No, I’m not dead; I’ve been dyeing

My bundle of 16 hand-dyed FQs

After months of silence I’m resurfacing to tell you about my first attempt at fabric dyeing. This week I gave myself the luxury of a day off work to take Elaine Quehl’s low-water immersion dyeing class. Usually I’m very stingy with my vacation days, but after seeing what others had done in this class I knew I had to try it. And I wasn’t disappointed. I learned how to hand dye fabric and came away with 16 fat quarters: a 12-step colour wheel and 4 free-form blends.

Students were given the option of working with either bright or earthy primary colours to create their colour wheel. The picture below shows Elaine’s samples, with the earth tones on the left and the bright tones, which I used, on the right. 

Elaine Quehl’s fabric samples

After we transformed the powdered dyes into liquid, the intermediate steps of the colour wheel were created by mixing primary colours in different proportions. We followed Elaine’s recipes to make 12 bags of dye and smooshed (a very technical process) one FQ into each of the bags.

For the four multi-colour FQs we scrunched the fabric and poured on the dye prior to bagging it. All of the packages had to steep for a day before we could wash out the excess dye and see the outcome of our efforts.

The 12-step colour wheel while it incubates

I’d sum it up by saying the theory and mechanics of adding pigment to fabric were surprisingly easy. That’s because Elaine did such a good job of preparing, explaining, and demonstrating the process. The labourious part was washing out the excess dye. No doubt it would have taken me at least twice as long to accomplish half as much if I had tried to learn this on my own. Not to mention what I might have unintentionally dyed along the way.

One of the beauties (and curses) of hand dyes is the unpredictable way the colour takes to the fabric. Controlling the outcome is not so easy. Based on my minimal experience, I speculate the serendipitous (or calamitous) results have to do with the way the fabric is bunched, how easily the dye can penetrate the bunched fabric, and the homogeneity of the dye bath. No doubt much trial, error, and recordkeeping would help control freaks like me come at least close to what we’re aiming for. 

Some of my other observations were that the fuchsia, my primary red, blended very well with yellow to create fairly uniform secondary and tertiary colours, while the fuchsia-turquoise (my primary blue) combinations seemed to separate a bit. This is especially noticeable for colours with a greater proportion of fuchsia than turquoise.

My pure turquoise piece is almost solid in appearance with virtually no bubbles or creases to add visual interest. It’s the only piece that is so uniform and I have no idea what I did differently here. Perhaps the turquoise takes better than the other colours.

Unfortunately the camera doesn’t capture colours as they are seen by the naked eye. The fabrics are more intense and lively than they appear in these pictures. Believe it or not, the two pictures below are the same piece of cloth, one taken in natural light, the other with the camera’s flash. While neither looks exactly the same as it does in person, the picture on the left resembles the real thing. In the flesh, so to speak, the fabric is a dark turquoise, darker than what you see here, with violet-purple around the edges and highlighted by a luminescent turquoise that peeks through here and there.

Same piece of fabric.The left picture used natural light, the right used a flash

As was the case with most of the people in the class, I took this course to learn the process rather than to create fabric for a specific project. Now I’m conflicted between using these beauties (dare I cut into them?) and leaving them whole so I can admire their loveliness. All in all, not bad options.

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