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  • Writer's pictureLisa

Still Dyeing

A Pile of Dyed Silk Cowls
A Pile of Dyed Silk Cowls

Have you heard of garment dyeing? It's exactly that. A garment, say a shirt, is dyed after it is made. It's a fairly common industry practice, but not so much among artists.

Scarf Blanks Ready for Dyeing
Scarf Blanks Ready for Dyeing

In the early 2000's at a wholesale show, I met an artist who's whole collection was garment dyed. I loved it! She was so generous to share some of her techniques. I won't get “into the weeds” about the process, but garment dyeing is a very economical way to go. There is very little fabric waste, because you are not painting and dyeing yardage that is then cut out. You always have white “blank” garments and scarves that are ready to dye whatever color-way you need.

My scarves are still made this way today. They are all dyed individually so are all a little different, but in one session I may dye 10 scarves the same color-way.

Quilted Jacket Circa 2006
Quilted Jacket, circa 2006

I didn't completely stop painting yardage. Certain designs need to be painted that way. For a while, I quilted some of my fabric, and turned it into jackets. The painting was abstract with simple geometric quilting. These were popular for a few years. Then the recession hit. By 2008 few of my customers wanted a $500 jacket.

Other things happened. I developed chronic tendinitis in both wrists and elbows. It was painful and took ages to correct. Do anything for hours on end, day after day, and it will come back to bite ya. It was all that quilting and painting with little brushes and resist. The hand therapist asked if I stretched out my arms before and after working. What a silly idea! Who does that? Well, I do now. The days of quilting and painting little pictures were gone. No time to cry and complain about what I couldn't do. I moved on.

Ombre/Shibori Dyed Polaire Top Circa 2016
Ombre/Shibori Dyed Polaire Top, circa 2016

Have you heard of shibori? It's a Japanese bound resist dyeing technique that has been practiced for thousands of years. Many cultures have their own resist dyeing processes that run the gambit from fairly simple to extremely difficult. Most people call it all “tie-dye”. That term was created in the 1960's by an American dye company trying to boost sales. Anyway, I experimented with some simple shibori techniques, and eventually came up with a couple of acceptable methods based on arashi shibori. I am by no means a shibori artist, but figured out a system that worked for me.

Shibori Dyed Fleece Cowls Circa 2020
Shibori Dyed Fleece Cowls, circa 2020

For a short time I did some vat dyeing. You know this one. It's the boiling dye in the big pot on the stove. You throw the clothes in and stir. There's more to it than that, but you get the picture. Depending on what I did, I could get a mottled effect or a solid color. But it used so much water in the dyeing process, and cleaning up after. Those pots are also heavy. I stopped that after a couple of years.

Vat Dyed Swing Coat Circa 2016
Vat Dyed Swing Coat, circa 2015

Today, I still paint some yardage, but almost all the rest of the scarves are dyed in a dishpan in my studio sink with little puddles of dye that are “positioned” on the fabric depending on the method. With patch-dyeing colors are randomly placed. Ombre-dyeing is a gradation of colors that blend together, from light to dark, or one color to another. Each color has a measured formula so it's the same each time I mix it up. There are different dyes depending on the fiber, and the process. Dye companies seem to constantly change and/or discontinue colors. There's always something new to figure out.

Patch Dyed Silk Vest and Tunic Circa 2017
Patch Dyed Silk Vest and Tunic, circa 2017

Ombre Dyed Silk/Rayon Cowl
Ombre Dyed Silk/Rayon Cowl, circa 2020

I've knitted and crocheted forever. I bought other designers hand-painted and dyed yarns, but never considered doing it myself. Then in 2016 as I was trying to find a path away from clothing, it hit me like a lightning bolt...yarn! It had to be easier and cheaper than making and dyeing clothing. And who doesn't love yarn, I do! Well, it is a completely different process than dyeing clothes and scarves. More to learn. But that's always a good thing.

My yarn comes from wholesalers, just like my fabric. I wind it into smaller skeins before painting. I paint the skeins flat on a table with a foam brush. “Fixing” the dye, making it colorfast is different depending on the fibers. I'm quite a yarn snob, and only work with luxury and novelty yarns that are made from natural fibers.

Hand Painted Yarn Skeins
Hand Painted Yarn Skeins, circa 2021

I've sold the yarn for a few years at craft shows, and was all set to do my first fiber shows last spring. Of course Covid stopped that. But the future looks bright for shows, and you can always find my yarn on this website.

If we're lucky and careful we can all get together soon at a show. I can't wait to see you in person, and show you what's new. You can also show me what you've been working on.

Happy May,


May 1, 2020

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