Monday, March 26, 2012

The secret to dyeing 64 silk scarves- good conversation and baseball!

There are a few things that have to be understood when you take on the job of being a professional dye artist. The first is that "stuff happens" and the second is that it will be messy. Always. Forever. Every time. If you can stand life being unpredictable and wading knee deep in crap all the time then there is a good chance you will be successful.

In the picture above, you can see my mixing table during the process of throwing together the dyes for the silk scarf project. I was given free rein to dye them whatever color I wanted so I chose to use up some of the oddball dye powders people had given me through the years. Procion MX fiber reactive dyes have a shelf life. They can last from 3-6 years if kept dry and in a dark, cool place. These dyes were at least 8-10 years old so the outcome would be anyone's guess. I knew I would get color but how much and what they would do in combination with each other was going to be a mystery.

I mixed up the best of the old stuff: Fire Red, Burnt Orange, Golden Yellow, and Blue Violet. Those of you who have taken my dyeing classes at Quilt University know that I never buy premixed colors because you can learn to make them yourself and save money by doing so but yes- it is true that I have SOME premixed colors but they have ALL been given to me by people who: 1) cannot take the mess and give up dyeing, 2) by people who thought they would like to learn to dye and couldn't figure out how to mix the colors themselves so they bought these wacky colors, and 3) people who were moving and didn't want to haul the dyes around the country with their other stuff. Imagine that.

The next thing that I did was call in reinforcements. Timing is everything. Pictured above is my friend Erin. I hadn't seen her in years but our paths crossed and she happened to mention that we "should get together sometime and dye something". Whohahhahhahhahhaa. That was the perfect lead in to me saying, " Yes! How about next week?" Heh, heh.

So we begin. The actual application of the dyes took us all of maybe 10 minutes. Organization is everything. She took one bottle and I took two others and we just banged them out in nothing flat. Next step was to cover them up and leave them alone. Then we took ourselves out onto the sunny patio and yakked it up for a few hours catching up on life and all that goes with that. Then she left with apparently not one drop of dye on her clothes, shoes or hands. How's that happen?

When the time had passed, the rinsing began. This I did by myself which was fine. I could do about 4 at a time. Here is a chunk of them hanging on the line to dry. By the time I hung up the last one, the first ones were dry. I love living in California.

Even though the dye powders were really old, they held up beautifully. The only color that had some issues was the blue violet which rinsed out to be a brilliant purple BUT the areas what wicked left traces of glowing turquoise as you can see in the above picture. The blue in the mix had aged which has happened to me before this. Reds last a fairly long time and yellows are okay too but blues seem to be most effected by age.

When dry, fabric is three shades lighter than when wet. While not as brilliant as when they were hanging on the line, the scarves came out beautifully with intense color and each is one of a kind.

The ironing process is always what takes the longest but it gives me time to watch some baseball (Giants vs Rangers, preseason) and see how each piece is a work of art in and of itself.

Here they are bagged up and ready to go.

I love what I do.
Pictured here is the aftermath. Lots of plastic to rinse and hang and then fold up and store for the next project.

So what IS the next project? Finishing the second set of drapes and getting them installed with the first set (pictured below).

My best advice, even though you aren't asking for it: Stay calm. Stay as organized as you can. Push the crap to the side and wade on through!

Thanks for looking, everyone.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dye Garden Begins!

This is the view of the garden looking west. This year, it will be about half veggies and half stuff for dyeing purposes. I have 4 sets of "M-Braces" ( They make raised beds a snap and I love them!!!

This is the view looking north east. I wish I could have the garden open without any fencing but our beloved chickens are free rangers and, for now, that's just how it has to be.
This area is where the flowers will be planted. On the docket are: Blackeyed Susans, Orange and Yellow Cosmos, Dyer's Coreopsis, Purple Basil, Japanese Indigo, Dark Red Hollyhocks, Pokeberry, Bronze Fennel, Marjoram, Sunflowers, and Marigolds.

Vegetable seedlings are already started as are a few flowers but this weekend is the time for scouring the local nursery for the rest of the seeds. Some may be a bit challenging to find so we may need to order off the Internet.

Have to include a picture of my beloved Suzetta. I never knew I could love a chicken so much. She is cuddly, kind, and curious. She comes into the dye studio with me. Comes into the kitchen when the door is left open. Follows me around the yard. Calls me when she is lonely. Watches over the other chickens and makes gigantic eggs.

Next posting- when the stuff is in and growing.

Thanks for looking!

P.S. Do any of you know how to keep the font the same throughout the whole posting? This is SO annoying. Makes me furious as I go to extreme lengths to make sure each paragraph is the same and them when it posts it's anyone's guess what comes out....gurrrrrrrrrrrr.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Watch me dye 45 yards of raw silk!

A customer asks me if I can color match this swatch of raw silk. "Sure", I say..and I do. I match it perfectly on my own raw silk.

Next question- "Can you dye 50 yards of it for me?" "Sure", I say.

Next question- "Can you dye it on my silk which is upholstery weight raw silk and wider than yours?" "Ummmm...sure", I say,"... but it has to fit these parameters..." which are then spelled out and all I can do is try.

The silk arrives and it is wider, heavier and worst of all- BLEACHED white. Not a part of the parameters. All I can do is try. I do. I get it but not without dumping unprecedented amounts of dye and soda ash onto the mix.

Next question- "Can you dye it in 9 yard panels?" Staggering a bit...I reply, "All I can do is try." And I do.

First step-Cut the fabric into one 9 yard, 15 inch panel to test it before committing. This stuff is going to shrink like crazy. And it did. And it worked. Okay. Price is going to double as the time and dye quadruped in order to get the depth of color on the bleached silk.
Here is 2/3 of the amount of dye I will need to use to dye this order.

Here are all but 2 of the boxes of ash that I will need to dye this order.
The messes I make are colossal. One yard, or 45, the outcome is always the same- huge pile of mess and this project was no different from any of the others.

Here is one 9 yard panel pre-soaking in warm water while I mix the 8 cups (yes) of dry dye powder and 8 cups (yes) of dry soda ash.
Just a part of what the dye sinks looked like while I was working.
Midway though one of the dye sessions I came up for air and had a chat with my dear husband. Never once did he mention my dyed face. Not one time. I happen to take a bathroom break and noticed (it was shocking) how I looked. When questioning him on why he failed to mention my dyed face, he said, "You always look like that." Not true. hair is blue in the front. This is still on my face. It will have to wear off with time.
Of course it would start raining about the time I was ready to pull panels out of the machine. What you do not see are the new laundry lines I installed in the dye studio that run the entire length of the work space. I have to be more prepared for crappy weather. Anyway- I hung the full 45 yards inside in the dye studio and then the sun came out, of course, but anyway- no birds were able to poop on this stuff which certainly has happened in the past.

Here it is ironed and folded. 45 yards. When the final price was quoted the customer decided 45 would work rather than 50, so okay.
Here it is boxed up and ready to ship to Mexico City. Hopefully when everything is said and done I will post a photograph of the silk as the finished project- a couch.

I am going to take this thing to UPS now...wish me luck. It weighs 38 pounds. Steve is going to help me.

This project was stimulating and challenging and a stretch in many ways but in other ways I have to smile-this might have killed me 20 years ago but when you have as many miles clocked in as I do, you learn some what happens when one tries to dye bleached things. Like what happens when upholstery weight comes into play rather than dress weight. Like how to laugh it off when the dye has soaked into your nails and skin and you have an appointment with a hand therapist the next day. Like how much to account for when you know a fabric will shrink but you do not know HOW much it will shrink. It's all good.

It's true that something special kicks in when you have 10,000 hours logged in regarding a craft or an art or a specialty or whatever. Something else kicks in when you have logged 100,000 hours. I don't know how to describe it but it goes something like this-you just know that you know that you know you can do it do.

Okay. What's next?

About Me

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Woodland, California, United States
I am a fiber artist. I am a teacher. I am a Reverend. I teach, I create, I counsel, I listen.

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