All of our indigo cotton totes at Twig & Horn are hand dyed by me, Whitney Hayward, before they go out to the wide world. For our next round of dyed totes, I photographed the dyeing process, from blank canvas to finished medium blue.
Our totes arrive pressed and folded from our cut/sew team in Georgia. If we were only screen printing a design without dyeing, they're perfect. All undyed cotton canvas comes with quite a bit of oil in the fibers from the weaving process, and each bag needs to be scoured to rid the fabric of those oils, so I can achieve a nice solid indigo hue. Every time I scour their bags, I feel like a monster for ruining the beautiful state in which they arrive.
After the bags are scoured, I hang them on a makeshift dyeing rack outside my building for easy transfer to my prepared vat. I wanted a deep rich medium blue for these totes, and this requires 3-4 dips in my vat.
Although balancing an indigo vat is fairly simple chemistry, when I see the copper sheen form on the top –– one telltale sign of a balanced vat –– I feel momentarily capable of the supernatural.
My vat vessel is narrow and deep to avoid exhausting the vat prematurely by oxygen contact. Though not the most elegant container, a lidded trash can works perfectly.
I lifted a few bags from the mire of the vat to show the oxygenation effect on the cotton canvas fabric in the above photograph. Old hat for anyone who has dyed with indigo before, but the fabric exits the vat a yellow/green, and once the indigo fully reacts with oxygen, the fabric shifts to blue. I'm wary of the overuse of hyperbole, but watching this process feels like magic. The bags below are on their second dip in the vat, and you can see the bags to the right of my dye rack have not yet fully reacted, maintaining a little bit of green.
Each bag is washed 3 times in a pH neutral bath to ensure minimal crocking. No one wants a blue shoulder as they're toting groceries home. After the bags air dry, I press the bags as preparation for printing, and they head off to our screen printer. We have a talented screen printer here in Portland, Maine, who transfers my design to each bag by hand.
Keep up with our other cut and sewn items by visiting the Accessories section of the Twig & Horn website.