket
  • Electric iron, and ironing board
  • Large stock pot
  • Wax melting vessel with thermostat

Dharma Trading Company offers several appliances for melting the waxes.  In my studio, we use a 1 quart crock pot for soy wax.  For the high temperature waxes, we use a retired electric wok.  An electric skillet is ideal, because several smaller metal pans can be used simultaneously.  An old muffin tin is useful with an electric skillet.  Which ever appliance is used, it must have a temperature gauge.

Supplies

  • Paper towels
  • Old newspapers
  • Fabric, suitable for use with fiber reactive dyes
  • Fiber reactive dyes
  • Sodium carbonate
  • Laundry soap
  • Wax

A Comparison of Waxes

Bee’s Wax: All natural. Comes from bees.  Relatively expensive$10-$15 US per pound .  Melts at a high temperature 145 degrees F.  flammable. Creates a smooth wax line, with little or no crackle. Usually blended with paraffin to give crackle.  Must be removed by solvent or boiling.

Paraffin: Synthetic. Comes from petroleum. Dirt cheap $1 US per pound. Melts at a high temperature 145 degrees F.  flammable. Creates a heavy wax line, with lots and lots of heavy crackle.  Must be removed by solvent or boiling.

Microcrystalline Wax/Synthetic Bee’s Wax: Synthetic.  Comes from petroleum.  Moderately expensive $6-8 US per pound. Melts at a high temperature 175 degrees F.  flammable. Creates a smooth wax line, with little or no crackle.  Can be combined with paraffin.  Must be removed by solvent or boiling.

Soy Wax: natural.  Comes from soy beans.  Inexpensive $3-5 US per pound.  Melts at lower temperature 120 degrees F.  Creates a smooth wax line , with undependable crackle.  Washes out in hot water and detergent.

Re cycled Wax of unknown origin, aka old candles and crayons: Probably paraffin.  Free.  Melts at high temperature 140 degrees F.  Creates  various  effective resists.  Must be removed with a solvent or boiling.

Years ago, in the infancy of my career in the art of batik, a revolution in the candle making industry occurred, and the use of synthetic microcrystalline wax created an alternative to bee’s wax, or paraffin.  Then about 15 or so years ago, soy wax became available for vegetarian candle making.  The soy wax behaves very differently from the other more traditional batik waxes. It is a weaker resist. Unlike those waxes, soy wax is easy to get rid of in the final stage of the process. In my opinion all the waxes have merit and I stock 3 or four combinations of waxes for different projects. Most traditional batik artist use various blends to achieve specific results, due to the diversity of fabrics used for batik.  For the beginner,  for ease of use, and price, I would highly recommend using straight soy wax. It is commonly sold in the candle making supplies in a flake form. The lower melting temperature  of soy wax reduces risk of serious burns, and fumes, or open flame.

  • Launder the fabric to be batiked, omitting fabric softener, and dryer sheets.
  • Iron the fabric using no starch, removing all wrinkles.
  • Tack the fabric to a frame, or pull tight in a large embroidery hoop
  • Heat wax to melting point.
  • Apply wax using the tool(s) of your choice–I recommend brushes for the beginner.  Tools must have heat-resistant handles.  Clothes pins are handy for dipping metal objects into the hot wax.
  • Test the wax on a pad of paper made by folding a paper towel several times.  Drip the hot wax on to the towel.  The wax should readily soak into the paper towel all the way through to the other side.  Test on a scrap of fabric or the edge of the fabric.  The wax should soak all the way through the fabric and be visible on the underside.
  • Apply the wax to the fabric using brushes, or metal objects dipped in wax and  stamped onto the fabric, or a tjanting.
  • When applying the hot wax, create the design with the thought in mind that everything covered in wax will remain the original color beneath the wax application.   Create enclosed areas of wax, for filling with dye later.
  • Allow the wax to harden.  This can be hurried along in the fridge or freezer, or cool spot in winter with a fan.
  • Prepare a solution of 1 cup sodium carbonate in 1 gallon warm water, or a smaller equivalent ratio, and place in a spray bottle.
  • Spray fabric with sodium carbonate solution until damp.
  • Wait 20 minutes.
  • Prepare procion fiber reactive dyes, with thickener added, if desired.
  • Using a small squeeze bottle or a paint bush, apply the dye sparingly, but fully filling each enclosed area.  A white plastic ice tray makes a handy dye holder when using several colors of dye. Use the lightest color(s) of the spectrum first.  The dye will not be able to penetrate the hardened wax.
  • Allow dyed areas to batch until completely dry.  Depending on several factors, that could as long as 24 hours.  Drying can be hurried along with a fan, or a blow dryer set on cool.
  • Apply more melted wax, covering the first dye color as desired.
  • Allow the wax to harden.
  • Lightly spritz areas to be dyed again with the sodium carbonate solution.
  • Dye with the medium colors of the spectrum, bearing in mind that a second dye color will impact the first dye application as the two colors mingle.   Do some testing on a paper towel to determine a pleasing dye color advancement.
  • Continue alternating wax applications and dye applications until the design is completed, dyeing in a darker color each time.
  • Remove the batik from the frame, handling with care.  Allow to cool and dry completely for 24 hours.
  •  The dark vein-like cracks that are filled with dye in the final bath, characteristic of batik are called crackle.   If little or no crackle is desired, handle with extreme care to avoid cracking the wax resist. If more crackle is desired, place the batik in a freezer, for 30-60 minutes.  Remove from freezer and crack the wax as desired.
  • Prepare a dye bath in a dishpan or small bucket.
  • Immerse the entire piece of fabric in a single dark dye bath.
  • Wait 12 to 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Wash out in warm soapy water. Line dry ONLY.

Removal of the Wax

  • Cover ironing board with several layers of newspaper.
  • Sandwich the batik between several layers of white paper towels, then more newspaper.
  • With iron on hottest setting, slowing heat the batik through the layers of paper, melting the wax into the paper.
  • If the wax application was very heavy, this process can be repeated, until most of the wax is removed.
  • Items batiked using soy wax can be washed in hot soapy water, several times, if needed, to remove the remaining wax.
  • Items using any high temperature wax must be dry cleaned with a solvent, or boiled in water to remove the remaining wax.  Note:  It is fine to leave the last of the wax in an item intended for a wall hanging.
  • To boil out residual wax bring a large stock pot of water to a boil.
  •  Submerge fabric, boiling for several minutes.
  • Allow water to cool.
  • Peel or skim wax from the top of cooled water.
  • Wash and dry batik.

NEVER pour wax or waxy water down the drain!  It will clog pipes. Theoretically, the wax recovered after boiling out could be used again, although I have never done so.

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‘Treasure’, 2012 R. Cooper

Detail of Batik Whole Cloth Art Quilt Embellished with Charms, Buttons, Beads, Shells, and Other Cool Stuff

Sun and Moon Batik shirt

 “Sun and Moon”, 2011 R. Cooper

Batik Tee Shirt

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“Moon-Sun”, 2012, R. Cooper

Extra Large Tote Bag

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Up Cycling with Fiber Reactive Dyes

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BedSpread Up Cycled with Dye

“Up Cycling is the art of transforming something old and funky into something new and funky”, said Ruth in 2009.

Have you been curious about the name of this blog and my business?  Since I am an up cycler, and a dyer, the two art forms are pulled together in a quirky name that also reveals my hill billy roots.  Growing up in Appalachia, the phrase ‘up and died’ referred to an unexpected, untimely, natural death,  such as, “Earl was out hoeing in the cotton patch and just up and died, leaving Earlene with the farm to run and all them younguns to raise.”  Or, the phrase can mean the sensation of a shameful experience, as in “When I saw Little Earl pickin’ his nose during his Pa’s funeral, I ’bout up and died!”  Or, the term might refer to the aftermath of a highly amusing incident, such as, ” Remember that time Earl Junior got stuck in the hay baler?  I laughed so hard I nearly up and died!” So a little mountain terminology history, a dab of humor, and three words that describe exactly what I do as a fiber artist.

Up cycling is a relatively new term for an old-time tradition of re-purposing discarded household wares into new usable items.  Some fiber related examples that leap to mind are patchwork quilting, rag weaving, braiding rugs, using feed sacks to make garments, and remaking clothes to fit a younger sibling or cousin.  Dolly Parton (another Appalachian) immortalized up cycling with her ballad  “Coat of Many Colors” about her mother making a winter coat from multicolored rags.  My Daddy tells of wearing under drawers his mother made from flour sacks in the 1930s.  The new era of up cycling stems, in part, from  artists seeking beauty and functionality in worn out, discarded items, and the Green Living movement.  I recently read that 85% of the clothing purchased in the USA is discarded EVERY YEAR.  What a wasteful society we have become!

There is a great deal of satisfaction for me as an up cycler and an artist in rejuvenating a stained or discolored garment with fiber reactive dyes.  The transforming of a “ruined” piece of clothing into a fun, colorful ‘new’ piece of wearable art is both challenging and exciting.  Patrons frequently bring me items they consider unwearable and I barter store credit with them.  Often after I have up cycled the clothing, those same patrons will buy their own clothes back!  Many up cycling tie dyers scour yard sales and thrift shops for items to revive with dye treatments.  Here are a few tips about what to look for, what to avoid, and how to deal with the unknowns.

Seek garments or linens made from plant fibers, including but not limited to:

  • Cotton
  • Linen/Flax
  • Rayon
  • Hemp
  • Bamboo
  • Viscose
  • Ramie
  • Modal
  • Pineapple
  • Sisal
  • Jute
  • Rattan
  • Raffia
  • Blends of any of the above list

Inspect all  snaps, buttons, buckles, and zippers for functionality.  Sometimes minor repairs can be made, such as replacing a missing button, or sewing up an open seam. But replacing a zipper, or broken snap is a lot of trouble and probably not worth the time and effort. Look for thin areas by holding the garment or bedding up to the sun or a bright light.  Check the collar and cuffs for frays.  Turn the garment in side out during the inspection and check all the seams, especially in high friction areas that are frequently stretched or stressed.  Do not be concerned about ink marks, stains, or discolorations, as those will be concealed under the dye application.

Check the fiber content on the label, as well as any other information offered.  All new garments and yard goods have a product sprayed on during the manufacturing process at the mill called ‘sizing’.  It is a starch- based substance that keeps garments and yard goods wrinkle- free on the rack or shelf.  Sizing washes away in the first laundering of the garment.  But there is another chemical substance frequently used in the garment, fabric, and bedding industry that is invisible and can not be removed called ‘permanent press’, also known as  dura-press, perm-a-press, no iron, and easy care.  Permanent press came into being in the mid 1950s and revolutionized the household chore of ironing.  It keeps garments and linens from wrinkling in the laundry.  House wives love it.  Dyers, not so much.  Permanent press creates a chemical barrier that is difficult to dye through.  Fabrics treated with permanent press dye very blotchy, and uneven, absorbing the dye poorly.  How can permanent press be detected, since it can’t be seen and is not always noted on the tag or label?  Machine wash and dry the suspect item.  If it comes out of the dryer mostly wrinkle free, it has been treated with permanent press and is therefore unsuitable for dyeing.  If it comes out in a big wrinkly mess, it is suitable for dyeing.

Often the fiber content label or tag is missing, or illegible, from a used garment, leaving the tie dyer unsure if the item is appropriate for dyeing with fiber reactive dyes.  A simple burn test might help in the determining fiber content, thus, dye-ability.

Snip or pull a strand or two from an inside seam or hem.  Not the thread with which the item is constructed, but part of the woven material.  You might have to use a needle to pick out a strand from within the stitching.  In a shallow metal container (I use a retired metal lid) burn the strand of fibers taking note of the residue remaining after the burn and the odor as it burns.

  1. Plant based fibers that are suitable for dyeing with fiber reactive dyes will burn very quickly, leave a whitish ash residue, and smell like burning paper.
  2. Synthetic fibers not suitable for dyeing will almost flash burn, leave a hard bead-like residue, and smell like burning plastic, or chemical-like.
  3. Animal origin fibers suitable for dyeing using ONLY acid based dyes will burn more slowly, leave a substantial greyish ash, and smell like burning hair.

I recommend conducting some trials until you are familiar with the results of burn testing.  Blends of natural and synthetic fibers generally burn as synthetic.

Now that you have ascertained that your second-hand find is suitable for dyeing,

  • Machine wash and dry, adding 1/2 cup sodium carbonate to the washer load.  Omit any fabric softeners or dryer sheets.
  •  Pre-soak in a sodium carbonate solution  for 20-30 minutes, as described in an earlier blog.
  • Tie and dye with fiber reactive dyes, as desired.
  • Batch for 12 to 24 hours.
  • Wash out excess dye and machine launder.

Please note that although previously worn and laundered items will cause the pre-soak solution to discolor and become smelly, the performance of the pre-soak solution is not affected.

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Discharging with Household Cleansers

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One day my apprentice went out back of the studio to clean out some yuckiness from a trash can with a spray bottle of bathroom cleanser.  He came back inside fussing up a storm, showing me the bleach spots on his black skinny jeans and black high tops.  Then the “Ah Ha” moment struck us simultaneously.  Discharging history was made at Up and Dyed!

Discharging is the chemical removal of dye from fabric. Sometimes tie dyers call it ‘reverse’ tie dye. It is a tricky business, requiring a tight balancing act between effectively removing dye and irreversibly damaging fibers.  Dharma Trading Company offers non-chlorine discharging agents, as well as bleach thickeners and neutralizing agents to stop the bleaching action.   If using Dharma’s products, please follow their recommended guidelines for proper handling.  The instructions offered in this discussion are all common household cleaning products that contain chlorine bleach.

Three factors are involved in successful discharging:

  1. Strength of the discharging agent.
  2. Timing.
  3. Neutralizing the discharging agent to stop the chemical reaction.

SAFETY, SAFETY, and again, SAFETY

In World War II, chlorine gas was used as an agent of chemical war fare.  Chlorine, and substances containing chlorine, are hazardous to health and must be handled with caution and good sense.  Work in an open, well ventilated space. Use a fan. Work for only short periods of time.  Never leave the containers of the discharging agents open–chlorine evaporates quickly, becoming a part of the air you are breathing.  Wear gloves, clean up spills at once.  Keep away from children, pets, and folks with respiratory sensitivities.  The sensitivity is cumulative, so prolonged exposure means you are less likely to successfully use in the future.              BE SMART, friends!

Not all dyes can be discharged.  It is somewhat of a guessing game.  But with a little knowledge, an educated guess can be made.  A sample test of the fabric on an inside seam or hem will aid  in discovering if the dye can be removed.

To get started you need:

  1. Garment or fabric that is cotton, linen, rayon, or a blend of plant origin fibers.  It is not advisable to attempt discharging with delicate fabrics.
  2. Soft Scrub paste type bathroom cleanser and/or a Clorox Bleach Pen–The Clorox Bleach Pen is a dandy device, but costly.  Soft Scrub is inexpensive.  When a bleach pen is emptied, the cap can be pried off, and the pen refilled with Soft Scrub.  Because Soft Scrub is a paste, it doesn’t spread out and is very controllable. Both products have enough chlorine content to discharge dye, but are mild enough to not damage the fibers.
  3. Synthetic bristle brushes
  4. Small squeeze bottles
  5. Dish pan or 2 gallon pail
  6. Hydrogen peroxide
  7. Gloves
  8. Respirator with multigas/vapor cartridge
  9. Newspapers
  10. Rubber bands or the binding material of your choice.
  11. Measuring cup
  • Wash and dry the garment according to the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  •  If you plan to reverse tie dye, bind the garment in the pattern of choice.
  • Cover the work area with several layers of newspaper.
  •  If you are “painting’ with the discharging agent and do not plan to discharge both sides of the garment, place a pad of newspapers between the layers of the garment to protect the underside from the bleaching action.
  • Using white or light-colored chalk, mark the areas where dye removal is desired.  
  • Fill a small squeeze bottle or Clorox Pen with Soft Scrub for fine lines, writing, and details.
  • Use a brush or a squeeze bottle with a large opening to apply Soft Scrub over large areas.

The discharging agent will begin to remove the color immediately.  Check the degree of discharging every 5 minutes.  As soon as the desired color is reached, or one hour has passed, begin the neutralizing process.  Never leave Soft Scrub on the fabric longer than one hour, or the fibers will be permanently damaged.  The damage will not be apparent until after the item has been laundered a few times.  The goal is not white, as that is not attainable.  Most blacks discharge to a peachy tan color.  Navy Blues discharge to a tan or khaki color.  Reds and purples discharge closer to light pink or ecru.  Discharging from secondary colored garments is a surprise every time, as the primaries breakdown leaving a shade of one of the components behind.

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Reverse tie dye using Soft Scrub,  with accents using a Clorox Bleach Pen.

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Branches and lightest areas were discharged first using a tiny squeeze bottle to apply the paste, then a brush was used to apply the bleaching agent to create the bark.

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In the purple and green shirts, notice how David used a fork to spread the discharge paste, creating details around the heart and mushroom images.

Neutralizing the Bleaching Action

  • While the bleaching is happening, prepare a 1-1.5 gallon soapy warm bath in a 2 gallon pail or dishpan.
  • Take the discharged item to a sink with a sprayer, or a garden hose.
  •  Spray off all the Soft Scrub.
  • Place the item in the soapy bath already prepared, immerse fully, and swish around for 30 seconds.
  • Add one cup of hydrogen peroxide to the soapy bath, with more swishing.
  • Soak for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Rinse.
  • Machine wash and line or tumble dry.

Procion fiber reactive dyes can be added back into discharged areas.Use  a sodium carbonate solution in a spray bottle to pre-soak the areas, then ‘paint’ with thickened dyes.

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