Dyeing with Indigo: Bolster Pillow DIY
This DIY not only shows you how to create a fun pattern using a shibori binding technique, it gives you some insight into dying with indigo. Yes, you're going to want to Pin this one.
There are kits on the market like this one that have pre-reduced indigo so that you can work through all of the steps in a shorter amount of time and without working with lye. It's still a bit of a time-consuming project but the end results are always worth it-especially since you can dye more than a few things at a time when your vat is ready.
Start with a bolster pillow and then try your hand at a top or a dress! Unwrapping each bound piece of fabric is such a surprise and it's a thrill to see how things turn out once they're oxidized and hanging up to dry!
For Indigo Dyeing
-canvas drop cloth measuring 6' x 9' like this one. This will yield more than enough fabric for a bolster pillow but is the perfect textured but soft canvas for replicating a vintage indigo mud cloth tapestry.
-Indigo dye kit (should include rubber gloves, indigo dye, thiox, soda ash, rubber bands, instructions, etc)
-leakproof bucket or can with a lid that can hold at least 5 gallons of water
-50 or more wooden clothespins with a hinge to create the dotted effect
-15 or more wooden clothespins without a hinge to create horizontal lines
-plastic tarp or lots of cardboard to protect your dyeing surface if dyeing indoors or on concrete.
-stick or dowel rod about 2' long for stirring your indigo (if using kitchen utensils, they will no longer be food safe)
-small plastic bowl for removing the indigo flower
-clothesline or space to let your dyed garment oxidize
-specialty detergent to ensure it doesn't rub off on your sheets
For Sewing Your Pillow
-dark blue cotton thread
-20" x 36" pillow (this looks and feels more luxe with a down or down alternative insert)
Dyeing Your Fabric
Prep your fabric for dyeing by washing it in warm water with a mild detergent. This will remove any oils and finishes from production that may keep it from being fully saturated with the dye. If you're ready to dye right away, leave it damp. It will absorb the indigo more fully.
If you're starting with a clean, dry piece of cloth, wet your fabric fully in the sink and let it sit for about twenty minutes before squeezing all of the excess water out.
Stir in a circular motion and then reverse the direction and graze the edge of the container as you go. This will encourage all of the foam to gather in the center. Cover the vat and let it settle for about 30-40 minutes.
Step Two: The vat will have a blue shimmery surface but will look green underneath. You can see the indigo foam in the center but it needs to be scooped out and set aside (you'll add this back in if you want to save the vat for another day or two) so that it doesn't leave uneven dye spots on your fabric. Use your bowl to carefully scoop it out with disturbing the vat too much.
Then I folded it in half so that the short ends came together. The above photo is of a different measurement but the process is the same. I also dyed my excess pieces of drop cloth canvas in a similar manner since dyeing a handful of fabric at once is the most resourceful way to use the rest of your indigo vat while the PH levels are balanced.
Step Four: For this pattern, you'll want to start on the short end that is folded and fold it under about 4". Place the non-hinged clothespins so that they are evenly spaced or leave a gap between two groups, depending on your preference. These will be creating the dash patterns on your pillow.
Step Six: For the third accordion fold, add the clothespins with hinges and space them a little closer together. If you place them over your fold as far as they will go, you will get a four dot pattern once it is opened up. If you place the end of the clothespin closer to the edge, you will get a two dot pattern. Continue an even accordion fold and then on your last fold, add in a few of the leftover unhinged clothespins for more dashes.
Step Eight: Your indigo vat should be ready to use by now so take the lid off and scoop the indigo foam, or the flower, off of the surface and set it aside.
Step Eleven: With your gloved hand or a dowel rod, gentlyse press your entire bundle of fabric under water. Then gently massage it under water with your gloved hands so that the dye can reach between the folds and saturate it but be careful not to disturb your clothespins. Leave the fabric in the vat only as long as it needs to become saturated, maybe two minutes.
While it's true the longer you leave it in the dye, the darker it will get with other types of dye, indigo operates differently. You achieve darker colors with multiple dips into the vat with oxidization occurring in between dips.
Step Thirteen: Place the lid back on your vat to let it rest for at least 20 minutes before you dip your fabric again. Then spread your fabric out on a tarp, the grass, or in my case, a bush to make sure all parts of your fabric can be oxidized without actually pulling any clothes pins off. If you leave it bundled up like step twelve, the larger parts that don't oxidize will stay green and then later look like a blotchy area when you open it up all the way. I learned this the hard way!
The trick is to gently open up the folded parts in between one clothespin and the next without disturbing them so the oxygen can hit that space. Then move on to the next space. It can feel tedious but makes for a much more beautiful pattern. Leave it to sit for about 5 minutes.
Indigo will dry a shade or two lighter than it looks at this point. If you'd like a darker shade, repeat steps 9-13 one or two more times WITHOUT REMOVING YOUR CLOTHESPINS. Let your fabric oxidize between each dip for about 20 minutes. Once you're happy with the color, remove all of your clothes pins to unfold your fabric to reveal the pattern! Wash your fabric in cool water with a mild detergent. I suggest this kind to ensure your indigo won't rub off on your bedding.
If you're happy with a lighter shade, go ahead and wash your fabric after it has oxidized the first time in cool water with a mild detergent as mentioned above.
Return your indigo foam (indigo flower) to your vat. If your water is still green under the surface, you can continue to use your vat. If it has turned blue, it is no longer Ph balanced and can be discarded. It's safe to pour this down the drain once it's expired but if it hasn't and is still able to dye, don't let it sit in your sink or it will dye your sink (or concrete, sidewalk, etc.) No fun!
Stitching Your Pillow
Step Fifteen: Cut your back panel into two pieces. One should measure 20" x 14" and the other should measure 20" x 32".
Step Seventeen: Close up.
Step Nineteen: Place your longer back panel on top of your front panel so that the right sides of the fabric are facing each other. This means the side with the fold of your hem showing should be facing you. Be sure your edges and corners are flush on the un-hemmed side. Then place your smaller back panel so that it's flush with the opposite edge. They should overlap by a few inches. I've folded it back a little so you can see how they should lay. Pin along the perimeter of your pillow case.
Step Twenty-One: Fold your pillow case right side out and iron for crisp seams.
If you're eager to make one but don't know how to sew, check out our sewing e-course, Sew With Us! It's designed for brand-spanking-new-to-sewing-beginners and teaches you how to sew as you create projects for both your home and wardrobe. Projects start with the basics and then get more complex as you get more comfortable with your machine. Sign up here!