the temps shot up into the upper 80s again yesterday in Seattle. Mercifully, this brought on clouds, thunderstorms, and delightfully fat warm rain - but still, it was too hot to sleep until late at night. After a long day working in the kitchen (I spent the whole day cleaning out the fridge, shucking corn, picking peas, turning old strawberries into jam, making pesto from some of the pea shoots before I cut them all down, etc.), I realized I had enough time to try my hand at low-immersion silk dyeing before bed.
I learned about the process from Shabd Simon-Alexander, whose book, Tie-Dye: Dye It, Wear It, Share It, is available on Amazon for around $17 - $15 for a Kindle edition - right now. If you aren't familiar with Shabd, she is a dye artist whose beautiful pieces have been making waves in the blog world for a couple of years now. Her website contains images of her beautiful wares.
Now! To the project! Fortunately, Shabd's publishers have allowed one project from her book, the "Crystalline Scarf" to be circulated on the internet (and this project was the one I most wanted to attempt!). Here's a link to read through the project online. Don't forget to wear rubber gloves!
You start by dissolving soda ash in water (1 c. soda ash to 1 gallon warm water) to make a solution in which the scarf (or garment) is soaked. This soda ash solution fixes the dyes in the fabric and helps produce brilliant colours. Shabd writes that 1 gallon of water is sufficient to pre-soak ten t-shirts. Since I was only dyeing one small lightweight silk scarf, I mixed a much smaller amount of this solution: 1/4 c. soda ash to 4 c. water. I put it in a half-gallon-sized mason jar and then shoved my scarf down into the jar and kind of shook it up to make sure it was well coated.
The scarf has to sit for 30 minutes in this solution - which is fine, it gives you time to prepare your dyes!
Shabd tells us that we should mix about 1 tsp of dye (procion mx fiber reactive dyes) to 1 c. of water. Use more dye powder for darker or brighter colours, as these are more difficult to achieve.
I chose to mix up my dyes with chemical water. Shabd's book describes three different chemicals you could use; I used urea. Urea helps dye powder dissolve completely into the water, and prevents flecks and spots of unmixed dye from occurring on your garment. It also helps keep the fabric damp longer, and I was dyeing on a hot night and wanted to ensure that the scarf wouldn't dry out and stop the process.
I only made 1 c. of urea-water for this whole project, and used three dye colours - so, I only used about 1/3-1/2 tsp of each of three dye powders. The colours I used were "warm black," "pale aqua," and "peach." The black dyes in the Procion fiber reactive line do not dye true on silk, fyi. In fact, Shabd has some colour charts in her book that show the different colours a single dye will produce on different fibers. The black looked like it would turn silk purple or red, which was actually what I wanted. So - I used the wrong dye on purpose, to get the colour I wanted.
This scarf is dyed using what Shabd calls the "scrunch method." She doesn't give a lot of information about what scrunching should look like, except to say that the fabric should not actually be folded over on itself. This was the part I was most worried about messing up. So, in case this helps, here's a picture of my scarf, all scrunched up. You have to take the scarf out of the soda ash solution, squeezing out excess liquid, and then place it in a low rimmed container for this dyeing project - I used an old baking dish that has a sharp chipped edge that I had been considering getting rid of, anyway. This baking dish is maybe 8" wide and 13" long; my scarf is 14 or 19 inches wide and 65 inches long (I think?). So, scrunching was actually necessary, just to get it to fit in the dish. I tried to ensure that I was scrunching it irregularly, so that I wasn't creating regular pleats or something.
The high areas will be the light spots in your scarf; low areas will be sitting in pools of dye and become vibrantly coloured. Think about that as you scrunch, so that you are constantly varying the height of the fabric.
Once the scarf is scrunched, you simply unscrew the tops from the applicator bottles (in which you've mixed dye colours) and pour over your scarf. When I was reading up on Shabd's leggings project with Martha, I noticed that she said to apply the colour that you want to be least dominant first. I used this rule of thumb and poured on the peach first, then the blue, then that unstable black dye last.
here's a side view of the scarf in its dye bath. I was surprised that there wasn't a lot of liquid pooling at the bottom of the pan - and relieved! I suppose if you did have dye pooling at the bottom, the colours would mix and the scarf would be muddy.
Once the dyes have been poured, the scarf needs to sit and process for 1 hour (see? fast project! 30 min soaking time, about 5 minutes to scrunch and dye, then 1 hour processing, then rinse and done!). You could let it sit longer if you like; the colours will bleed and blend together more. If you want to do this, cover the top of your project with plastic wrap or wrap it in a plastic tarp to keep it from drying out.
After the hour is up, rinse out the dye in cool water and wash with synthrapol (I'm out; I just used Woolite) to remove any remaining particles of dye. Then let it dry - and enjoy!
Remember, when you dry silk, you want to make sure it can hang free and doesn't have any wrinkles in it - or these wrinkles will become a permanent feature of the silk. I hung my scarf over the shower bar to dry, and when it was almost dry, I took it down and ironed it with a cool iron to give it a nice smooth hand and sheen.
There you have it: Shabd's Crystalline Scarf. I can't believe how easy this was, honestly. Maybe it's just beginner's luck, but I think I'm hooked. I wonder if my girlfriends would mind if they all received dyed scarves for Yule this year?