The Art of Making: Hand Dyeing

Posted by: Nellie Laskow

One of the cornerstones of Rebecca’s studio practice is the use of her hands. Cutting pieces of paper to make collages, drawing new motifs, painting color standards and dyeing fabric - a collection always starts with this same creative practice.

Subtle variations, happy accidents, and unexpected hues are all the result of the hand-dyed process. All the beautiful variations in dip dyed and shibori fabric could not be achieved on the computer or with a screen print. There’s magic in the process, and we love knowing it creates something one of a kind for you.

Learning how to dye fabric is essential for every member of our team because it’s how Rebecca Atwood Designs all started. Understanding how each pillow is made, from start to finish, allows us to appreciate the hard work that goes into all our finished products. Carefully testing colors, slowly mixing dyes, folding up fabrics – every step can lead to a different result which is all part of the fun.

Unfolding a dyed shibori piece is like unwrapping a present – the results are always varied and show the hand of the maker.

Shibori is a Japanese dyeing technique where the fabric is bound, stitched, clamped, or otherwise manipulated into a three-dimensional shape prior to dyeing.  The word shibori comes from the verb root ‘shiboru’ which means “to wring, squeeze or press”.  By folding the fabric tightly into a rectangular shape, we are resisting the dye from spreading to certain areas of the fabric. The resulting pattern is a memory of the three-dimensional shape.  This gives us the painterly gridded or striped patterns. The possibilities are endless, and the process alone creates variation even with the same fold so each piece is truly individual.

Sometimes it takes many tries to get the dye recipe just right, so many color tests are done in our studio before dyeing larger panels for a collection. We accordion fold large 3-yard panels of Belgian linen before securing them with rubber bands prior to dyeing. These bound up shibori folds are then soaked in dye.  Many hours later they are then unfolded and rinsed. While traditionally shibori was created with indigo, we use low-impact fiber reactive dyes which result in rich, colorfast hues. This means you can wash our hand dyed fabrics many times without significant loss of color. It's why they make great fabrics for napkins and pillows in homes that have children. 

If you ever want to try to dye shibori yourself at home Rebecca explains how to do so in detail in her book ‘Living with Pattern’. 

We hope you enjoyed hearing about our hand dyeing process! See more about how we produce our products on our The Art of Making series on The Fold.


Photos 1, 6, 7, 8 by Emily Johnston & 2, 3, 4, 5 by Lydia Hudgens

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