Living to Dye
Oh my goodness, am I having fun dyeing fabric.
I had an pretty clear picture in my mind what I wanted my hand-dyed fabrics to look like...found-in-the-shed, garage sale, moldy attic remnants. Granny's panties. The old weathered sail of a pirate ship.
I love antique samplers, and I know what those fabrics look like. You often can't really place what happened -- is it water damage? Fading? Stains? Bleeding from the threads? It's inconsistent. There are outlier stains...strange one-of-a-kinds. There are clusters of similar stains and marks.
When I started selling hand-dyed linens (by Green Mountain Linens) in about 1997, I was struck by the folksy colors and organic look. My family complained that a lot of the linens smelled like ... well, the floor of a barn. And a few customers, when they received their orders, complained that I had sent linen that was "ruined." I LOVED it. Anna used to talk to me about how she dyed her linens, swearing me to secrecy with some of it. She was such a nice lady (and she raised show cats!) Unfortunately, Anna lost a battle with cancer about 15 years ago.
I've carried a lot of other companies' hand-dyed fabrics over the years (and still do!) -- Weeks Dye Works, Lakeside Linens, R&R Reproductions, Picture This Plus, Sugar and Spice, Wichelt Imports, Exemplars from the Heart and others. I've also bought a good bit from the smaller, independent dyers who are doing really cool things; I love fabrics by XJudesigns and Nina's Threads on Etsy.
And everybody who dyes fabric has a recognizable style, I think: Lakeside Linens has soft-and-subtle sampler colors, Weeks Dye Works linens are a little more prim and saturated. I can always spot a piece of Picture This Plus with darling swirls and veins and spots, often with multiple different colors. And R&R Reproduction fabrics really capture that tea-and-coffee dyed look perfect for reproductions and primitive pieces.
I wanted GRUNGE, though. Like, muck, dirt, detritus. Fabric that looks like it's been dragged behind a hog truck through back county roads on a hot summer day. And then maybe it was attacked by a weasel. I actually played with developing my technique by over-dyeing pieces I had already stitched. It's not brave. It's stupid. But it worked!
My technique involves many steps. Like ten steps. Depending on the color. I use natural dyes AND chemical dyes in a hot process. I iron each piece of linen (or Aida) three times. Once with steam, and then once on each side with a light misting of starch. So, the linens smell good! The color is on both sides of the fabric, so a stitcher can choose what marks and stains to highlight.
And believe it or not, my favorite part is the ironing!!! That's the step when I really get to see the individual personality of each piece of linen -- they're all different. Where did the splotches and veins end up? What is the final color result? How badly do I want to keep a piece of it? (I told my husband that if ironing his shirts was that much fun, I'd do it all the time.)
And so far, my second favorite part is coming up with names. I'm being pretty particular about making sure that the color names correspond to a color of DMC floss (or two). Those are included with each listing, so even though our monitors may be different, you will have a good idea of what the color actually is. So, it's not so much the RECIPE that determines a color -- it's the RESULT. What is the final color? The name gets matched to DMC, and then the name goes with it.
People are already asking: are you going to make more... oh Lost Penny, let's say, and the answer is: probably, but I'm not sure. I can try to replicate it, but it may be a little browner, or a little greener, or a little lighter or darker. At some point, every color is going to come back around, but I don't know when. Every piece of fabric takes the dye just a LITTLE bit differently.
As fabrics sell on my site, I am pulling them off. They'll go back up if I replicate the color. This keeps the focus on the fabrics that are available. So far, here are the color names I've come up with:
Back Yard Basil
Defense Against the Dark Arts
Flea Market Brass
Half Way to Concord
Thrift Store Britches
What a Dump
More colors will be added as the dye pot dictates. I will not be wholesaling my fabrics to shops -- they will only available through my KittenStitcher shop. There will be more when there's more...a few times a month, hopefully. As long as you guys keep buying it, I'll keep dyeing it (maybe that should be my catch phrase?)
Right now, I'm dyeing Zweigart-based linens in 28, 32, 36, 40 and 46 count, and Aida in 16 count. They all dye up beautifully.
But I'm calling this the Wabi-Sabi line of linens. "Wabi-Sabi" is the Japanese/Buddhist aesthetic that things are imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It's the idea that things that are simply, and perhaps imperfectly put together have a real beauty to them. Items that are worn from use or that are even broken have a charm. I think these days people appreciate this concept, even though they may never have heard of "wabi-sabi." Go to any store that sells home decor, and you're sure to run into furniture that is made to look old, with chips, stains and scuffs.
I'm super-pleased with the reception the linens have received so far. I send with each order a note, the end of which tells the customer not to save the fabric, but to use it! It's too perfectly-imperfect not to enjoy every thread.
Until next time - Theresa