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Fabric Dyeing

Art Socks – Dyeing with Procion Dyes

You may not know this, but back in the 1980’s my quilting friends and I were bitten by the hand-dyeing bug.  We delved into the world of Procion dyes, learning to create perfect step gradation in all the colors of the rainbow.  For a while, I even sold my fabrics.  But then, a lot of others also began selling commercially, places like Cherrywood Fabrics and Starr Design Fabrics.  Only they did it full time and had large scale productions.  I LOVED their products.  In fact, I was so enamored that I stopped dyeing altogether now that I had a steady stream of whatever color I wanted!   But, as with all things wonderful, the desire returned — not to make fabric, but to make other fun stuff, like socks!

Bamboo Art Socks

Bamboo Art Socks

My friend and compatriot who-has-a-strong-influence-on-me, Donna Barnitz, and I began by dyeing art socks for a group home that housed 8 women several years ago. Two of those women happened to be my mom, and the woman she cared for, Ruth.  We decided that the perfect gift for someone who lives only in a room and is never going to get better was to make socks – Lots ‘O Socks!  We made sock-filled goody bags for all the residents and the staff!  It was a marvelous Christmas!  Since then, both of us continue to dye socks.  Here’s how we do it!

Procion Dyes

Procion Dyes

Bamboo Socks

Bamboo Socks

Soda Ash Fixative

Soda Ash Fixative

Start by visiting our favorite supplier, Dharma Trading Company.  They offer increasing discounts on their merchandise depending on the amount purchased.  So gather up your friends and place a big order – read BIG discount!

It only takes a teeny bit of dye for intense color, so just order the smallest quantities of dye!  One jar will last a long time.  While you’re ordering, you might just want to purchase one of their little squirt bottle assortments.  When filled with different colors of dye, the bottles allow nearly exact placement of the dyes, almost like painting.

Dharma also offers a wide variety of other dyeables, ranging from clothing to cotton socks and infant apparel.  I like bamboo socks because they are so soft, take the dyes well, and feel luxuriant next to my feet.

It’s like being a kid on Christmas day when your order arrives.   Unpack all your materials and launder them in hot soapy water.

Donna unpacks the socks!

Donna unpacks the socks!

Next mix up a five gallon bucket filled with soda ash fixative and warm water, following the directions on the package.  Place your dyeables into this solution and let them sit for an hour or more, even overnight.  Take the socks out, squeeze out the mixture, and then hang to dry.  Your socks can be stored this way until you are ready to dye.  At my house, they sometimes stay like this for a long time.

Next, mix the procion dyes with warm water, wearing a dust mask so you don’t inhale the powdery dyes.  Experiment with the intensity you prefer, remembering that the laundered wearables will be paler than they first appear when the dye is applied.

You’ll also need a large flattish tub, like those under the bed storage containers, lots of kitchen garbage bags and a tile floor that can be wiped up.  I use my small 4′ x 30″ folding table and cover it with the plastic bags.  Lay the socks out so they don’t touch.

First Dip!

First Dip!

One way to make the process go faster is to leave some of the dye in a small plastic tub (like a butter tub), then fold the socks in half and dip the top and toe in the solution.

Squirt Bottle Dyeing

Squirt Bottle Dyeing

Using the desired color, squirt the dye onto the sock.  The dyes will bleed into each other making some fascinating shading.  Try putting turquoise next to yellow and see what happens.  Once you have finished dyeing all the socks on the upward-facing side, turn them over and repeat on the other side.

Socks in Progress

Socks in Progress

Keep working from the two ends toward the middle, trying not to let the newly added colors drip on the already dyed areas.

Almost done now!

Almost done now!

Be sure to keep the plastic covering wiped up so the socks don’t accidentally pick up any spilled drops.  Once both sides of the socks are completed,

Resting Art Socks

Resting Art Socks

lay them next to one another so that only like colors touch.  Place a layer of plastic between each layer of socks.  Cover them all and let them rest at room temperature for 24 hours.  Once that is done, your socks are ready to rinse.  I begin by rinsing them in the sink with warm water.  I do this by hand, several times, until the water runs mostly clear.  Toss them into the washing machine and launder on hot with regular laundry soap.  Your art socks are ready to wear.  If you add a pretty handmade label, they also make a nice gift, or a special item to sell at a craft show.  I sell Art Socks on my website too, and they sell very well to students when I teach classes.

Kid's Art Socks

Kid’s Art Socks

I’m linking up with:

Sew Cute Tuesday








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A Few Days in Connecticut

Quilt by Mickey Lawler

My first trip to Connecticut has been marked by some real highlights!  First of all,  I discovered that one of my favorite artists, Mickey Lawler, of SkyDyes, lives right in Hartford.  Better yet, I got to visit with her on my first free day, after I taught a class for the Apple Valley Quilters in Southington.  Above is one of Mickey’s fabulous quits.  It hangs in her living room.

Mickey shows off her painting outdoor painting tables. Soon, it will be time to move everything indoors for the winter.

The painting table

Look at that gorgeous fabric, all stretched out in the autumn sun!

After checking out the outdoor painting area, we moved indoors to Mickey’s studio to look at her works in progress.

She’s currently working on a series of small quilts that will be framed for sale in a local gallery.  And lastly, after a cup of tea and a good chat, we got to touch and feel, and BUY some of her incredible hand-painted fabrics!

Gayle Brown, Connecticut Piecemakers, shows off one of the newer style painted fabrics – Sand Painting!

What a fun day that was!  I have a feeling that there are many fun adventures in store for me up here in New England!

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Indigo Dyeing with Rice Paste Resist

Dragonfly Dress

Here’s the dragonfly dress that required several days of pasting using my favorite stencil, Donna’s dragonfly.  Each time I pasted a section, I had to wait for it to dry before moving on to another part.

Charles Dips in Indigo

My friend, Charles, also loves indigo dyeing.  He pasted several items and came over so we shared a big dipping day in the vat!

Canoe Rack for Drying

Here are a few of his treasures drying in the sun.  Charles was making holiday gifts, well in advance of the season.  Actually, in 2011, we discovered that the best time to dip was on a blisteringly hot day.  That’s because the pieces with resist dry more quickly so we can get more than one dip in an afternoon.

Dragonfly Dress – Early Dips

Here, you can see the graduated colors that occur with multiple dips.  However, since the dress is long, dipping only the lowest portion required a little help.

Getting Taller

Every home should have a tallish step stool so the dipper can be taller than the vat!

Dragonfly Dress – back view

Here’s the back view of my dragonfly dress.  It was finished in time for me to wear it to the costume party for my dance group.  The theme was “the blues”.  I love this dress.  Having an indigo vat inspires me to buy white garments so I have more stuff to dip.

I hope that I can keep this year’s vat going into next summer.   I’ve never before gotten such dark blues from one of my vats!  If you have a chance, think about taking a class from John Marshall or Karen Miller.  You will be glad you did!



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My Indigo Vat

Sandhill Crane resist on cotton.

I know I’ve been lax in posting to my blog lately!  But, although I haven’t been posting, I have been doing!  And, doing lots of different stuff!  One of my favorite types of dyeing is making up an indigo vat to get those lovely shades of blue that only an indigo vat can achieve.  I took a class from John Marshall a while back and with thee help of my good friend, Donna Barnitz, we cooked up a new vat in late July!

Cooking up rice paste resist

The next step is to mix up a batch of rice paste resist.  After the first mix, we form donuts of dough and put them into the rice steamer.

Stirring rice paste resist

Almost done now!  After the steaming, we add a few more ingredients and stir it up into a smooth paste – ready to apply to the fabrics.  We made stencils for pasting in a previous class with Karen Miller.  I only made one stencil but Donna made several! Sorry, no images of the pasting part — I forgot to take photos.  We pasted and pasted.  And then set the pasted pieces aside to dry.  Sometimes the pasting can take several days as we wait for one part to dry before pasting more on the same piece.

A good, oxygen free indigo vat

So, we began by dyeing socks!  A good indigo vat has a wonderful, earthy smell and is oxygen free.  Here, you see the white sock, either bamboo or cotton, scrunched up on a PVC tube.

Sock Dipping

When the fabrics are immersed into the vat, they turn an emerald shade of green.

Scrunched Socks

Once they are pulled from the vat and exposed to oxygen, they turn that gorgeous shade of blue.  To get a darker color, multiple dips are necessary.

Drying indigo dyed socks

Here are our first six socks, drying in the shade.  I love this technique. Thanks, Donna, for thinking it up!


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