Sunday, May 20, 2012

To Dye For

So, I've been experimenting with printing my artwork on apparel, and have gotten a good response.
So far I've tried t-shirts, tank tops and hoodies, which are turning out cool and are popular, but I want to do something more interesting and expressive, something more feminine and unique.  I also want something that I, personally (as well as other voluptuous ladies like myself), would and could wear.  The cute tanks and tees are usually sized for more petite women.  I'd like to make some styles that are flattering to all kinds of figures.
"Fire Spirit" on black burnout tank

I started looking around for options and discovered the Dharma Trading Company, (not to be confused with the Dharma Initiative!), which has a drool-worthy selection of fabric dyeing supplies, including a large variety of plain white garments made to be dyed.

The extent of my dyeing experience has been a few instances of using RIT to make something from the thrift store more acceptable.  But I adore textile arts - the fabrics, yarns, textures, colors.  It's something I've long admired but haven't actually jumped into.  Now I had the perfect excuse!

So I grabbed a few sample garments to play with, some dyes and other required supplies and began making a mess!  I mean...being creative!

My first experiment resulted in hands and feet stained a nice bruise-like purple.  I guess they were serious when they recommended wearing gloves and protective clothing. I'll have to get over my dislike of working in gloves. The colors ended up a bit less vibrant than I'd hoped, and one color didn't dissolve properly, which resulted in little flecks of intense effect I actually quite like!
Apparently, colors with red in them tend to be harder to dissolve fully. 

My next attempt had much more vibrant colors - I'd realized that I hadn't used enough dye powder for the amount of water last time.  I also was using cold water instead of lukewarm to mix the dyes, and adding the salt at the beginning with the dye and soda ash, instead of after the dye had had a chance to dissolve.  I was also working with a different fabric this time, which may be a factor - further trials are required to confirm this.  I also used a slightly different technique and let it develop for a full 23 hours (so I got a little impatient!), instead of the 6 hours I'd done last time.

"Namaste Reflectograph"

I’m discovering that dyeing is a bit like baking…there’s chemistry involved, so you have to stick close to the recipe or it’s not going to come out right.  I am by nature more of a soup or stir-fry/improvise and modify type of gal.  But this medium requires a bit more diligence, and I found myself getting into the process and enjoying taking the time to measure and mix things correctly…though I have to admit that it does take a fair bit of time to do it right.  But splashing the dye around and playing with blending colors and whatnot is pretty fun!

There's also an interesting element of surprise involved that I really like.  The colors often do not look the same in powder form, or even when mixed, as the end result, so you never know quite how it's going to turn out once it's processed, rinsed and dried,  or how colors are going to interact.  How wet the fabric is when you apply the dye is also a factor.  It reminds me of the random accidents that happen when working with pottery glazes or patinas - a little bit of chaos thrown in with your creative choices.  Just like LIFE!!!

Rayon sundress
Sun in my eyes...

Once I had the garments dyed, I screen printed my designs on them.  The results weren’t perfect – my printing press is not designed for apparel – but I think there’s potential here!

What do you guys think?  Would you buy something like this?  And how much do you think would be a fair price for this kind of one-of-a-kind, hand-dyed and printed-with-unique-designs apparel?

Cotton tunic with flowy sleeaves

Click here to see what I've got for sale!

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