Traditional and all-natural artisanal methods are at the core of the Tchoup Industries’ brand (and my personal interests). When Nisey Shanks from our sewing team hosted a shibori-style indigo dye party at her house, I eagerly signed up to learn more about this dye and technique.
Photos of hand-dyed textiles featuring geometric inky blue and white shapes have been popping up on my social media feeds and fashion radar for the past couple years. The traditional Japanese resist-dyeing technique called shibori has been seeing a renaissance, especially when done with the strikingly deep blue of natural indigo dyes.
So what is indigo dye anyway? We’re all more familiar than we know, it’s the main dye used for denim jeans! However, while once it was widely a naturally sourced dye, the modern era of manufacturing has shifted to imported synthetics for efficiency (of course, as these things go….). In a national and global effort to avoid toxic synthetics, there’s a movement to get back to natural. And one noteworthy U.S. company Stony Creek Colors run by Sarah Bellos, is pioneering a new strategy that relies on natural indigo plants grown in Middle Tennessee.
Their main goal is to provide the natural dye at a scale large enough to support big industry. Sarah Bellos told the Tennessean newspaper, "[Natural dye is] not something that is consistent or at a volume enough for the bigger factories to care about it. If the only thing that will close that loop is a company making enough to meet market demand, then we want to be that company.” It’s a very inspirational story about reviving an industry that was once prolific in the U.S. and partnering with other local manufacturing businesses like Cone Denim in NC. She’s aligned with farmers in Tennessee to grow about 25 acres of it so far and her goal is to expand into the tens of thousands of acres down the road.
OK, LOVING her and her ultra important work for sustainability and community support. And lucky for us hobbyists, Stony Creek Colors currently also sells small batch dye kits on their website here. Nisey ordered a similar natural indigo kit from textile designer Graham Keegan for her party.
When all the party makers arrived for this hands-on craft night, Nisey showed us several shibori techniques she’d learned and discovered, and encouraged us all to get creative with our own techniques. Mostly the main idea is to fold, bind, stitch or compress the fabric in an infinite amount of three dimensional possibilities. The cloth stays bound and compressed during the dying process as you dip multiple times into the premixed dye bath (which was in a plastic bucket in her lush little backyard in the Lower 9th Ward, under a stunningly pink sunset).
I brought some of Tchoup Industries’ natural cotton bandanas for us all to try. Although the dye concoction we used turned out to be more swampy blue-green than deep inky blue, we had some really cool dye pattern varieties come out of the mix. A selection of these bandanas are now available online - shop here! A special thanks to Nisey Shanks, Laura Orwick, Sarah Collins, Heather Sandel, and Reiley Morgan for their beautiful handiwork and lovely company!
Interested in trying it yourself? Nisey recommends Saint Lydia’s workshops that take place all over the city. Fun fact - they named themselves after Saint Lydia the Catholic patron saint of dyers.
Feeling independent and want to take a self-guided DIY tour of indigo dying? I found this super helpful blog post online.