Intense Work for Intense Color

Last week I spent five days in Sue Benner’s Expressive Dye-painting and Printing with Procion MX Dyes class at the Quilt Surface Design Symposium (QSDS) in Columbus, Ohio. It’s a good thing the scenery of that thriving mid Ohio city wasn’t a distraction as my days in the studio began at 7:30 a.m. and often ended at 8 p.m., with breaks for meals.

Here’s what I saw on the way to the studio each morning. The studio, on the campus of the Columbus College of Art and Design, is a converted car dealership.

No, Sue didn’t set such hours for us, but I wanted to do as much as possible, and there’s a heap of washerwoman work involved in dyeing that eats up time. Once dyed, the fabric needs to batch (sit at least 12 hours at 70 plus degrees,) be rinsed (agitated in buckets of cold water until the water is mostly free of dye,) and then washed in hot water (we had a washing machine, thank goodness) and dried and ironed.

There are many approaches to dyeing fabric, all of them developed for different purposes. Dyeing solid color yardage needs a different technique than making patterns on cloth. The class I took stressed abstract painting and printing on silk and cotton with thin and thickened dyes. The dye concentrate tablecloth quickly became colorful.

We applied dyes directly to our fabrics with brushes, squeeze bottles, sprayers, and the like. We also monoprinted our fabrics using vinyl sheets and masonite boards known as tile boards.

Here’s my work table when it was tidied up. The big white square is the tile board.

And I haven’t yet mentioned rubbing, stenciling, stamping and the like. We all fell in love with textured vinyl bathtub mats for making rubbings. The pebbled pattern was especially popular. I used it under the fabric on the right below.

I did at least two layers of dyeing on each piece of my fabric. I learned I could let a piece batch an hour (as in the photo below) and then add more dye to it without the need to wash the fabric in between. This was a real time saver as I didn’t need to do a soda ash soak in between layers of dye. That’s right, you need to reapply soda ash between washings.

While we learned by doing, Sue worked on her class demo pieces and showed us how they came out.

Sue also did the brown/chartreuse piece you can see behind her. At the end of the class she cut that up and gave each of us a piece.

The last day we used paint on our fabrics and had some fun with various contests.

Sue even cut up and distributed the fabric underneath the dye concentrates.

I’ll show closeups of my output soon, but here’s a photo of some of it hanging up on my design wall. You can see my dye color documentation sheet on the table. Each of us was to create a color. Mine was pale apricot, which is on the right in the top row.

The work of many of my classmates was outstanding, as was the sharing that blossomed among the students. As often happens, I relied on the kindness of people who were far more experienced than I, as well as those who over packed.

I did participate in some activities not related to dyeing, such as the impromptu photo shoot of my lunch in the cafeteria. The figures are dear possessions of a QSDS staffer who staged them for her photos. BTW, I really like brussel sprouts.


Filed under dyeing, Fabric Printing, Techniques

11 responses to “Intense Work for Intense Color

  1. Good for you. I’m glad you had the opportunity to take the class, and I’m sure you’ll use what you learned! I’ll look forward to seeing your pix of the finished fabric, and later as you incorporate them into art.

    • I decided I like painting and printing with dye more than silk screening with it. And I now appreciate how multiple layers of dye and paint can create complex cloth. Now all I need is a wet studio in my home. As if.

  2. I did not know that the soda ash had to be re-applied! I think that explains why my attempts at over-dyeing last year yielded very dull, poor results.
    I am looking forward to seeing where these piece turn up in your work!

    • I now know to keep that bucket of soda ash for re-use. Apparently it is good for a while. In my previous dyeing efforts I had added the soda ash to the dye mix. This works fine, but the dye mix is good for only an hour or so. However, if you want to do low immersion dyeing of a values gradient it’s a lot easier and more spontaneous. As to when I’ll use my dyed cloth, one good thing about results that can be described more as interesting than beautiful is you don’t worry about cutting the cloth up.

  3. OH MY Gosh! That sounds like a fantastic five days of exploration and fun. Thanks for sharing and I’ll look forward to seeing some of what you do with your master pieces!

    • Aside from the dormitory accommodations, the whole experience was wonderful. Alas, I wouldn’t call my output masterful. Lots of pieces will be overdyed or subjected to another layer of imagery. Now I know what not to do.

  4. Barbara

    I’m envious!

  5. What an intense learning session! I know ZERO about dyeing but it sure sounds like messy fun.

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