It’s Christmas weekend and I’m taking a workshop at the Erskineville farmers market. The instructor is Leah from Day Keeper, a sustainable, non-toxic chemical fashion label. She calls her work ‘slow fashion’ and encourages people to reduce waste, by re-using items, re-dying them to freshen the colours and using all-natural ingredients.
Today’s class is very basic and fast paced as we learn the Japanese techniques of furoshiki dying and shibori wrapping just in time for Christmas gifting.
The market is the perfect setting for Leah’s workshop as it’s all very earthy crunchy in a hip sort of way. I have a quick stroll around checking out the organic coffee roasters, beeswax wraps, artisan bakers and essential oil stands. I love it here. Mostly because it’s not the typical overcrowded market nightmare but also because I could see myself making it my regular weekend shop.
We start the lesson by folding the prepared cloths to create our own unique design. I copy a cool chevron design she shows me. The folding technique takes a while to perfect as I’m not gifted with grace in the art and presentation arena. I ask her if it matters if the folds are not perfectly aligned and she laughs and says no unless I’m a Japanese master dyer. I am definitely not. My lines are unkempt but I am ok with it being a uniquely “Kate” design.
After we fold, we clip down the fabric to block it and maintain our chosen design with chopsticks and rubber bands. We then prepare it for the dye by soaking it in water until the fabric is completely wet.
Leah has three pots of dye bubbling on small gas camping stove. There is a reddish colour made from powdered madder dye. A brown rusty colour created from boiled onion peels and a blue tint made from boiling purple cabbage.
She explains that the dyes will fade with washing and that the blue will turn green if cleaned with an alkaline soap. Perhaps disappointing to some that the colour doesn’t last but maybe even a bit exciting at the numerous creative possibilities.
Leah tells us that she has prepped the fabric beforehand by soaking it in soy milk overnight and then leaving it to cure for five days. I’m thinking you have to really be committed to the process to go to so much trouble. Maybe if you have planned to dye a small stockpile to tuck away for future gift wrapping?
After we leave our cloths to soak in the dye we are told to have a wander around. I read a little bio about Leah. She also designs a range of natural burial garments and shrouds. I can’t help but wonder how much business she actually does in that department?
We end up leaving the fabrics for a good 10 minutes in the dye pots before fishing them out to check the colour. They can be left longer for a more vivid colour, overnight even.
When we are happy with the result, we rinse our project in a bucket of water and then unclamp it. The furoshiki is then hung to dry and later ironed to lock in the colour.
I spend some time at the end of our workshop chatting with some of the other ladies. We reflect on how much fun our morning was and that we would love to do more fabric dying in this way. It was relatively easy but someone else did go to all the trouble of prepping and curing the fabric, preparing the dyes and tools and providing a work space. All of a sudden it seemed less likely to recreate this at home. Wouldn’t it be great if Leah offered up her studio so people could pop in and spend a few hours creating their projects in a ready-made work area? It reminds me of the pottery studio I went to. In addition to classes, it was possible to reserve a space for two-hour stints and work on a project. I love this idea.