I had mentioned last week that my Headstart center does an annual tie-dye marathon at the end of each school year in order to present each child with a shirt and other gifts at the closing preschool celebration. I had thought of tie-dye as something that developed in the 1960s and faded in the 1970s, but many of my young parents are passing along to the 3rd or 4th generation of tie-dye wearers a much-advanced and improved-upon dye process and product.
First, there is the fact that many of the dyes have improved significantly in the intervening thirty years. While Sara is the dye expert I turn to for fibery advice, I discovered that our Family Advocate, Stormy, was an old hand at the skills needed to dye cotton textiles with sufficient depth of color. First, she made sure that we ordered lots of all-cotton items sewn with cotton thread from Dharma Trading Company, so that the colors would dye evenly.
On the appointed day, she set up plastic buckets to pre-soak the items in a soda ash solution. This allows for better dye penetration. Prior to pre-soaking, we got busy creating dye-resist areas, either by wrapping and binding with various sizes of rubber bands, or painting on a resist solution that is more fluid than the traditional beeswax used in Javanese batik, but a bit less "blocking". One mother painted glorious animal designs with the resist fluid for her children. The resist liquid, available from Dharma, works best on clean, dry textiles and needs to dry again before dye is applied, but all of our other items were soaked for twenty minutes and dye was applied wet. While staff and parents dyed items for the youngest children (and I dyed 12 hankies to use for napkins), the preschoolers got to each take a turn with assistance and paint their own.
This photo captured one of the little hands at work, applying pre-mixed color with a fine-tipped squeeze bottle. The dyes are Dharma's generic version of Procion-type, cold water dyes, which also work very well on yarns.
We had five colors to choose from - yellow, green, purple, red, and marine blue, though some adults did a little mixing to extend the shades. Since my co-caregiver and I wear hospital-style smocks while providing direct infant care twelve hours a week, we dyed some white cotton smocks we had ordered with diluted colors to achieve a harmonious, pastel effect (well, at least we tried... they turned out paler and softer than anything else!).
This photo shows two works in progress.
After the item was sufficiently colored, each was double-wrapped in plastic wrap and set aside to "work" for 48 hours. The plastic wrap contained each masterpiece to avoid cross-contamination and a lot of browns... as well as to keep dye from oozing out.
This is one of about four buckets of completed items created over several days; I spent a full day with one group and another afternoon several of our staff worked for hours to dye 36 small lightweight canvas backpacks so that each child would receive one at our party last Thursday. I also wrapped and dyed a cut-velvet silk/rayon scarf for myself, and a batch of unidentified yarn I had in the stash for many years... it appears from the results that the yarn was a mohair wrapped around a synthetic core. I took the yarn home to steam in my yarn canner.
As you can see, even wearing plastic gloves didn't completely save our hands; we were working outside in one of our playgrounds and I ended up with feet that looked worse, as I inadvertantly would step into a puddle left behind...
The rinsing process is long and tedious; each item must be rinsed to flush the dye out, which two staff members did outside using the garden hose, then batches were thrown into the washer with Synthropol, from Dharma, which arrests the dye process and "sets" the fabric to prevent further bleeding. I used a strong vinegar solution at home on the silk/rayon scarf and the yarn.
The results were pretty spectacular... many items had a crisp deliniation of color, while these backpacks, which we had banded into stripes and painted as rainbows, were more subtle owing to the coarser weave of the cotton canvas fabric. The kids were delighted to receive their bags full of sunscreen and water toys.
My napkins were far more distinct and "traditional", if such a word can be applied to tie dye. Each one came out different, with a variety of color combos, some more clear to color and others more blended in tones. My oldest toddler girl was so delighted with these that she made herself and I headscarves to tie on and wear around the first morning they were finished.
We were all especially pleased with how the childrens' shirts came out - bright and colorful and something that the preschoolers were proud to hold up and say "I did it myself".
The school year ended last Friday for the 3-5 year olds and now summer will unfold more slowly for the few staff and children remaining on our infant-toddler side. I will be happy to wait until next year to tie dye again but was pretty excited by the way my yarn turned out.
Lots of my favorite shades of spring green! As you can see, there is a lighter core, which I suspect is some kind of nylon blend, that didn't take up the color, but it adds to the character... though not much softened up this fairly harsh yarn. I will try making some winter hats for kids with it next fall.
Here is a close-up detail of my scarf... I was trying for a more gradual blend from yellow through coral to red, however the thin silk blend fabric took up the dye much more rapidly than I expected. Oh well... the colors are beautiful and so is the velvet leaf design.
This weekend it was back to normal knitting for me, though, with progress on my Lutea Lace Shoulder Shell (only a few more inches to dividing for the armholes), working on the quickie summer scarf I mentioned in the last post AND starting on a surprise anniversary gift for DH. I also managed to master the mattress stitch while piecing together a sample for the yarn shop (I had never bothered with it before, considering it too fussy, but it does make an elegant invisible seam). Meanwhile, the burros began kicking up dust as things dry out around here, and the potato and tomato plants seemed to gain several inches each day, while the fish in the pond got an umbrella to shade them from the hot sun. I promise there will be more pictures as summer begins to appear here in the Sierras.