Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dye Week at the Middle School

After months of off-and-on preparation work, I finally did my week-long half-day dyeing class for a bunch of middle school girls. We spent the time exploring several different ways of using "resists" with dye to create patterns on fabric. Like any class, it had both successes and failures, but overall, I think it went well, and both the girls and I learned a lot.

Day by Day

Monday we did basic tie-dye patterns such as stripes and spirals and rays, and each girl tie-dyed a white t-shirt. This is the same sort of thing I've been doing with groups for quite a while now, and the individual results mostly varied depending on how carefully they tied and dyed their shirts.

Tuesday we did stitch resist on bandanas. Stitch resist didn't work very well for the class. Most of the girls (grades 6-8) had trouble stitching their designs (on cotton bandanas) and pulling and tying them tightly enough, so the stitching didn't really resist the dye and their designs got lost. On the other hand, a shibori technique of folding and clamping silk hankies with various clips worked very well. Almost all the girls came out with strongly-geometric designs that were really beautiful.

Here is the group with their shibori silk hankies:

What beautiful patterns!

Wednesday we did discharge dyeing (bleaching dark colors to have light-colored patterns). We started with an experiment where we put Soft Scrub with Bleach on many different scraps of fabric to see what effects it would have. We saw that on the all-synthetic socks we got no effect, but that on dark blue fabric we got nearly white patterns. We then did designs on black T-shirts. Since I had gotten black shirts specifically meant for discharge dyeing, and I had run out of prep time beforehand, I hadn't tried one before class. They turned out to work well, bleaching much faster than I had expected, to a nice rust color (they don't bleach to white from the black). Several girls also bleached patterns onto jeans with stencils (I love that part--those jeans are now their own designs, not those of some brand name designer!). This technique was a big hit! One girl liked it so much she did more of it for the rest of the week during any free moments. We also did "regular" tie-dye on tote bags while they were waiting for the Soft Scrub to work.

Thursday we did "fake batik" (using glycerin soap instead of wax) on bandanas. The soap batik counts as the main failure for the week. Even though I had been successful with it in my trials at home, the conditions in class made it a lot harder. The main difference was the temperature of the melted soap when the girls tried to apply it to the cloth. At home, I worked right at the stove, and the soap stayed an even high temperature the whole time. At school, I couldn't have the girls working over the portable electric burner I used, so I took the pot to their table once the soap was melted. The soap cooled much too quickly, clogged up the tjanting tools, and hardened before going onto the fabric. Since the soap didn't penetrate the fabric properly, so it didn't resist the dye, and the designs were mostly lost. Wax would have had all the same problems under these working conditions (no heat at the working table). One additional problem with soap, though, is that very thin lines can get washed out in the soda ash soak, and many of the girls' lines were too thin as well.

Friday I gave them each another cotton bandana, and we all folded them into eighths (triangles). I then showed them the marking-pen-and-pleating technique that I first learned from Michael Fowler's Art of Tie-Dye DVD. They dyed their pieces, and then I let the pieces sit about an hour. I rinsed them in cold water enough so we could look at the designs and hang them out to display for the end-of-week assembly. They came out beautifully, with bold geometric patterns. We finished the week with a short but fabulous fashion show at the assembly.

Now That It's Over

I had a lot of help with running this class. One of the moms came in to help for the whole class, and my housemate came in for two days as well (many thanks to both of them!). For a class of nine girls, that ended up being about the right amount of help, so nobody had to wait too long before we could help them The girls did need a fair amount of help, especially with the stitching and the batik, though not as much help as the first graders I usually work with.

If I were to do this class again, I'd do it a bit differently. I'd skip the stitch resist and the batik completely and save those for the adult classes. I'd do more "classic" patterns like crinkle on white shirts and bandanas. One thing I'm glad I did right was to confine the discharge dyeing to using just the Soft Scrub, and not using buckets of bleach in water or spray bottles of bleach and water. I had several pretty high-energy kids in this class, and those could have been a disaster. The Soft Scrub is really easy to deal with from a safety and control perspective.

Budget is always a factor for classes like these. I had a budget of $20/girl for the whole week, or $180 total. Bandanas are good pieces for the class. They cost about $1 each in bulk. I buy them at the same time I buy lots of other stuff, like all the inexpensive white t-shirts (about $2 each) and black t-shirts (about $3 each) . Silk hankies were less than a dollar each and the results were very satisfying; I'd do more of those next time. Tote bags were about $3 each. I spent about $22 on four bottles of Soft Scrub, and most of it got used up! I spent about $1.50 per girl on gloves (they preferred larger reusable latex gloves over the close-fitting disposable nitrile gloves), and the rest was trash bags (for smocks), dye (the largest portion, about $25) and chemicals. I've already got many sets of goggles and most of the infrastructure equipment (squirt bottles and such).

One thing the kids liked, of course, was that there was a lot of stuff to take home with them, and it was even better because they had made the pieces beautiful.

So would I teach this class again? Oh yeah, next chance I get!

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