Month: April 2015

Monday Make: 3 Tips for Hand Dyeing Fabric with Indigo Crystals.

Three years, that’s how long it took me to do this!

indigo fabric 1


I’d had indigo crystals for a third of decade and only got round to using them a week ago.

What took me so long and why now?

Cooking up chemicals with two small children and an inquisitive dog around scared me a little and I never seemed to find an opportunity to set it up.

But last weekend, disappointed I couldn’t go to the Amsterdam Denim Days festival to try the indigo dyeing workshops, I dug out my dyeing kit and had an indigo party in my garden! Not quite as cool as a weekend in Amsterdam, but hey, we can’t have it all.

After two weekends of dyeing experimenting, here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Tip One: Be Prepared

Gather everything you’ll need before you begin and make sure pets and children are out-of-the-way.

Obvious points, but you don’t want to be in the middle of cooking up your dye vat and realise you forgot something important like the thermometer – ahem like I did!

What you’ll need:

1) The indigo dyeing chemicals.

Indigo dyeing kits vary and many online suppliers offer them. Follow the guidelines and instructions of the supplier of the kit that you’re using, it may differ from the kit I used.

My kit consisted of indigo crystals, spectralite and soda ash bought from Wild Colours online shop. Some kits have the chemicals pre-combined but I bought mine individually and had to concoct the dye vat mixture myself.

The chemicals - indigo crystals, spectralite and soda ash.
The chemicals – indigo crystals, spectralite and soda ash.

2) Equipment and shibori-making materials.

10 litre bucket, protective gloves, spoon, thermometer, glass jars, clamp, string, wooden shapes.
10 litre bucket, protective gloves, spoon, thermometer, glass jars, clamp, string, wooden shapes.

2 Buckets or similar containers – one 10 litre. I used one bucket filled with water to pre-soak my fabric in and another to transfer the dyed fabric from the dye vat to the washing line to hang.

measuring jug to measure the water needed to mix up the chemicals.

spoon for mixing the chemical/water solution.

– protective gloves otherwise your hands’ll be like the rubber gloves in the pic above.

measuring scales to weigh the chemicals. 

– 2 glass jars to put the chemicals in.

– thermometer to check the dye vat temperature.

Shibori - the fabric on the left was clamped with wooden circular pieces and the piece on the right was folded and tied with string.
Shibori – the fabric on the left was clamped with wooden circular pieces and the piece on the right was folded and tied with string.

– string and/or clamps and wooden shapes, scissors for shibori resist dyeing to make the patterned pieces. I got the clamps and wooden pieces from my local DIY store.

Indigo dye vat on gas camping stove in the garden.
Indigo dye vat on gas camping stove in the garden.

– stainless steel pan suitable for heating to make the dye vat in. Mine has a lid and is 10 litres – the volume needed to dye one kilo of fabric. Make sure you use a pan that you don’t use for cooking because you won’t be able to use it for cooking food again.

– portable cooker such as a camping stove to heat up the pan of water, if you’re cooking up your dye vat outside like I did.

– face masks. I used this the first time but didn’t bother the second because being outside, the fumes didn’t seem strong but it’s recommended to use face protectors.

– apron or old clothes – any splashes are going to stain whatever you’re wearing blue.

– white vinegar for adding to the rinsing water after the fabric’s been dyed.

temporary hanging line in garden using climbing rope.
temporary hanging line in garden using climbing rope.

Washing line outside to hang the fabric so that the oxidisation process can occur (when it turns blue). I set up a temporary line using some climbing rope I had.

Fabric for dyeing.
Fabric for dyeing.

3) Fabric

I used organic natural coloured hemp jersey, off white coloured linen/cotton, a heavy duty untreated cotton jersey and organic cotton twill in for-dyeing quality. You could use anything including garments already made but it’s advisable to pre-wash fabrics and garments before dyeing.

Tip 2: Give yourself plenty of time

One mistake I made first time was not allowing enough time. We spent so long preparing, by the time we started to heat up the pan of water and mix the chemicals it was already getting late in the evening and the kids were hungry, etc, etc. Not an ideal start!

The preparation, such as gathering all the things we needed and folding and clamping the fabric for the shibori experimenting took much longer than we anticipated. You then need to heat the water in the pan to 50 degrees celcius, mix the chemicals, add these to the heated water in the pan and then add the fabric. The fabric remains in the vat for about five minutes and then is hung for 15 minutes, rinsed and then this process is repeated if you want a darker colour.

The fabric then needs to be rinsed and hung outside overnight. Depending on how many times you put each fabric in the vat and how many items you’re dyeing, this process adds up to a fair chunk of time, which ideally you don’t want to rush.

Rushing isn’t good because it can mess up the indigo oxidisation process which is what makes the fabric turn blue. When you put the fabric into the dye vat, the indigo dyeing mixture is green/yellow and it’s only when the fabric emerges from the vat, hits the air and oxidises, that it changes colour to blue. For this reason, you have to lower your fabric into the vat slowly and remove it carefully and slowly to avoid introducing air into the vat which’d oxidise the indigo crystals prematurely before they’ve had a chance to bind the colour to the fabric.

Rinsing the dyed fabric pieces.
Rinsing the dyed fabric pieces.

I’d also suggest keeping a time slot open the following day post dyeing for the rinsing and washing of the dyed fabrics. This process is time consuming so don’t underestimate this.

Tip 3: Dye Outside

If possible I’d recommend dyeing outside. Dyeing in the garden was perfect because we were able to immediately hang the fabrics on a line to drip while they oxidised when we removed them from the dye vat. It saves a lot of mess indoors and is well-ventilated for the chemical fumes.

We kept our dye vat for a week sealed with the lid on the pan after dyeing but it had already oxidised by the second dyeing session and could no longer dye the fabric, so we disposed of it down an outside drain and rinsed the drain with water.


Indigo dyeing is lots of fun and produces beautifully imperfect results. We didn’t know how each piece of fabric’d turn out until the end of the dyeing process, which made each hand-dyed piece unique and kept the dyeing process exciting.

Different fabric types reacted differently to the indigo dye. The way the fabrics were pre-treated before they were dyed also affected the results. For instance I ironed the fabrics before I dipped them into the dye vat in the first dyeing session and put them in the vat twice. For the second dyeing session, I didn’t pre-iron and only put the fabrics in the dye vat once. The second batch is much patchier and less saturated than the first ironed batch and a lighter shade of blue. I like the results from both sessions though so I definitely recommend experimenting.

Have you tried indigo dyeing? What tips would you offer someone indigo dyeing for the first time? Please let me know in the comments below.

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Have a great week and happy dyeing,




What the Japanese Can Teach Us About Sun Hat Making.

It’s been like summer here in southern Germany this last week. We were collecting Easter eggs in freezing conditions with a few flakes of snow a couple of weeks ago and yesterday we were basking in 28 degrees sunshine. Spring’s often like that here. Suddenly you’re packing away your woolies and trying to remember where you left your sunglasses months ago and rushing to buy sun cream.

Yoda all wet and muddy after jumping in the stream, trying to cool off in the heat!
Yoda all wet and muddy after jumping in the stream, trying to cool off in the heat!

The Japanese take sun protection very seriously. At least they did when I lived there. My husband’s Japanese and whenever we see his family I’m reminded about sun care. Products designed to block sun exposure are everywhere in Japan, from UV cutting face creams and cosmetics to umbrellas and hats. And this care and attention to maintaining pale skin seems to pay off. Many elderly women in Japan have the most beautiful wrinkle-free and flawless complexions. It’s inspiring.

When I first went there in my early twenties, I was admired for my pale skin. I felt colour-less and washed-out looking but for the Japanese it was the goal. You only have to look at the traditional make-up of the Geisha to understand the white-skinned beauty ideal of the Japanese. Now in my mid-forties, every time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and shudder, I wish I’d adopted more of the Japanese sun-protecting ways over the years LOL.

I did learn the necessity of finding a good sun-hat though. Many people don’t wear sun hats here in summer and there aren’t a wide selection available to buy, so on my last visit to Japan I picked up this Japanese hat-making book so I could make my own.

‘Adult’s and Children’s  Hats’ ISBN978-4-529-04977-1.

Japanese hat making book
‘Hats for Adults and Hats for Children’

It’s helpful for novice hat-makers like me because it offers patterns that gradually build in difficulty from basic level to advanced allowing you to progress as you gain skills and confidence, to making more complex styles.

From basic beginner styles to advanced hat making skills.
From basic beginner styles to advanced hat making skills.

It also has patterns for children and adults in a range of sizes so I’ve been able to make hats for myself and both of my daughters from when they were toddlers till school age for the last couple of summers.

I first made this simple make for my older daughter. It’s one of the entry-level patterns and comes together really easily.

sun hat 10

It’s been well-worn and has now been passed on to the younger daughter.

sun hat 8
Hat made from organic cotton twill for the outer shell, and an organic cotton batiste for the lining and Japanese cotton for the brim.

Last summer I let my daughters choose the pattern they’d like because I wanted them to like and wear their hats. They both went for this style below with a small brim all the way around – not the most sun-protecting model in the book but I decided that if my daughters were happy to wear them, then they’d be better than no hats.

sun hat 2

This design is a level two hat and slightly more complex to make than the first because of the split brim and multi-pieced segmented crown. It’s still do-able, just with more pattern pieces.

sun hat 3
Linen/cotton outer shell and Liberty Art Fabrics cotton tana lawn for the back turn up brim and organic cotton batiste for the inner hat lining and grosgrain ribbon for the band.

I used Liberty tana lawn cotton on the back underside of the brim to give the hats a fun contrast when the brims are flipped up. I got the Liberty fabric from Shaukat’s online shop in their crafter’s section. I bought a pack of smaller fabric pieces in a variety of prints and they’re perfect for using on smaller projects such as these hats.

sun hat 4
Teddy bear motif from lace manufacturers in Switzerland – I’ll reveal where I got this in the next YoSaMi newsletter – leave your email in the box at the top of the sidebar to sign up – it’s FREE.

I made one of the book’s second level intermediate sun-hats for myself.

sun hat 1

I used linen for the outer layer and an organic cotton batiste for the lining and a hat band I bought in Japan. The hat band makes all the difference in keeping the hat’s shape but the grosgrain ribbon I used for the children’s hats also works well.

sun hat 5

It was still relatively easy to do but the side pleat added an extra challenge.

sun hat 6

I thoroughly recommend hat making. It’s satisfying because it’s relatively quick to do and sun hats are everyday items that get lots of wear in the summer – at least they do in our family.

Some people are put off by hats but I believe there’s a hat shape for everyone and this book covers many different styles to suit different face shapes and activities.

Hat Making: What You’ll Need

You don’t need special tools or materials to make these hats but you’ll need a lightweight woven lining fabric such as cotton batiste and either a grosgrain ribbon or ideally a hat band for the inside. I’d recommend using sturdy light to medium weight woven fabrics for the outer hat layer such as lightweight denims or linen. You’ll also need lightweight interfacing for the brims.

What’s your favourite summer accessory to make? Let me know in the comments below.

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Happy sewing as always,








Friday’s Fabric Focus: Can We Really Trust Organic Fabrics?

Organic GOTS certified cotton
Organic GOTS certified cotton

I’m a fabric-aholic! Self confessed and unashamed.

I started this blog as a way to share this addiction to sewing and fabrics, but particularly my love of fabrics.

Fabric Love

There’s something about textiles that I find irresistible and I’ve built up quite a sizeable fabric collection over the years. I began acquiring bits and pieces of cloth, here and there, long before I started sewing.

I’m coveting batiks from Singapore and Malaysia; silk from Thailand; cotton wax prints from Namibia, Africa; denim from Japan; silk from Italy; Breton striped jersey from Brittany, France; boiled wool from Austria; lace from Switzerland; Welsh woven wool; German jersey – the list goes on and on! I even have ostrich leather given to me by a German ostrich farmer!

I’m as curious as Curious George and like my little terrier dog, have a nose for sniffing out fabric manufacturers wherever I go!

yoda 11

Switch to Sustainable Textiles

Since moving to Germany and having children, I’ve got more interested in sustainable fabrics particularly those made in Europe. I studied sustainability in Sweden a few years ago which added fuel to my organic-textiles-choosing fire, but sustainable textiles aren’t always easy to find on the high street and tend to be pricier than non-organics.  Frustrated with the lack of choice, I started going to international fashion fabric trade fairs to dig deeper.


What I found has raised more questions than it’s answered. The organic textile world isn’t as clear-cut as we’d like to think it is. Yes there are a wide selection of organic and sustainable fabrics are on offer and the variety and number is expanding every season and now also includes additionals such as buttons and thread.


All encouraging signs, but it starts to get murky when we try to define what we mean by ‘organic or sustainable’ textiles and clothing in the fashion industry.

What’s in a Label?

The problem is we don’t have a global brand, global label or global governing body that can certify that a fabric or piece of clothing is organic. Fabrics and fashion are produced all over the world, across many different countries, making it almost impossible to have transparency in every step of the production process.

GOTS and CERES certified organic cotton
GOTS and CERES certified organic cotton

For instance, I was browsing the site of my go-to online sustainable fabric supplier today – Lebenskleidung, winners of the Global Source Awards 2013 for best sustainable fabrics supplier to the fashion industry. When checking out their ‘made in Germany’ linen, I noticed that the linen plant was actually grown in northern Europe and only the cloth was woven and finished in Germany. Just like all ‘Italian-made silk’ starts life as raw imported Chinese silk that’s dyed and printed in Italy and finished with ‘Made in Italy’ labels. Don’t worry, it’s all legit and above-board. I’m telling you this, not to discredit either, just to illustrate it’s not always as clear-cut as it first appears.

What does ‘Organic’ or ‘Sustainable’ Mean?

Here lies the problem – it can mean all sorts of things. It can mean the plant was grown organically, or it can refer to the production or the social conditions of the workers or all of these things at once but it can’t be assumed that a textile or garment labeled as sustainable or organic was necessarily produced in an organic or sustainable way for its entire life cycle – that global label unfortunately doesn’t exist at the moment.

A couple of years ago, German Federal Development Minister Gerd Mueller announced he was going to initiate a global organic textile label, unaware of the complexity and inter-relatedness of the fashion industry and the almost impossibility of the task.

At last count, there were roughly a dozen labels developed and managed independently, each one dealing with a different part of the value added chain. And all of them work well, unfortunately not together.

Until a global sustainable textile label can be created, the hope for the future is that these existing different sustainable labels can unite forces and work together to improve the standards and the overall sustainability of the fashion industry and organic-ness of our textiles.

Friday’s Fabric Focus

I’ve started Friday’s Fabric Focus to discuss the different organic textile labels as well as to feature fabrics and fabric sources I find locally in Europe.

Now let me know what you think

Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you sew with organic fabrics or buy organic clothes? Which organic labels are you familiar with? Please let me know in the comments below.

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