Group Project: A Shibori Dyed Quilt

I love learning a new word and suddenly having it pop up all over the place, either in the spoken or written form. It makes me wonder about all the words I simply gloss over in life. Shibori is one of those words. It comes from the Japanese word “to wring, squeeze, or press.” Also known as resist-dyeing, shibori is a design technique for creating patterns on fabric. The idea of bunching fabric tightly with ties to resist the penetration of color when it is dunked in indigo is a technique that has been around for centuries. Many of us know it as tie-dyeing.

Japanese artists raised the art form to a high level. From the book, Shibori, the Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Wada, Rice and Barton: “Here [Japan], it has been expanded into a whole family of traditional resist techniques, involving first shaping the cloth by plucking, pinching, twisting, stitching, folding, pleating, and wrapping it, and then securing the shapes thus made by binding, looping, knotting, clamping, and the like. The entire family of techniques is called shibori.

In May, the staff of The Nashville Food Project, a non-profit close to my heart, came up with the idea of making a shibori print quilt as a group wedding gift for beloved TNFP Meals Director, Christa Bentley. It was to be a surprise. The Executive Director of TNFP,  Tallu Quinn, has a degree in art (in addition to her MDiv) and learned the technique in college. She wrote the instructions for the project, sent them to the participants, and provided pre-cut 12-inch squares of muslin fabric for staff and volunteers to create tied designs. Here is a partial collection of what they created.

The How-To
The first step was to tie the fabric to create a design. I used marbles, corks, and rubber bands to create patterns on the two squares I contributed.

This is how they looked after I tied them,

and when they were dyed,

and then after they were dipped and untied.

Here is another set of pre and post photos.
 

I wish I had taken more photos of the before and afters. It was exciting to see how each manipulation affected the final design. The design below was made by folding a cloth many times and using bull clips to hold the folds together. I think it is my favorite.

Although, I do love this one.

I thought this technique was interesting, too. The white area is where the fabric resisted penetration of the dye due to compression by a block.

Actually, I love them all, as I imagine Christa must since they were each made in the spirit of love and friendship.

D-Day: The Day We Dyed the Squares of Cloth.
Tallu prepared the dye vat using an all-natural indigo powder she ordered online. She invited me and another volunteer, Paiden Hite, to come over and help dye the squares.

This is the dye vat.

She prepped the tied cloths by soaking them in plain, warm water.

One at a time, we submerged the cloth bundles gently into the vat being careful not to add extra oxygen (in the form of air bubbles or drips) into the liquid. It’s a chemistry thing. I wrote a story all about it, Seeing Blue, Indigo Blue.

As we pulled each tied cloth out of the dye vat, we watched it transform in color from a yellow-green to a green-blue, to a deep indigo blue. This transition in color seems magical each time I see it happen.

Here are the squares after their first dipping. A few were dipped twice to intensify the color. Color is added in layers, by a redipping process, not by letting textiles soak for a longer period of time in the vat.

After the squares dried and were ironed, TNFP staff members sewed them together, backed the quilt, and then began the task of hand sewing the quilt layers together.

The quilt was presented, in a semi-finished form, to the delighted couple, Christa and Todd, at a wedding shower given for them by the ever thoughtful and generous TNFP staff.

Here’s a gorgeous photo of the newlyweds on their wedding day. Like for many who work at TNFP, the Bentleys are growing their own food using sustainable practices, but for this couple, farming is the family business. They are living the dream of owning their own farm, Sweeter Days Farm, complete with a muster of peacocks. They sell their food and flowers at farmers markets and through CSA shares. You can follow their peacocks, vegetable, and flower-growing pursuits at @sweeterdaysfarm on Instagram. This is my favorite photo from their wedding because it expresses hope and love within the beauty of nature.

I love projects worked on in community, in the spirit of caring and fun, whether it be craft-making, cooking, or planting seeds in a garden. Visiting while creating something that is as pretty as it is useful is a satisfying way to spend a day. For me, it is a way of experiencing and expressing love and joy. Perhaps that is why this picture of the Bentleys makes me smile so much; it expresses both. Soon, Christa and Todd will have the finished quilt to wrap themselves up in. Hand-quilting takes time!

TNFP is in the middle of a capital campaign for the construction of a new headquarters with a commercial kitchen. They would be honored to accept any donation here.

Related Posts
Seeing Blue, Indigo Blue.
Making Homemade Plant-Based Dyes
Morning Rounds in the Garden, July
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Not a Pretty Sight: The Splash Guard of a Garbage Disposer

A conversation with friends while cooking in a kitchen went like this:

Me: Do you all clean the rubber splash guard of the garbage disposer in your kitchen sink?
Friend 1: I put ours in the dishwasher once a week.
Friend 2: I do it once a month.
Friend 3: Clean what?
Me: How come I never knew about this? Yesterday, I put my hand in the disposer to pull out a hunk of chicken fat that was mucking up the system and out popped the disposer’s rubber splash guard. It was all slime and gunk.

The photo below is about two week’s worth of disposer slime. I know it is gross.

Since I hardly ever used the disposer, I never thought about cleaning it. Now, I clean the splash guard with a scrub brush and hot soapy water and run it through the dishwasher about once a week.

Ahh, like new.

To end on a happier note, this is how I keep the soil clean in my vegetable garden: I plant crimson clover, buckwheat, and turnips as cover crops. These crops are only 10-days old and already look like the lawn of the Emerald City.

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Seeing Blue, Indigo Blue.

Three summers ago, I was cruising the Nashville Farmers Market when I spied Hill and Hollow Farm’s vegetable, flower, and hand-dyed yarn stand. What drew me in was the color blue. Indigo blue. 

On that June morning, owner, Robin Verson, was selling Japanese Indigo plants; the plants she uses to make indigo dye for her gorgeous yarns. The yarn is milled from wool shorn from her own flock of Jacob sheep. I wanted in on this exciting blue action. I bought four of her seedlings and planted them that day. By September, the plants looked like this.

As the plants matured to the flowering stage, I was surprised to see there was no blue in sight. The leaves were green, the flowers were pink, and the stems were a bronzy-red. With winter approaching, I left my small crop of indigo to die, in situ. Little did I know how easily they would self-seed here in Tennessee. Three years later, I had a bumper crop of volunteer Japanese Indigo plants.

During the summer, I noticed there were hints of blue on some of the bruised leaves. Hmmm. The color was in the leaves. I read up on how to extract indigo pigment from leaves, and I saw words like alkalization, oxidation, and reduction in the directions. Principles of Chemistry– the only course in college that made me call home crying.

Back I went to the Farmers Market, now three years later, to find Robin to look for the help I needed.

It turns out every summer when Japanese indigo plants are ready for harvest, Robin hosts all-day long indigo workshops at her farm in Breeding, Kentucky. I signed up for a Sunday in late August.

Upon arrival, I immediately fell in love with her farm and her sheep. I wanted both!

Robin explained the steps we were going to go through. Two weeks later, when I went to try it myself, I texted her to ask for a quick cheat-sheet version of the directions. Here is what she wrote: strip leaves, steep in water to 160º (measure water first), alkalinize, oxidize and reduce water, wait for reduction to be complete, dye and send me pictures! Robin had walked us through all these steps with humor and grace … and hospitality; she and her husband, Paul, fed us every step of the way.

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Harvest and Strip Leaves
Our first job was to strip the basil-like leaves from the 24 pounds of indigo stems harvested that morning. To create the brightest color, the plants are picked just before they start to flower. Once cut, they need to be processed immediately before naturally occurring enzymes in the leaves start to decay the indigo pigment (aka indican).

The black buckets were full of fresh stems, the red baskets held the stripped stems, and the two 80-quart stainless steel pots held the fresh leaves.

2. Make the “Indigo Tea,” aka Dyebath
Robin placed the pots of leaves over propane burners. She poured 12 gallons of tap water into each pot (enough to cover the leaves with water) and lit the burners. The water was heated to 160º over a two-hour period. We used a long compost thermometer to keep track of the temperature.

At 145º you could smell the wilted copper-tinged leaves and see why the dyebath is referred to as “indigo tea.” When the tea was 160º, we cut the heat. We put on heat-resistant gloves and used a short rake to scoop out the leaves and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. The leaves went into the orange compost bucket. The tea stayed in the kettle.

We poured the tea through a sieve to remove dirt and debris.

Robin scooped up a jar of the tea to show us the desired color. The indican molecules had broken down into blueish-indoxyl and sugar.

The indoxyl will not stick to cloth in its current state. It needs to be chemically modified by alkalinizing it with ammonia, oxidizing it with oxygen until it becomes blue-green in color, and reducing it by adding sodium hydrosulfite and allowing it to rest until it becomes neon yellow. Here’s the play by play of that:

3. Alkalinization of the Dyebath
We raised the alkaline level from 7 (the pH of water) to 9 by adding household ammonia at the rate of 2 tablespoons/gallon of liquid used. Some people use baking soda, wood ash, or lye to accomplish this.

4. Oxidation of the Dyebath
Next, we oxidized the dyebath by introducing oxygen in the form of air. We scooped up and poured bucketfuls of dyebath over and over again for 20 minutes to add lots of air bubbles. The liquid turned a deep green-blue. During this process, the indoxyl is transformed into very fine insoluble blue particles. They still won’t stick to fiber in this state, but we’re getting there.

I found this image of workers in Asia adding oxygen to an indoxyl-laden dyebath at http://www.industryofallnations.com/Jeans-At-Industry-Of-All-Nations-ccid_80.aspx.

5. Reduction of the Dyebath
The next step is to reduce the dye molecules in the dyebath. To do this, a reducing agent like sodium hydrosulfite, Spectralite, or Rit Color Remover is added at a rate of 1 tablespoon/gallon of water. Robin had us gently stir in the first two tablespoons of the reducing agent and sprinkle in the rest to not introduce more air. Reducing agents absorb electrons and transform the blue insoluble particles into a neon-yellow color that is now considered in solution. Cover the pot for the two hours it takes the reduction process to happen. The dyebath will look like this when it is ready to dye fibers.

While the mixture reduced, we had lunch. Lunch and dessert were prepared by Robin and her family. The amazing farm-to-table meal was scrumptious. Everyone was gushing. The meal included slow-roasted tomatoes that I loved. Here’s the recipe for them.

Time to Dye!
Before coming to the farm, Robin had asked us to wash the textiles we wanted to dye to remove all dirt and grease. She soaked them in warm water before we dyed them.

The pre-soaked textiles are now added slowly to the warmed dyebath (100-120º). Absolutely no stirring is allowed (to prevent another oxidation). The garments or yarn stay submerged for 15 minutes. It is during this soaking period that the textiles lose their color and become “indigo white” which is in fact, more like “neon-yellow.” The items are removed slowly along the side of the pot to diminish the chance of drips introducing air bubbles.

6. Re-Oxidation
As the textiles are removed, the yellowish indigo particles adhere and penetrate into the fabric’s crevices and transform into insoluble indigo blue as the air mingles with the dye and re-oxidizes it. To intensify the color, let the textiles rest and then redip for another 15 minutes to add more layers of color. Never leave items in the dyebath for more than 15 minutes per dip.

As the re-oxidizing is happening, you’ll see the fibers turn yellow, then green, then green-blue, and ultimately indigo blue. It’s kind of magical.

 

Give the yarn a bath in clean water and vinegar to set the color and then allow to dry. As an aside, notice the four ties spaced intermittently around each skein of yarn. That’s what keeps yarn from getting tangled while dyeing. In all of my years of knitting, I never considered why those ties were there.

I dyed yarn and this shirt.

I can’t thank Robin enough for her instruction and hospitality while we were with her. I urge anyone interested in learning more about this artform to sign up for one of Robin’s classes next year. You can find her here.

And so what did I do with my crop of indigo? Did I try this at home? You Betcha.

I harvested, weighed, and stripped the leaves, and stewed them in water to 160º.
  

I removed and strained the leaves, alkalinized the dyebath, oxidated it for 20 minutes, and finally, reduced it for 2 hours in the kitchen sink.
  

I unwound a ball of yarn, rewound it around a chair, and loosely tied it (so it wouldn’t leave marks), soaked it in the reduced dyebath for 15″, and later, rinsed it in a vinegar and water bath to fix the color.
 

The results were terrific. I dyed both skeins of blue yarn in the photo, one with indigo dye made at Robin’s workshop using her super fresh indigo leaves and the other, a lighter blue, in my sink using my not so fresh leaves (they had already flowered). I also over-dyed a gray linen shirt I had made for me in India. I love it!
 

Once you get started and have a sink full of dye, you start searching the house for things that would look good blue. These muslin dish towels painted for me by my beautiful friend, Mary Carter, were dingy and stained. Now they are a pretty indigo blue.

If it wasn’t time for dinner, I would have re-dipped everything to add another layer of color, instead, with a roomful of hungry family looking at me (it was now 6 pm – this took all day!), I opened the drain and let the dye go.

My favorite, most satisfying days are the ones where I get lost in a project and lose all sense of time. Trying my hand at making dye extracted from plants I grew in my yard provided for one of those exciting and memorable days. Please write a comment if you have anything to add to this epic post. I still have so much to learn about growing plants and making natural dyes.

A Good Book
For a good read about the history of indigo farming and dyeing in Colonial America, I suggest, The Indigo Girl, by Natasha Boyd. The book tells the story of Eliza Pinckney, who, as a young, industrious farmer learned to successfully grow indigo in South Carolina. It’s a page-turner.

One last indigo image: the inspiration for this indigo journey started during our trip to India in February. Little did I know, when I took this photo of an IndiGo Airlines bus from our airplane window in New Dehli, how far my curiosity about this rich color would take me.

Related Posts
Making Homemade Plant-Based Dyes
Group Project: A Shibori Dyed Quilt
Morning Rounds in the Garden, July
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
Learning How to Block Print in Jaipur (India, Part 2)
Shopping for a Saree in South India

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

The Volunteer Gardener

When I was ten, I planted my first packet of seeds in a thin strip of dirt bordering the back of our house. I remember asking my mother what germination meant. In my twenties, my husband and I grew vegetables on the roof and in the window boxes of our first apartment as newlyweds in downtown Boston.

When we bought our first house in Nashville, my husband built me a fenced-in vegetable garden. He used white picket fencing recovered from a neighbor’s backyard. As a transplanted New Englander, I felt so … Southern Living.

For Valentine’s Day, he borrowed a truck and went to a friend’s chicken farm to get me a load of chicken poop. Later, Mary Hance, a columnist for The Tennessean, wrote a story about it for her “Ms. Cheap” column, “Sometimes even chicken manure is a gift of love.” In 2018, re-using scrap wood and hauling in chicken poop is considered PC and falls under the category of “keeping stuff out of the landfill.” Back then, it was known as plain old saving money, and another example of my husband’s mantra for our children, “Be a problem solver, not a problem identifier.”

I thought about all of this as I watched this week’s episode of Volunteer Gardener [episode 2713], an educational gardening show on Nashville Public Television.  It was filmed in my backyard.

My friend, Jeremy Lekich, owner of Nashville Foodscapes was interviewed by the show’s host, Phillipe Chadwick, to talk about growing edible backyard spaces, Jeremy’s specialty. I’ve got to warn you, Jeremy’s passion for edible foodscapes is contagious! He gets booked up in April when folks get the urge to plant. Now is the time to call him to plan and build next year’s vegetable gardening space.

Here is a clip about how figs reproduce. It didn’t make the show but is a great example of how Jeremy inspires people to become curious and productive gardeners.

You will never look at the inside of a fig in the same way.

Thank you to Greta Requierme, producer of Volunteer Gardener, for bringing her crew to visit my garden and to my dear friend, Jeremy, for all the ways he inspires me to grow more food. Here is Jeremy’s mission statement from his website:

“Nashville Foodscapes connects people with their food source by growing food where people live. We achieve this by offering creative food solutions through landscaping. We create custom designs of our clients’ yards, homes, and living spaces allowing food to be grown in a way that pleases the eyes and taste buds: a fusion of aesthetics and function in a landscape.”

Yes, I adore him!

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Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.