Tag Archives: tritik

Indigo Dye Workshop: It’s Called Shibori, Not Tie Dye

Actually, using resist dye technique using indigo to create patterns and designs on cotton is called shibori, tritik, amarra or plangi(depending upon country of origin).  It’s not the hippie dippie 60’s tie dye that’s been reincarnated on beach blanket bingo T-shirts.  It’s high fashion wearable art.  Not long ago, I saw an Eileen Fisher designer label Made in Japan shibori design on a finely woven cotton scarf dyed with indigo at a Nordstrom selling for over $100USD.  The technique is universal.

Norma's Indigo Dyed Shibori Napkins -- A Gift for Jacob and Michelle

As frequently as once per month, Eric Chavez Santiago teaches a hands-on indigo dye workshop for people of all ages at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.  At a recent workshop, a mother, father and baby sister accompanied a six-year-old who made a fish design on a white cotton T-shirt.  Dad was right by his side and the learning was a fun family adventure.  Other participants included local artists, university design program students, and visiting tourists.


Indigo can be used to dye cotton, wool, alpaca, silk, linen and the fiber of the agave plant.  Some women in Oaxaca villages even use indigo to dye their hair.  Dyeing with indigo is all about chemistry.  Cellulose fibers such linen, cotton and agave absorb less indigo to get an intense color than do protein fibers of silk and wool.  Said another way, it takes less indigo to dye cotton than wool.  That’s why, we are using 100% cotton for the workshop.  Polyester blends just won’t work because indigo saturates only the surface of the fiber, not it’s core.

Look for Felted Fashion Oaxaca Style, coming in February 2013.                                                                                It includes dyeing wool roving, silk, and cotton with natural materials and  making your fabric into luxurious scarves, blouses, wraps.   Contact me to get on the mailing list for complete course description.  Instructors are clothing designer Jessica de Haas, Vancouver, B.C., and Eric Chavez Santiago, Oaxaca, Mexico.  Limited to 8 participants.


The process is fairly simple.  First, we rinse the white fabric (I dyed white, handwoven cotton napkins from the Amuzgo tribe) in clear water to soften it.  Then, we squeeze out all the moisture and make our design.

1. To make the shibori design, you can make accordian folds and then tie this together with rubber bands or with string.   You can drape cloth over marbles or beans, securing them with string or a rubber band.  You can whirl the fabric and then tie it with string or rubber bands.


2. To make the tritik design, you use a needle and thread to create a very specific pattern, folding the cloth and then sewing through it.


3. It probably takes about an hour to make the design.  Tie a lead string onto your fabric so you can easily fish it out of the water.

4.  Dip the folded and/or sewn fabric into the dye pot for 20 minutes.  Be careful to immerse it gently into the solution.  Do not stir or disturb in any way.  Pull the piece out of the dye pot with the lead string.

5.  Hang on a line from the string until the fabric changes from green-yellow to blue, for 15-20 minutes.


6.  Repeat two more times.

7.  Remove the rubber bands or thread.

8.  Rinse well in water.  Then, dip in vinegar water for 5 minutes to set the dye, soften the fabric and remove any of the alkaline residual and garlicky odor

9.  Let hang to dry.


Oaxaca Organic Indigo Blue Dye — Añil or Teñido de Reserva

Indigo blue color is derived from an organic botanical plant that grows on the coast of Oaxaca in the village of Santiago Niltepec near Tehuantepec on the Isthmus.  Do you hear the añil in the name?  It takes 200 kilograms of plant material to end up with 1 kilogram of the hardened rock of blue that has dried from the fermented paste.  It’s what Levi Strauss used to make the original blue jeans during the California Gold Rush and even today, a bit of natural organic product is used to “stimulate” the chemical color of blue that was developed in 1904 during the Industrial Revolution.


Eric Chavez Santiago, the Museo Textil de Oaxaca‘s director of education, keeps a stock pot of indigo going in his dye kitchen almost constantly.  Eric says it can be refreshed with fructose crystalline.  He recently took a workshop from French dye master Michel Garcia who uses mango skins to activate the dye chemistry.

During a three-hour indigo dye workshop at the museum that I took from Eric, I learned that indigo has been in use for thousands of years in Egypt, Africa and India.  It was used by the Mayans, Incas and Zapotecs of Oaxaca!  It is grown in South Carolina, U.S.A. and most of the world’s production comes from San Salvador.  A small production, boutique crop, only 100 kg of añil is produced each year in Oaxaca state, but the market is growing as more local people are using natural dyes in their woven textiles.  They only produce the indigo in Niltepec.  They don’t dye fabric with it there.


It is tricky dyeing with indigo.  Añil oxydizes in water and becomes yellow green.  It is very important to gently immerse what you want to dye into the dye bath so the indigo is not disturbed by movement.  No stirring allowed!  When the cotton or silk  or wool is removed from the dye bath, the fabric color is yellow green and changes to blue as soon as it meets the air.  Multiple dippings are required to get a deep, intense blue and the indigo must not be “tired,” according to Eric.

During today’s workshop, we create shibori and tritik designs on the white cotton cloth we bring to dye.  We have not actually created the dye bath — it is already prepared for us!  Eric Chavez Santiago offers this indigo dye workshop once or twice each month at the textile museum.  Check the museum’s calendar for exact dates.  The cost is 50 pesos and you bring your own fabric to dye.  Very fun.

See my next post for more about Oaxacan indigo.