Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Last T Shirt Scarves...For Now

I'd like to say that I've been busy with making lots of new things for the past week or so, but it wouldn't be completely true. I've been playing hooky a bit, taking advantage of  any sunny autumn day that comes my way. It really is my favorite season, and I'm enjoying being able to be out in it this year.

Part of what I love abut the fall is tossing on a great scarf with jeans and a sweater. And this last round of T Shirt scarves falls into that category. Having used the t Shirts as-is, dyeing and tie dyeing them, my last version has involved discharge dyeing - that is removing colour from the fabric via various methods.

The simplest way to do this is with good old bleach. I'm fond of using straight bleach, especially on sturdy fabric like a quality T shirt or denim. If the fabric is more delicate, the bleach can be diluted with water. I like to paint it on with a brush. For small details I fill up a water pen with bleach.

I've read of people using a laundry bleach "pen" for doing detail work. And Sheila Greenland has had very good success  with her students, using hand cut stencils from contact paper or adhesive drawer liner and a bleach based gel kitchen cleanser.

Whatever way you do this, three things are important:

1) Ventilation - Bleach can be very dangerous. I work outside when I can, or in the kitchen with lots of windows open and a fan blowing out.  I try not to hover over the work, and have only very a small amount of bleach in a open container at any time.

2) Testing -  this bleaching technique works will all dark coloured natural fabrics - cotton, linen, silk etc. It works with most rayons that I've tried (i.e. bamboo) and even with blends - although the % of natural fibres to polyester will  affect the outcome. The unknown factors in reverse dying are what colour the bleached areas will become, how long it will take, and how much the bleach will spread. So always allow extra yardage to test techniques and timing.

3) A stop bath - I know some people just wash their bleached items in water but you really need a special stop bath chemical (Sodium Thiosulfate) that will neutralize the bleach. This is cheap, but it has to be ordered. Because I am working with small amounts of fabric, I usually use 3% peroxide which is easily available at the drugstore.  After the stop bath, you need to wash the fabric well in soapy water. Note: I've seen a lot of mixed (and scary) info about using a dilute vinegar solution as I was taught at a workshop once and have subsequently seen used in many books and videos. I don't go that route anymore!

Sample 1:
The idea for this design variation came from my husband Mark Simon, who suggested I find a way to make the tubes look like long strings of beads. Smart fellow!

Here's how I did it: I put a piece of plastic wrapped cardboard inside the T to stop bleed through and painted various widths (and spaced) vertical stripes of straight bleach on the wrong side of a black T shirt.  While painting I kept in mind the tendency of the material to stretch 50-75% when "tubed" and how that would impact on the width of the final stripes.

As expected, the bleach very quickly turned the painted areas a lovely coffee colour. This is the most common colour from black fabric, but I have also seen green and blue tints. Some blue fabrics will show red or pink when bleached. See sample 2 below. Each fabric is a surprise in this respect.

You need to watch the colour change carefully. It can go very quickly! Don't forget that bleach weakens fibres and will eat holes right through the fabric if you are not careful.

Sample 2: 

For this scarf, I cut of a bit of a blue t shirt's sleeve to test for colour. I was delighted to see the navy fabric turn burgundy then pink as the bleach took effect. To achieve the big colour blocks, I dipped the two sides of the shirt body into a shallow pool of bleach while keeping the centre dry.

Sample 3:
While at the Creativ Festival last weekend, I took a class called Removing and Replacing Colour. It featured a newish product called DeColourant and DeColourant Plus. Essentially it is a gel colour remover. The Plus part is a version of the product that replaces the fabric colour with another tint. The brochure emphasizes the pleasant citrus scent of the product. More on that later.

Although the course was poor, the product is quite interesting to use. I did some samples on cotton and linen, and on a batik print. You can see these little samples below. The best try-out I saw in the class was another student stencilling the product onto cotton velvet. I'm keeping that one up my sleeve for a coat or jacket later this winter.

For this scarf, I basically did the same process as for the black and copper number, only this time using 3 colours of DeColourant Plus. I taped the stripes with painters tape. Because that's just what I'm like.

Once the gel is dried, you have to activate the bleach action with heat. You need to hit it with really hot iron and lots of steam, for quite a while. I figure it was 'done' when the awful rotten-egg-overlaid-with-citrus smell was gone. Ugh. Then I washed the fabric, dried it and cut and stretched as usual. Very pleased with the outcome, even though it took a while and was stinky.

So that's it for the t shirt scarves for a while. It is now time for me to get sewing!  I've got a complex project in mind, so check back in a couple of days to find out about it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I should have expected week six!

Really, after all these years, I should have expected week six.

A little panicky yesterday. You see, it's week six of my sabbatical. In the big picture of things I guess 6 weeks isn't much, but I can't help but feel that I have not been pushing myself hard enough creatively. It is too easy to get caught up in the everyday chores and routines, and put off the making. Somehow I used to manage to do most things and work full time, so there is no excuse really. I just know that washing clothes is much easier than designing clothes.

This week six anxiety is exactly what I usually see in my students! Week six is a marker - just a week off of mid term - and the point at which the enormity of what they have gotten themselves into hits home. The adrenaline of starting the program has worn off, and the heavy load of the work to be done becomes clear. The break week helps them catch their breath and then the same thing happens again around week 10. I mustn't forget about this!

So what it means to me is that the honeymoon is over and I have to get down to some more difficult and/or involved work.

This week will be the last of the tube scarves for a while (except for a few orders I have for Christmas). I've really enjoyed having the time to revisit this material and technique, applying dying and bleaching techniques. It is exactly what I wanted to be able to do. Up until this year, all my work has been one off; learn something and run to the next thing. Having the time to make the same thing over and over with variations has been great. For a bit there, I could really feel myself getting into the zone of the creative process. You can see my latest versions in the following post.

On the up side, I am really looking forward to the courses that I am taking at the Creativ Festival in Toronto this week. The timing for this event is absolutely ideal for me! I'm expecting that something(s) will kick start me into new projects and directions.

The courses I'm taking include a full day class in textile collage, half days on new directions in stitched surface design and alternative closures (with Kenneth D King) and a course on the use of a product for removing colour from fabric and replacing it with another colour in one step. This last one should replace the 2 step (and too variable) work that I have been doing with bleach and dye. And bonus - doing the shopping floor at the show with my good friend and creative catalyst Sheila Greenland.

I'll post about the Creativ Festival courses next week.

Right now I have a bad case of workshop envy. I just read a blog entry by a woman who attended Marcy Tilton and Diane Ericson's Design Outside the Lines in Santa Fe last month. This was a workshop that I had really wanted to attend, but in the end decided against due to the very high cost. It would have likely run me $6-7K for the 4 days of classes and travel, etc. I still think it is a lot of money, but I'm regretting missing out on the experience. Looks like it was a group of incredibly interesting women doing very interesting things with fabric, printing and more. In Santa Fe. *sigh*

There are two more of these coming up in 2013 in different locations. I'll have to seriously consider whether I am going to afford one of those.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

When Life Gives You Tubes

After last week's T shirt scarf project, I was left with a bunch of non-loop tubes. And a few days later I received a big pile of men's thin white undershirts, the kind without side seams. There was no choice but to make more scarves. Hey look at me... I'm up cycling!

First off, I dealt with the left overs. The trouble with those non-loop tubes is that they were too short to use for a double wrap, and too long (and not enough of them) for a satisfying single wrap scarf. So I needed to find a way to add length.

The solution was to make a band to extend the length. This has worked out very well. The flat band is invisible once the scarf is double wrapped. It actually sits very comfortably at the back of the neck and reduces the bulk of the material when worn under a jacket or coat. The sample shown could certainly be sewn better… had a little trouble with my bobbin thread for some reason… but you can see the general approach.

Then it was time to deal with some of those white T shirts. Well white wasn't going to cut it for me, so I got out the dye again.
I went for 2 approaches to start. My goal was to create texture for the tubes via variations in colour and pattern.

1) Step dyed strips. 

Wow, this approach has real potential! The first sample was so successful, I can't wait to try more.

Here's what I did:
  • cut T Shirt into 2.5 cm strips (ended up with 16)
  • mixed up about 2 cups of fairly intense yellow-green dye (RIT Golden Yellow and Pearl Gray)
  • put in one third of the strips, for about 5-7 minutes, then removed and rinsed them.
  • added one cup of very hot water to the dye, added next 1/3 of the strips for about 5 minutes, then removed and rinsed these
  • added one more cup of water and repeated with the remaining strips.
After these where dry, I started to stretch them - and boy did they stretch! This had been a heavy Fruit of the Loom T - much thicker than the rest I was given. They almost doubled in length and got very fine and smooth. The best loops ever so far!

I didn't feel the need to do much to to this, other than a bit of binding to hold it all together. The colour variations are just great the way they are.

This makes image makes me hungry for some reason. Spinach linguine?

2) Solid dyed sections mixed in with tie-dyed sections.

I'm not sure that I have ever done tie dye before. Hard to believe that from a child of the 60's but it's true. I've done a bit of shibori (which I'll be trying with some of the other white shirts later) and the theory is the same.

I didn't worry too much about the tie dye patterns because all I was looking for here was pattern and texture. I hoped that combining solid colour and variegated colour tubes would add something to the scarf. Well, I was right about the effect, but wrong about the patterns… as you can see from the two samples below.

The tie dye effect in this mint green sample is mostly lost in the cutting and stretching process. I'm still achieving a variegated effect, but the detail is gone. This is due to two things: the tie dye pattern is too subtle (using pale dye colour) and the stretched tubes are too narrow to show any pattern.

So for the second sample, I cut the strips for the tubes twice as wide as before (now 5 cm). This results in a slightly shorter but much fatter tube that reveals the obvious the dye pattern better. The brighter yellow green colour helps show the pattern too.

The look of this scarf is quite different. It has quite a bit more visual bulk, but is still very soft and light.

You can see the marked difference between 2.5 and 5 cm strips in the comparison below.
Can't wait to do some more tie dye effects, with brighter and darker colours and bolder patterns, now that I know what works.