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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Tie Dye Patterns, Part 3: Folds

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Vee Fold

Many of the popular patterns in tie dye are started by folding the garment in halves, thirds, or quarters, either vertically, or horizontally, or both.   What happens when a garment or piece of fabric is folded, then tie dyed?  A mirror image results on each of the layers in the fold.  One fold creates two images, two folds create four images.  And so on.  Most folds are also accordion pleated to complete the design.  Geometrical accordion pleating is very similar to the technique learned in a previous blog about pleating a symmetrical image.  Instead of forcing a curved chalk line into a straight one, pleats are either uniform, or angled.

Let’s walk through a few folded, then pleated designs, step by step.

V-Fold

  1. Fold a pre-soaked tee-shirt, or other garment, in half vertically, smoothing out any wrinkles, matching all the seams, and hem, and sleeves.
  2. Using colored chalk and a yard stick, make two parallel line at an angle to the shoulder.
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  5. Pleat against the chalk lines, creating a graduated angle the full length of the garment.
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  8. DO NOT pick up the garment, but slide the bands on from each end.
  9. Band tightly at about two inch intervals the full length of the garment.
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  11. Using the bands as guides, dye the area between the bands, fully saturating each section.

Pyramid–this fold and pleat is the same as the V-fold, just going the opposite direction.

  1. Fold a pre-soaked tee shirt, or other garment, in half vertically, matching all the seams, hem, and sleeves.  Smooth out any wrinkles.
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  3. Using colored chalk and a yard stick, make two parallel lines at an angle to the hem of the garment.
  4. Pleat against the chalk lines, creating a graduated angle the full length of the shirt.
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  7. Band tightly at about two inch intervals the full length of the garment.
  8. Using the bindings as a guide, saturate the fabric between the bands.

One of the tie dye patterns I have my apprentices master first  is the diamond.  It is such a simple fold.  Yet through mastering the diamond fold and its kin the tie dyer begins training the mind to anticipate the outcome of various more complex folds.

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Diamond

  1. Fold the garment in half vertically, then again horizontally.
  2. The center of the shirt is now in a fold at one corner.
  3. Using that corner as the first pleat, pull up a ridge in the fabric from corner tip to shoulder.
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  5. Continue pleating until the entire garment is pleated.
  6. DO NOT pick up the pleated garment.  Slide bands from each end at evenly spaced intervals until the entire length is banded.
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  8. Saturate with dye between the bindings.

X Fold is the same as a diamond, but pleated in the opposite direction.

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Zig Zag

  1. Fold the garment horizontally three or more equal folds.
  2. Fold the sleeves in towards the center of the garment.
  3. Starting at the shoulder, pull up the first pleat ridge at an angle to the long folded side.
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  5. Continue accordion pleating at the same angle until the entire garment is pleated.
  6. NOT picking up the garment, place bindings at evenly spaced intervals.

In this tie up, six or more layers are folded together, creating a strong resist to the dye application.  Therefore apply the dye with a heavy hand in order to reach the inner most folds.

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Eric modeling a rainbow zigzag.

Unlike the spiral patterns, folding and pleating require a great deal more precision to produce a crisp, distinct pattern.  Good dye penetration into the tightly bound folds takes a little practice, as well.  Practice and patience are foremost in creating geometrical designs.

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Marketing Wearable Art: Venues

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So you really enjoy making wearable art, and now all of your family and friends have tons of  your work, but you still want to make more. Supplies are expensive.  How to feed your habit? Perhaps you can sell your craft, to provide funds for more materials.   Should you start a business? And if so, how should you go about it?  Are fairs and festivals right for your product?  Should you rent a store front or sell on-line?  You have heard about consignment shops and co-ops, but what does that mean?

My business grew out of a hobby that had morphed into a passion.  Unlike most craft artisans, I began by teaching my craft to others long before I attempted marketing.  Therefore, I had several years of product development under my belt, plus several years of small business retail management experience from my actual wage earning vocation.  I was also very blessed to have a spouse with a professional level income sufficient to support our family, and my infantile business.  A healthy economy and scarce competition at the time were certainly factors in my success as well.  Even with all those favorable conditions, it took a great deal of hard work, perseverance, and time to actually see a profit.  I have marketed in the following ways: consignment shops, festivals, wholesaling to retail stores, in a co-operative, on-line, and in my own store front in an artsy/tourist district.  Each situation had advantages and disadvantages.  I am now using a combination of on-line sites and consignment shops to sell my wares, as this is what suits my current life circumstances.  Please bear in mind,  MY experience is not YOUR experience.  You and your family may have very different dynamics and needs from your ‘hobby becoming a business’ venture.

The first consideration to marketing a handmade  craft item of any kind is product development.  Do you CONSISTENTLY produce a quality item that is professionally made, fairly priced, and will attract consumer attention?  It it not enough that your family and friends think your craft is grand, or that you believe it is going to take the world in a storm of commerce.  The unbiased opinions of total strangers is what really counts.  Try to test the waters in a couple of retail avenues with  samples of your work, before diving in head first.  Perhaps a locally owned business will allow you to test the market through their store front with an introductory display.  Sending items to a festival venue with another craftsperson, or sharing a booth space is a good way to test feasibility.  Using a website designed for craftpeople is a very popular avenue for product exploration, too.   One time, I was developing a line of reversible tote bags and shoulder bags.  My oldest daughter took a big box of my test products to her work place in a large city.  She sold everything in less than an hour, telling me two important things–1. Yes, they were  marketable products, and 2. I was not charging enough!

Once you have ascertained the marketability and consumer appeal of your wares, you should investigate the commerce laws of the municipality in which you reside.  Check with the Secretary of State for your state of residency, if you are in the USA, or your County Court Clerk.  Each State has different laws regarding how small businesses operate.  Many states do not require the purchase of a business licence until a set annual gross income level  is reached.  Having a business licence is  usually not expensive and can be to your advantage in many ways.  It provides protection for the business name, allows the business owner to purchase tax-free for resale, and gives the business owner access to purchasing supplies in bulk at wholesale costs.

It is an age-old custom for craftspeople to gather in a large group to conduct commerce.  Fairs or out-door festivals are the route that many craftpeople use to market their wares.  A vendor’s fee, plus travel expenses, is a somewhat inexpensive means of accessing thousands of potential customers who are interested in purchasing hand-made items.  Festivals are an excellent venue for wearable art products. My business selling tie dyed and batik clothing flourished in the out-door festival venue, in part because clothing is a light-weight, portable item.  Lugging metal sculptures, fragile stained glass, or heavy pots around a large festival site is tiring and cumbersome for the shoppers.  My experience at indoor fairs was dismal and frustrating, thus short-lived.  Although it was the same product in the same city, I found my customer base did not attend indoor events.

The primary disadvantage of marketing at outdoor festivals is the risk of bad weather.   Rain, wind, too cold, too hot–all work to keep customers away, and discourage lingering.  Since booth fees are usually paid months in advance, there is just no way to plan against the weather. Unless you are willing to travel long distances, or reside in a mild climate, seasonal  changes may limit the out-door festival possibilities as well.  I spent the Winter in the studio building inventory for a March to November marketing season.

Joining, or establishing, a marketing co-operative (guild) is another often- used means for the emerging artisan.  Co-ops generally require an annual membership fee, a percentage of each sale, and frequently, work hours for the members.  Co-ops provide a business manager to handle sales and bookkeeping for the group, an established gallery or store front from which to sell, and the advantage of diversity of products to attract a broad range of consumer interests.

Consignment sales is a low-cost, no investment-up-front method of marketing art work.  The artist places his or her work in a gallery or shop.  When an item sells, the shop keeps a percentage of the sale, and pays the artist a percentage.  Consignment store usually pay their artists monthly for the sales made in the previous month.  A common split in consignment is 40% to the shop or gallery, and 60% to the artist.  A reputable consignment shop will have a contract, keep excellent records, and pay by check on a regular schedule.  Beware of oral agreements!

I think every crafts person dreams of owning his or her own shop at one time or another.  It seems like the perfect, ideal situation. And for some folks it is!  Overhead costs of rent, utilities, insurance, plus inventory-building expenses, plus labors costs all have to be considered before any profit is realized.  Economic experts advise having at least 9 months of operating expenses saved before starting a new business venture.  It is unreasonable to expect to see a profit before the first three years in business.  All this coupled with the demands of being there to operate the business, result in a high burn out and failure rate.  In the neighborhood where my store front was located, the average life for a small business was two years.  Many only lasted a few months.  This sounds very discouraging, I know.  But it is best to have a realistic view, and reasonable expectation if you want to survive.  For myself, being tied to the store front was very confining.  Most of my time was spent waiting on browsers as they shopped, not actual customers.  It left me very little time to produce my wares–which was the whole point of being in business!

On-line businesses are very popular and the growing trend among retailers.  Some of my most loyal patrons I will never meet face-to-face because we live on different parts of the planet.  With on-line sales, global marketing is the norm.  Many sites are available to the craftsperson for group and individual marketing opportunities.  For a small fee, there are companies whose sole business is building and maintaining web sites for small and large businesses.  A website can literally be operated in your bathrobe, with products created after the order is placed and the payment received.

And, finally, there is this well established fact to mull over.  For many, many folks converting a beloved hobby into a business drains all the fun out of the activity.

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Dye Thickening Agents

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The first 15 years of my career using procion fiber reactive dyes, I unknowingly limited my artistic flexibility and growth as a fiber artist.  When I began using dye thickeners, a whole new avenue of control over the medium was opened for me to explore.  The use of thickeners gives the dyer control over  spreading and absorption of the dye products, allowing for far greater versatility of direct application.

I must share this story with you to help you understand the full value of today’s blog.  In the early 1990s, I began to produce a very popular design, the Peace Symbol.  My first peace symbols were SO bad, that a family purchased one at a festival thinking it was an ‘Earth’!  I worked on the technique for the peace symbol, got it looking better, clearer, crisper.  At the same time, I began marketing ‘earth’ shirts, by making a blue sphere filled with green blobs.  It was a very weak interpretation of the globe, but patrons recognized the image, so I continued  marketing that creation for several years.  Until I discovered the wonders of using a dye thickener.

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There are basically two products from which to choose.  Both are available from Dharma Trading Company in various quantities.  I recommend purchasing a small quantity of each, and evaluate the performance of each in several projects.   Both agents have their advantages and disadvantages:

  • Sodium Alginate is derived from seaweed, sold under the name Manutex, is all natural, does not affect the shelf life of the dyes, is very economical,  and is formulated for use with cotton (HV), or with silk (LV).  The disadvantage is that it is sold in a granulated form and must be mixed with water and then allowed to thicken for several hours before using.  It also has a oceany odor that might be offensive to some folks.
  • SuperClear is ready to use directly from the container, is odorless and clear, mixes readily with the dye.  However, it is expensive, and in my experience, it exhausts the dye mix very quickly.  It is best used for quick projects requiring only small amounts of thickened dye.  SuperClear is a synthetic product.

Normally, I stock both products in my studio, but primarily use sodium alginate to thicken fiber reactive dyes.

To prepare and use sodium alginate:

  1. Measure 1 cup of  hot tap water into a deep, wide-mouthed container.
  2. Using a submersible blender, begin stirring the water.
  3. Slowly add one to two Tablespoons of the granules as the blender is running.
  4. Continue blending as the liquid thickens, about 45 seconds.
  5. Stop blending and immediately rinse the blender head.
  6. Allow the mixture to cool and thicken for several hours before use.
  7. Divide the mixture into small, lidded containers, one for each color of dye.  Left over sodium alginate can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for several days.
  8. Stir liquid dye into the small container until the desired consistency is achieved.  Test the spreadability of the resulting mixture by dripping onto a paper towel.  Wait 30 seconds to evaluate the spreading.  Water can be added to thin the consistency.
  9.  A thin mixture, similar to syrup, will slow the spread of the dye and can be used in a syringe or squeeze bottle.
  10.  A very thick mixture, similar to mayonnaise, will stop the spread of the dye, and can be used with a paint brush or sponge or stamp, or in a squeeze bottle.
  11. Use on fabric presoaked in sodium carbonate, left slightly damp.  If the fabric is dry, spritz with water first to aid in absorption.
  12. Store leftovers in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.
  13. Shelf life is about one week, with blues and greens exhausting quickest.
  14. Wash tools used in sodium alginate in warm soapy water, with clear rinse.

To use SuperClear:

  1. Pour a small amount of SuperClear into each applicator bottle, shaking to mix,  to slow the spread of the dye.
  2. Use on fabric presoaked in sodium carbonate solution, slightly damp.  If the fabric is dry, spritz with water to aid in absorption.
  3. To stop the spreading completely pour 2-3 ounces of SuperClear in a small, lidded container.
  4. Mix liquid dye into the SuperClear a teaspoon at a time until the desired consistency is achieved to stop the spreading.
  5. Dry dye powder can also be mixed into SuperClear for deep, intense color.  Much stirring is required to dissolve dye powder into the gel.
  6. Test spreadability by dripping onto a paper towel.  Wait 30 second before evaluating the spread.
  7. Use with a brush, sponge, or stamp, or in a squeeze bottle.
  8. Shelf life of SuperClear mixed with dye is about 24-48 hours, with blues and greens exhausting most quickly.
  9. SuperClear can be saved in a tightly sealed container.
  10. SuperClear with dye solution added can be saved in a tightly sealed container, but hardens into a plastic-like substance if left in brushes or sponges that can not be removed.  Wash tools in warm soapy water and rinse in clear water to maintain suppleness.

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Thickened dyes can be used as an enhancement to tie dye, by adding features such as facial features, pupils to eyes, or accents.

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Thickened dyes can be used in batik (wax resist) to ‘paint’ images that are then coated with melted wax.  After the wax has hardened, the background of the garment is dyed.

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The dye spreading is slowed to fill in areas between the wax applications, creating multi shades in the layering process of batik.

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Used as a paint, the dye can be applied with brushes to produce crisp images, subtle shading, with no bleeding of colors at all.

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Because the thickener washes away, leaving only the dyed fibers, the resulting product is just as soft and pliable as the original fabric.  Unlike a painted surface, the ‘hand’ or feel of the fabric is unchanged by using thickening agents.  A white plastic ice tray makes a great  container, or palette tray for small amounts of thickened dyes.  Wash out brushes or sponges after each color change in warm water, and in warm soapy water at the end of a dyeing session.

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Good Ole Paper Towels

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When I first began purchasing tie dyed clothing there were not many intricate designs available.  Bull’s eyes, spirals, and V folds were pretty much the norm in the early days.  Now, the art form is highly sophisticated with a limitless array of simple to complex patterns. I am frequently astounded at the complexity and detail-rich creations produced by my colleagues around the world.  How did they DO THAT?

In the mid 1980s, I bought a two color spiral for my daughter and played with it until I figured out what to do.  That is one way of learning.  Folding, crimping, or twisting a shirt, binding it, then dyeing it, and washing it out is another learning experience.  Purchasing a book or DVD, watching YouTube videos, attending workshops are all good choices, too.  Jumping right in and attempting whatever crosses your mind is another common approach to self-teaching.  Although every tie dyeing experience is valuable to the education of the novice dyer, no one like to feel they are wasting time, effort, and especially, money.

In the apprenticeship program and workshops I offer through my studio, it was necessary to develop a means for the students to learn how to design their own patterns without bankrupting me from buying shirts and dyes.  I use a variety of corner-cutting measures to save time and resources with both the apprentices and workshop students.  One of my favorite teaching techniques is to create patterns using paper towels.  By using this method, immediate results are attainable, no garments or dye have been ‘wasted’, and most importantly, a permanent record can be compiled of the manipulations and color placement.

  1. Purchase a cheap set of felt tipped markers and a roll of white paper towels.  The ink from the markers will soak into the paper towel in the same way dye soaks into fabric.  Old leftover dye can be substituted for the markers.
  2. Trim the paper towel into the shape of a tee shirt, if desired.
  3. Fold, pleat, crimp, spiral (or combine techniques), the paper towel.
  4. Use the markers, allowing the tip to remain in contact with the towel long enough for the ink to soak in.  Or drip on a tiny amount of leftover dye.
  5. Spread the towel back out to see the resulting pattern and color distribution.  Because it is paper, the folds will still be visible.
  6. Save the towels in a binder as a record of the attempted patterns, and color combinations.

This is a very simple exercise that may seem trivial, but it certainly is less costly and time-consuming than dyeing garments then waiting over night to test patterns.  As the tie dyer gains experience, it becomes easier to predict the outcome of new folds and pleats.

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Wash Out Procedure

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Long ago when I was a child, photographs were made using a camera filled with a film cartridge.  After all the negatives were exposed, the film was wound back into the cartridge, removed, and carried to the drug store.  In a few weeks, we went back to the drug store , paid for and received the prints.  Only then did the photographer see the results of his or her work.  It was an exciting day.

Wash out day holds the same air of excitement and anticipation for the tie dyer.  It is the culmination of  a long process, with a somewhat unpredictable out come.  Even after all the thousands of garments I have tie dyed, my heart still beats faster on wash out day–I love unbanding those colorful clothes to see the fruits of my labor.  The “Ah Ha” moment makes all the work worth every minute of it!

I am blessed that my current studio is really a large, glorified utility room.  There is a laundry sink right next to the washer and dryer, with cabinets above to store dyes, chemicals, and other supplies.    But I have worked under much more primitive circumstances.  For several years, I washed out in the  back yard.  The soaking vessel was a kiddie pool and the water source was a garden hose. The dripping clothes were carried up some stairs, across a deck, and inside the house to a washer, then back outside to hang them on a clothes line to dry.  It was very labor intensive.   As an old friend always says to me, “Do the best you can with what you have, until you can do better”.

So here are the basic  necessities to wash out the tie dyed clothes you have created.

  • Scissors
  • Running water, hopefully with hot water available
  • Liquid Soap:  the dye distributors sell lovely soaps for the purpose of washing out that work quite well, but are somewhat costly, especially when shipping is added. Hand dish washing detergent, such as Dawn or Joy, is an adequate substitute.  I use the very cheapest laundry detergent available and never have backstaining.    Many tie dyers make their own soaps for pennies per load.  I suggest you sample a few different types to determine which works best for you.
  • Sink or 5 gallon bucket for soaking
  • washer and dryer, or clothes line
  1. Under cool running  water, unband the garments by carefully snipping off the bindings.  I use blunt tipped scissors and lift the bands away from the garment to snip.  There is nothing more tragic than cutting a hole in the item during wash out!
  2. Continue rinsing in cool water for 30-60 seconds.  Several garments can be rinsed at the same time. Cool water removes the sodium carbonate without re-activating it to prevent back staining.
  3. Create a hot, hot soapy bath, either by plugging the sink, or using a 5 gallon bucket.
  4. Soak for about 10 minutes.   Because the sodium carbonate fixative has been rinsed away, the items will not ‘swap’ colors.  In the illustration, 12 adult sized shirts are soaking together.
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  6. Remove the garments from the soapy bath, or pull the plug.  Rinse in cool running water, until all the soapiness is gone, the undyed areas are crisp white again, and the rinse water is fairly clear.          
  7.  Wring lightly.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
  8. Place all the garments in a washing machine, with laundry detergent, running an entire cycle on the hottest setting available.              
  9. When the final rinse and spin are completed, do not allow the damp garments to linger in the washer.
  10.  Remove at once to  machine or line dry.

After the initial wash out, tie dyed items should be laundered as any other dark-colored garments.  Wash in cold water and line or tumble dry.

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Tie Dye Patterns, Part 2: Pleating a Symmetrical Image

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Have you ever made a paper fan by folding back and forth repeatedly across a piece of stiff paper?  That  style of folding is called accordion pleating.  Accordion pleating is the basis for many tie dye designs.  Any symmetrical,  smooth- sided shape can be accordion pleated on a garment or piece of fabric.

1. Create a reuseable template.

Begin by drawing the desired shape on poster board or card board.  If you are insecure about drawing skills, download an image of the shape, enlarging it to the size needed to create the image on a garment.  After you are satisfied with the image,  fold it in half and cut it right down the center for vertically symmetrical images or straight across for horizontally symmetrical images.

Water-poof the half image by covering it on both sides with contact paper, or tape.  I generally use clear packing tape or duct tape.  This creates a reusable water-resistant template of the desired image.

2.  Fold the garment in half, either vertically or horizontally, as the design indicates. Smooth out all the wrinkles.  Match up all the seams, the hem, and the sleeves. Lay the template on the fold.  Using colored chalk, out line the image.  Turn the folded garment over and repeat. Why not just draw the image, then fold the garment in half?  By folding the garment first, the image will be centered on the shirt.  This method also allows for the few millimeters of fabric involved in the fold itself, so the resulting image is not distorted.   Below is a heart template to illustrate.

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Please note:  I am left-handed, so for the 85% of humanity who are not left-handed, much of what I do looks backwards.  Follow the procedure using the direction that feels natural and comfortable to you.

3.  Select a point on the chalk line a few inches from the fold, lifting a ridge in the fabric to create the first pleat. Using the nature of damp fabric, and the hard surface of the table, push the first pleat, creating further pleats.

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Try to keep the height of each pleat equal.  Continue pleating, forcing the curved line into a straight line.

Pleat the rest of the garment at the same angle below the chalk line.  GE DIGITAL CAMERA

Pull the cleft of the heart into the straight line.  My straight line is not so straight, but that will be remedied as the bindings are put in place.

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4. Leaving the garment flat on the table, slide a rubber band ( or the binding of your choice) onto the end where the fold starts. Bind the image, using the chalk line as a guide.  Pull the binding as tight as possible, so it will have to be cut off later.  Tight bindings are what prevents the dye colors from bleeding together, keeping the image crisp.  DO NOT PICK UP THE GARMENT!  Leave it flat on the work surface, or the pleats will fall apart, causing bad words to be said  and forcing you to start  over.

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Now that wonky line can be tugged into submission, by holding the unbound shirt against the table and pulling the image the opposite direction.

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5.  Continue binding, at evenly spaced intervals, until the whole garment is tied up.  It is easiest to work from the folded image end to the half way point, then slide the garment around and begin binding from the opposite end.

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Once all the bindings are in place, the garment can be safely moved and handled.  At this point, check all the bindings for tightness, pulling any slack to tighten fully.

Sometimes, a line of pleats will buckle under the pressure of the bindings, causing much distress to the tie dyer— again with the bad words!  Two techniques can help eliminate this horrible occurrence.  Creating deep pleats, rather than shallow ones, greatly reduces the risk of buckling.  Even more security can be obtained by placing splints on either side of the bound item, stabilizing the pleats.  I use retired chop sticks, retired popsicle sticks, or as in the illustration, bamboo skewers with the sharp tips nipped off.

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Secure the splints in place by wrapping tightly with rubber bands.  Place bound item in a plastic bag until ready to dye, if desired, to maintain dampness.

A word or two about bindings.

There are many materials suitable to use in tying items for dyeing.  Every tie dyer has his or her personal preference.  In my 25 years of  tie dyeing, I have experimented with a wide variety of bindings, stitching, and clamping techniques.  It is my belief that the beginner is best off using rubber bands, then exploring other options as confidence is gained.

Even though  I am a frugal soul, I never save and re-use washed bindings.  Tiny, hidden bits of dye reside in the stretched elastic, or in the binding material’s fibers that will transfer to the next project, potentially mucking up the color pattern or design.  My bindings are so tight, they must be cut away during the washout process, thus rendering them un-reusable.

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Dye Application and the Mystery of Batching

 

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For many years I traveled the Southeast region of the US, marketing tie dyed and batik clothing at music and art festivals.  My patrons ranged from television personalities, to government officials, to hippies, to young families, to the festival organizers themselves, and everyone in between.  For the three years my studio was open to the public, visitors would often pull up a chair to watch me work.  All those diverse people had the same question,”How do you keep the colors separate from each other?”

Apparently, it is a common misconception that modern tie dyeing is done by dunking the bound clothing into buckets of dye.  While tie dyeing can be done by submerging the tied garment, it is a messy and undependable method.  To achieve the intricate patterns, with crisp brilliant colors, most tie dyers use a technique called direct application.

Direct application gives the tie dyer control of both the volume and placement of the dye solution.  For the first few years of my tie dyeing career I used syringes to apply the dye.  Available in a wide range of sizes,  syringes give the ability to push the dye into the tight folds of the bound item.   The dye solution is held in small cups, with a syringe for each color.  For me, the disadvantages were cramped muscles in my hands, and tipped over cups.  Eventually, arthritis, coupled with the muscular cramping, influenced me to use squeeze bottles for direct application.

The advantages of squeeze bottles are many.  Bottles are easy to fill, and come in  wide variety of shapes and sizes.  They are quick to clean up for dye color changes.   The spouts are universal, can be replaced, and provide good control.  Many times the spout’s flow can be adjusted with the snip of the scissors. Bottles are relatively inexpensive, and can be reclaimed from previous uses.  Have a friend who styles hair?  Have him or her save hair coloring bottles for you.  One of the biggest disadvantages of bottles is, over time, the caps can begin to leak.  Leaky bottles are easily remedied by wrapping the neck threads with plumber’s tape.

Other choices for direct application include, but are not limited to, eye droppers, bulb style medication dispensers, pipettes, sponges, and brushes.  For fine, detail work, my preference is an eye dropper, but  I still rely on syringes occasionally.  I suggest you try several delivery methods to discover what works best for you.  Like me, you will probably use several different types, for different purposes.

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Assemble the equipment and supplies needed for dyeing by direct application.

  • Old newspapers
  • Cooling racks for baked goods, or other washable mesh or grid surface
  • Drip trays to place under the racks
  • Bottles of dye solution
  • White paper towels
  • Pre-soaked, tied up items to be dyed
  • Gloves

Begin by covering the work area with newspaper, several layers in thickness.  Have one clean drip rack and drip tray for each item to be dyed.  By placing the item to be dyed on a rack over a drip pan the ‘puddle and muddle’ aspect of direct application is eliminated.  Dye puddling beneath the item and muddling the colors together is best avoided.  Rinse the racks and drip trays between uses.

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Before applying the dye to the garment or fabric,  drip out a spot of dye of each color you plan to use on a white paper towel.  Place the drips close enough together that the colors bleed into one another.  Why?  Some colors make excellent next door neighbors, complimenting each other, or creating a new color that is pleasing.  Other combinations, not so much.  By testing compatibility on the paper towel, the risk of  undesired ‘new’ colors is avoided.  My workshop participants frequently tell me this method of dye color selection is their favorite part of the process.  My apprentices save these paper towels in their binders to remember both the pleasing, and the not-so-pleasing color combinations.

  1. Once the dye colors are selected, and gloves are on, you are ready to dye.
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  3.  Place the tip of your fore finger over the spout of the bottle as it approaches the item to be dyed, thus avoiding unexpected squirts and splatters across your work.  
  4. Using the bindings as a guide, saturate the area between the binding, one color at a time.  
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  6. Wait a few minutes, then saturate each area a second time.  Most of the surface of the garment is bound tightly inside the folds or pleats.  The nature of wicking and gravity pull the dye down into the fabric.  Better dye penetration is achieved by two moderate applications, rather than one overwhelming application.
  7. Sandwich the dyed item by placing a second drip rack on top of the dyed side and flip the whole sandwich over, presenting the undyed side up.
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  9. Dye the naked side to match the already dyed side, or not, depending on the design and the desired outcome.       
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  11. Allow to drip.
  12. When dripping has ceased, remove to a larger drip rack, or place in a plastic bag for batching.

What in the world is “Batching”?

Batching is a dyer’s term referring to the amount of time between dyeing the item and washing it out.  It is the time period in which the slow chemical bonding takes place that produces bright, permanent color. Batching (sometimes called ‘curing’) requires the presence of moisture.  Therefore the items need to remain damp for the chemical bonding to be completed.  Many tie dyers wrap or seal the items in plastic bags.  Because I live in a humid climate, I have never found bagging to be essential for my products.  I do send my workshop students home with their items in a zip lock bag to batch, and to protect other surfaces in cars and homes from the dye.  If you choose to batch in a plastic bag, do not squeeze or squish on the bags to avoid muddy the colors.

There is much variation of opinion  in the tie dyeing world regarding batching methods and time.  Almost as diverse as the tie dyers themselves!    Years ago, I worked briefly with a more experienced tie dyer from a professional dye house in Memphis who batched for only 30- 60 minutes.  Some dyers wait for 3-4 days before washing out their creations.  The application of heat can speed the process, so some dyers advocate the use of microwave ovens, electric blankets, or other heating sources.  In my studio, I batch for at least 12 hours, and rarely longer than 24 hours.  I recommend to those of you new to tie dyeing to dye several items using different batching times and methods and decide for yourself what works best in your situation.

*Please note that a microwave oven used for batching must not ever be used for heating or cooking food again.*

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