Indigo Dyed Sewing Project

 Dried indigo (japanese indigo- or 'persicaria tinctoria') from my garden

Dried indigo (japanese indigo- or 'persicaria tinctoria') from my garden

It's been quite some time since I've made an entry in my blog and thought I would refresh this space with a detailed look into a project I've currently been enjoying. For a few years, my family and I have really enjoyed our time off together while traveling and camping (or as we affectionately refer to it- 'vamping'- van camping) in our converted panel van. My partner Sam has spent a few years on his off time after work and on weekends, building out the inside of an old electrician's van to be a little mobile camp rig that can take us wherever including the beach for a surf day, the mountains for a weekend hike and stay, or on a cross country trek for 6 weeks as we toured from southern california, to colorado, to the east coast and back in the summer of 2016. It's been a evolution in design as we figure out functionality and what works for making a tiny space for 4 individuals to enjoy while traveling, and one project that I've been promising him to pursue for years, is custom sewn and dyed cushion covers for the convertible seating and bed.

 Relaxing in the van while camping (or as we say 'vamping'). Can you see the foam pad sticking out in need of a cushion?

Relaxing in the van while camping (or as we say 'vamping'). Can you see the foam pad sticking out in need of a cushion?

Well, we're about to embark on a 2 week tour from Riverside CA to Seattle WA in our van so Sam can take a 6 day dirt bike trip with his best buddies through the rural wilds of the cascade mountains and so I can take a 4 day intensive indigo workshop with Aboubakar Fofana at Botanical Colors. Im so incredibly excited to learn from Aboubakar and see his process first hand, as well as meet other indigo enthusiasts! On the way up we'll also be meeting with a few old friends and meeting a few new friends as well as exploring a some of the beauty of California and Oregon and Washington.

I tend to put off daunting projects until I absolutely have to get started, so in true form, I started this custom cushion making project much too late for my sanity's sake- but I'm pumped to finally be embarking on making our little rolling vacation home a tiny bit comfier and more colorful! As a family we have a dream of taking a year off in the future to travel the US in our van, as I teach and research a natural dye project and I have a few other natural dye hand sewing projects I've been dreaming for the van (im thinking naturally dyed patchwork curtains and quilt for our windows and bed), so Im testing the waters here with this project, and I hope that these cushion covers evolve as we use them- perhaps with future overdyeing and most certainly with patches to cover the inevitable stains that our little ones will make.

 Morning rise and shine from inside the van- our sometimes little home on wheels.

Morning rise and shine from inside the van- our sometimes little home on wheels.

To start I chose a fabric that is durable and lightweight enough to sew easily on my grandmother's old sewing machine, as well as sustainable and great for natural dyeing. I ordered a 5.4oz hemp/organic cotton blend muslin from HempTraders, and I'm thoroughly impressed with the quality, feel and way it which it takes the dye.

 about 5 of the 10 yards of organic cotton/hemp muslin after scouring with a sprig of dried indigo atop the pile.

about 5 of the 10 yards of organic cotton/hemp muslin after scouring with a sprig of dried indigo atop the pile.

After scouring it in hot water and a bit of textile detergent, I measured and calculated cutting layouts for the 10 yards of fabric necessary to complete the cushions. There are 10 cushions (4 of which are quite large) in all that need covers- and when they all line up correctly they make our seating space and bed in the back of the van where we sleep when we 'vamp'.

 the first cushion cover complete (apart from the button loops and buttons I'll be sewing on by hand on the road) and ready for the indigo vat.

the first cushion cover complete (apart from the button loops and buttons I'll be sewing on by hand on the road) and ready for the indigo vat.

I have been working this project in parts going back and forth between sewing and dyeing giving my henna indigo vat time to rest and re-reduce between dips- as an organic indigo vat can really only dye so much fiber at once before it needs to be recalibrated. So I've been sewing a cushion or two each night this week and then dyeing a few each day. I think I'll keep the first take on this project to only 1 long dip (10 minutes- 2 or which are spent massaging and working the fabric as it's submerged) in the vat for each cushion. If you're looking for a great source of stellar American grown indigo- check out Stony Creek Colors in TN- where I purchased this dyestuff.

 the henna indigo vat is reduced (see the yellowish brown color of the bath indicating reduction). I used Stony Creek Colors American grown Indigo to make this vat.

the henna indigo vat is reduced (see the yellowish brown color of the bath indicating reduction). I used Stony Creek Colors American grown Indigo to make this vat.

 One wonderful thing about working with an organic vat is having the freedom and dexterity to use my hands without gloves. See the fabric changing from a greenish color to blue with oxidation? This part of indigo chemistry never fails to amaze me.

One wonderful thing about working with an organic vat is having the freedom and dexterity to use my hands without gloves. See the fabric changing from a greenish color to blue with oxidation? This part of indigo chemistry never fails to amaze me.

 After one long dip the color looks remarkably dark, but after a wash and dry the hue will lighten considerably.

After one long dip the color looks remarkably dark, but after a wash and dry the hue will lighten considerably.

The resulting color is a light to medium denim blue that I really love. In the future I have the liberty to overdye them a deeper shade of blue (also when I'm not crunched seriously for time before we set off on our trip). These cushions feel like an old indigo friend already! Once the cushions are complete I'll be sure to edit here with a picture of them all in place and post on Instagram as well, so stay tuned for the final result!

 Deep Sky blue after neutralizing, washing and drying the indigo dyed textiles.

Deep Sky blue after neutralizing, washing and drying the indigo dyed textiles.

 I love the way the indigo dye accentuates the lovely texture of this simple yet beautiful organic cotton/hemp muslin.

I love the way the indigo dye accentuates the lovely texture of this simple yet beautiful organic cotton/hemp muslin.

finished covers drying