Design your colours

Colours can build narratives, they do modernise shapes and materials, and can convey value messages too.

Colours in a dress always represent a core element: from a fashion designer point of view they can be inspirational or, on the contrary, may result distracting.

Fabric design: how to match colours armonically

We all have some favourite colours, but what if we have to match three or more? Fabric designers have two possible solutions to this dilemma:

  • creating a palette starting by choosing a material source
  • using Color Theory principles

Source materials

The easiest thing to do is to “scan” source materials to find the best colours for our project.

Source material can be anything:

  • natural sources (a flower or a landscape, for example)
  • whatever (photographs, artworks, products packaging, fabric or paint samples, etc..)

You can keep a colour journal where to gather and store clippings of colour and colour combinations.

Often, colours borrowed from nature are insufficient, so a basic understanding of Colour Theory can help expanding and (or) adjusting the original palette.

Colours Theory

The Colour Wheel features twelve colours.

Basic Colour-Wheel

The primary colours (red, blue, yellow) are arranged equidistant from one another.

The spaces between them are filled with secondary colours (green, orange, violet) which are resulting from mixing equal proportions of two primary colours.

Six tertiary colours result from mixing equal proportions of a primary colour and a secondary colour (yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-green).

In order to build the first colour schemes, ideal would be to use real paint: watercolors, acrylics or gouache (an opaque watercolor).

The twelve basic colours shown in the Colour Wheel are referred as hues.

We can easily alter these hues by adding white, black or gray producing tints, shades, and tones, respectively.

Tints are commonly referred to as pastels.

Colour Wheel definitions

Value refers to the darkness or lightness of a hue. Adding white or black gives a hue a lighter or darker value, respectively.

Saturation refers to the intensity of a hue. Adding white, black, or gray decreases the saturation.

Temperature refers to warm and cool colours. Reds, oranges, and yellows are considered the warm side; greens, blues, and violets are the cool side.

Color Wheel showing tints, hues, tones, and shades

In truth you may encounter different types of colour wheels based on different primary colours (for example: cyan, magenta, yellow), or on fewer or more colours, but similar principles underlie them all.

Basic Colour Schemes

Combining hues that lie in a logical relationship to one another on the Colour Wheel it is possibile to obtain harmonious colour schemes.

  • Monochromatic: tints, shadows, and tones of a single hue.
  • Complement: two hues that lie across from each other on the Colour Wheel.
  • Near complement: one hue in combination with the neighbor of its complement.
  • Split complement: one hue in combination with the hues on either side of its complement.
  • Triad: a combination of three hues spaced evenly on the Colour Wheel.
  • Tetrad: a combination of four hues spaced evenly on the Colour Wheel.
  • Rectangular tetrad: a pair of complements together with the hues two spots over.
  • Analogous: three or more hues that are adjacent on the Colour Wheel.
  • Analogous complement: three analogous hues together with the complement of the center hue.

These schemes should be used as foundations, the point is how proportions are used in order to mix scheme colours.

You can try choosing one color from the basic scheme as main colour, and add just a tiny speck to each of the other colours in the scheme.

You can further extend the scheme by adding tints, shades, and tones of the basic hues and the mixtures thereof.

Insights

https://worqx.com/color/index.htm

https://www.colourlovers.com/palettes

https://www.colorschemer.com/color-names/

Zero waste, step by step

Zero waste fashion refers to sustainable items of clothing that generate little or no textile waste in their production.

Garments we usually wear are cut in a way that it may result in very specific pattern shapes. These pattern shapes restrict their reuse unless they are quite large or are remade from components of other garments.

“Zero waste” is therefore a sustainable approach to pattern cutting, that is to say, creating patterns that use all the available cloth when cutting a garment.

A distinguished model

Madame Vionnet (1876-1975) cut her garments using simple geometric shapes – mainly squares and rectangles – for the benefit of drape.

Nowadays this could be considered a sustainable practice as the fabric shapes could be reused for other garments.

Geometry in pattern cutting: a Seamly2d tutorial

Seamly2D is a free and opensource patternmaking program for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It allows independent patternmakers and designers to profitably scale their small batch clothing production.

In this video, my Creative Assistant shows how to obtain a zero waste pattern starting from drawing a simple square.

Insights

Seamly2D, user manual

(Hightlight image by zolilukacs01 from Pixabay)

Fashion supply chain sustainability: Clean Clothes Campaign

sostenibilità nelle filiere della moda

Originally founded in 1989 in the Nederlands and today spread in 14 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Norvey, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK) the Clean Clothes Campaign represents the biggest textile trade union and NGOs alliance which works with about 250 world organizations.

Its main activity areas are related to fashion supply chains sustainability, in particular:

They all concern working conditions improvements in the clothing industry and defend fundamental workers rights, and are realized through awareness, research, direct actions and cooperation activities.

Globalisation price

If we focus on the present situation

  • Flexibility at work and subsequent structural crisis
  • A functional divide in the organisation of production and consumption between sourcing companies (brands and retailers), on one hand, and export-oriented manufacturers, on the other.

it becomes clear that:

  • Sourcing companies focus on conceptualising the product (design, research, and innovation) and distribution (marketing, advertising), while the labour-intensive processes are outsourced.
  • Separating themselves from material production processes, sourcing companies have saved on wage costs and social security expenditures. They have transmitted the burden of labour demands from high-wage organised sectors of the labour market to low-wage and less-organised sectors of the labour market.
  • In this type of dual labour market, a company seeks to capitalise the use value of a small number of highly qualified labourers like managers, technicians, designers, innovators, sometimes called symbolic workers – who conceptualise, oversee, manage and reintegrate globally fragmented labourer processes.
Image by matham315 from Pixabay

Only this small group of ‘core’ workers are essential to the company and kept in-house. They are given stable contracts, job security and high wages, while the labour-intensive aspects of production are performed by a ‘peripheral’ workforce, which can be bought.

  • It all results in a de-territorialised production system in which sourcing companies do not need to pay attention to labour maintenance requirements. Workers can’t even rely on the support of legislation.
  • Social reorganisation of the work process (subcontracting, sweatshops, home-work) has occurred in ways that isolate workers and prevent collective organisation and its earning and status benefits.

Why is it so difficult to achieve in globalised industries some result?

  • The repression of political rights and trade unions in important production countries.
  • Employers often use acts of discrimination against union members or workers suspected of engaging in organising activity.
  • Factories are located in areas with large labour pools, while the skill level required is generally low. The existence of a ‘reserve army’ of labour can be used to discipline individual workers, or the shifting of manufacturing facilities in reaction to collective workers actions. The redundancy of workers can also be used to cut wage costs and intensify the work level. Lack of alternative employment means that many workers think twice about risking their jobs.
  • Lack of resources, such as an informed workforce, time, money, or a local management who understand the importance of the freedom of association and collective bargaining.
  • Unequal gender relations. Young women (or teenage girls) are often recruited because employers consider them docile, tireless, and naturally suited to perform repetitive work.
  • The way production is fragmented among many production sites and countries makes it difficult to achieve collective organisation. Sourcing companies spread production over dozens of countries and (often) hundreds of suppliers. This divide-and-rule strategy reduces labour’s bargaining power and makes it possible to exploit the locational rigidity of workforces.
  • The precarious (‘flexible’) nature of employment: workers who have temporary or seasonal contracts are never certain that their contracts will be renewed.
  • Emerging of the global supply chain has altered the balance of power between employers and unions and weakened traditional regulatory mechanisms associated with the state.
  • International outsourcing has detached corporations from the specific communities and specific labour pools associated with them. Corporations can pit workers in different localities and different geographical jurisdictions against one another.
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Corporations structural power

A structural power is expressed when the purchasing departments of branded corporations decide not to source from unionised factories or when they massively place orders from countries where worker rights are systematically repressed.

The ability to relocate production is another example of the ‘structural power’ uniquely available to corporations.

Deregulation and neo-liberal policies have urged many governments to restructure the labour sector to suppress trade union activity and promote flexible labour.

While legal rights and protections for corporations have been dramatically extended and increasingly institutionalised through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), regional and/or bilateral trade agreements.

Macro-economic trends

The transnational fragmentation of production has turned wages into an international cost of production instead of a local source of demand.

The organisational split between global-sourcing companies and export-oriented manufacturers has undermined the link between labour cost in the production sphere and consumer purchasing power in the market sphere.

Two dangerous developments are emerging.

First: given that most non-labour production costs are stable and more or less equal among the various industrialising countries, the flexible costs (i.e., labour) will remain under a downward pressure.

Secondly, the increasing excess of production capacity means that profits can only be maintained by cutting costs.

Falling export prices triggered by growing industrial output at the labour-intensive end of the chain, might result in increased levels of exports through lower wages, and/or export prices that fall faster than volumes increase.

The integration of the world economy might therefore be accompanied by a growing international disparity in wages, labour costs and labour standards, which is often referred to as the ‘race to the bottom’.

fashion supply chains sustainability
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Micro-economic trends

Macro-economic trends are the aggregates of the micro-economic practices of individual companies.

Brand-named corporations, retailers and agents organise how they purchase their products from manufacturers (or suppliers/ vendors).

Purchasing practices that contribute to, or further deteriorate, poor working conditions are often associated with

  • unstable relationships with the manufacturers
  • widely fluctuating orders
  • demanding shorter lead times
  • price-setting policies

Many of these practices are designed to transfer the risks to the supplier.

While this sourcing model grants buyers a lot of flexibility, it leaves suppliers with little or no incentive to invest in their workforce, to increase productivity, or change their ‘sweatshop’ business strategies that are predicated on poor working conditions.

Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD): mandatory policies in Europe?

At the end of January 2021, the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament adopted an important report requesting the European Commission to submit a formal proposal for an EU due diligence law.

The report will be put to a vote during the first March 2021 plenary.

Later, the European Parliament and the EU’s 27 Member States will have to agree on the text for it to come into force.

Source and Insights

The present text is an excerpt from the following article:

Jeroen Merk, “The structural crisi of Labour Flexibility: Strategies and Prospects for Transnational Labour Organizing in the Garment of Sportswear Industries “, Clean Clothes Campaign 2008

Fashioning justice. A call for mandatory and comprehensive human rights due diligence in the garment industry, Clean Clothes Campaign, January 2021

(Highlight image by stokpic from Pixabay)

Ethical fashion vs label

shopping

Fashion details often make difference. Colours, prints, a particolaur style. But what do we know about a garment label?

Does it make you able to figure out the production chain hidden behind a probable global product?

  • Who, where and how has been manufactured the item we are going to buy?
  • How many phases have been taken from raw materials to manufacturing and distribution, and finally to end consumers?

Today clothing labels usually must report:

  • Manufacturer, importer, distributor or brand name
  • Fabric fiber composition in percentage
  • Maintenance instructions

Any other information about production phases or fiber quality is merely optional.

In the absence of an international regulation able to show the effective observance of labour, wealth, environment and safety conventions, market has been organized producing social and environmental self-certification tools.

We are talking about codes of conduct: ethical standards or certifications born with the intent of declaring to consumers social and enviroment behaviour conformity. Shall consumers trust them?

Towards transparency: auditing and certifications

Firstly, to distrust unilateral corporate declarations is recommended. If stakeholders debate (workers, trade union, NGOs, communities and local authorities, who are all subject to company positive or negative behaviours) is missing, it is impossible to verify reality and any certification has a concrete value.

Gears

As regards international production chains and certifications, the key point is to identify supervisory entities about labour fundamental concerns (decent wage, gender discrimination, freedom of trade union association, precariousness of contracts).

Auditing: a multistakeholder solution

In order to remedy commercial auditing systems structural gaps, multistakeholder experiences have emerged. The aim is to entrust monitoring and auditing tasks to independent third-party organizations, as alternative to the growing business of social inspections, which is not suitable because of its commercial nature and dependence on contractor.

As concerns multistakeholder solutions, Fair Wear Foundation has the more advanced experience in European textile industry.
Ethical Trade Initiative and Fair Labour Association are respectively English and American institutions.

What alternative to mainstream trade?

How to orient?
Fair trade movement has been the first to retrain relationships between North and South. CEeS has created economic partnerships to support small producers development, giving access to North markets to their products with prices which are fair towards producers and trasparent towards consumers, through pre-financing and other support forms intended for local communities.

Besides products coming from Italian fair trade organizations, Fairtrade Italia certified products are on market.

This brand declares to respect fair trade criteria as regards agriculture, certifying that garment cotton is 100% fair trade cotton, GMO free. Fairtrade certified cotton involves methods of Integrated Pest Management.

Products coming from fair trade (or Fairtrade certified products) range from clothing to underwear, shoes and accessories. They come from long chains if we consider a geographic point of view (Asia, Africa, Latin America), but they are based on close cooperation.

Sustainable fashion

Moreover, there are green, eco-friendly products, developed in order to reduce ecological footprint, using rigorously natural organic fabrics, treated with natural dyes, as the aim is to reduce non-recyclable waste.

If a product is certified organic, it means it concerns the whole chain. It involves the maximum containment of sintetic and chemical products use, by adopting organic products and alternative production processes where possible, to minimize impact on people and environment.

Organic certification means no pesticides, no dangerous chemical fertilizers and GMO free. During manifacturing process no harmful chemical substances are used, alkalines are recycled and not released in water and all waste is treated.

Second hand and vintage fashion is a good alternative too: it originates in in the 60s, when hippies and protesters first had the idea to creatively revisit old clothes coming from local markets.
Vintage clothing and accessories can be found in in specialized stores, street markets and exhibitions. Often they are collected, processed and reconditioned by social cooperatives.
Barter is a good practice too, present in Italy thanks to specialized exhibitions and self-managed exchange initiatives.

Vintage

Ethical fashion: how many choices in summary?

Fair trade

Agices (Italian fair trade general association) fair trade accredited organizations display their products at specialized stores or online.

Short production chain

Short chains, solidarity chains, social cooperation chains. They enhance local production, employment of vulnerable people, social rehabilitation in prison, self-management, recovered and unionized companies.

Multistakeholder

Garments coming from companies involved in multistakeholder auditing initiatives as for example Fair Wear Foundation, Ethical Trade Initiative, or Social Accountability.

Textile

Voluntary labels

Voluntary eco-labels certified garments such as::

Natural

Natural and organic fiber garments, treated with organic or low environmental impact dyes. In case product certification is missing, make sure at least raw material is certified.

Recycled

Garments manufactured by companies adopting virtuous policies as regarding energy efficiency, waste cycle management, recycling and reuse of materials practices, packaging concerns.

Vintage/Second Hand

Garments and accessories rigorously used, but unmistakable rétro styled.

Cruelty Free

Garments obtained without animal cruelty and without using components tested on animals.

Insights

Deborah Lucchetti – I vestiti nuovi del consumatore. Guida ai vestiti solidali, biologici, recuperati: per conciliare estetica ed etica nel proprio guardaroba. Altreconomia Edizioni

The price of free (film)

Creative recycling, Project 1: hair scrunchie

Riciclo creativo

Fitting after fitting, we finally have finished tailoring our final prototype model with chosen fabrics. What now? What do we do with scraps and leftover? Throw them away? Not if we want to survive the sacred ire of your Creative Assistant…

The quick tutorial that follows, also suitable for sewing beginners, is useful to recycling parts of discarded clothes (just keep a few colorful scraps) and to give a simple, proudly handmade gift.

Creative Recycling, Project 1

What it takes

  • Pattern
  • Paper Scissors
  • Sewing machine or serger (overlock machine)
  • Fabric scissors
  • Tailoring pins
  • Scrap of fabric, at least 62 x 12 cm (or two scraps, each measuring at least 32 x 12 cm)
  • Elastic band (0,7 cm wide)
  • Bodkin

Main steps

Pattern

  • Draw on a sheet of tissue paper a rectangle of the size of 31 x 12 cm.

or

Download PDF file. (In this case the two pieces, once cut and matched at the point marked in red, will be joined with some adhesive tape. The square at the top instead, serves only as verification and once printed must measure 10 x 10 cm)

Placing and cutting

  • If you have a single piece of fabric, fold it in two along the shortest side and fasten pattern to fabric with some pins.

Cut fabric without leaving any seam allowance. The result will be a piece of the exact size of 62 x 12 cm.

On pattern, indication Center fold means that fabric should be folded double on that side before cutting.

  • If you have two smaller scraps instead, place pattern on both scraps and fix it with some pins, leaving 1 cm left on the shortest side for seam allowance. Then cut fabric. As a result we will have two pieces measuring 32 x 12 cm.

Sewing

  • Go to sewing machine and, if you have two scraps to join, make a simple seam on the shortest side, leaving 1 cm for seam allowance.
Creative recycling, Project 1, Step 1
  • Press seam open.Creative recycling, Project 1, Step 2
  • Fold fabric, right sides together, and make a simple seam on the long side, leaving 5 cm at each end free of stitching. Seams will be easier if you use some pins. Then press the new seam open.
Creative recycling, Project 1, Step 3
  • After removing pins, turn everything on the right and make a simple seam, right sides together, along each short side, leaving 1 cm for seam allowance.
  • Close by hand the two 5 cm openings left previously, with small overcast stitches (U-shaped stitches), leaving only the last 2 cm open to allow the insertion of the elastic. (This is the only hand-made finishing of the whole project)
Creative recycling, Project 1, step 5
Creative recycling, Project 1, step 6
  • Position the seam at a distance of 1 cm from one folded edge. Stitch inside the seam.
Creative recycling, Project 1, step 7
  • Insert the elastic through the opening with a bodkin and, once reached the starting point, tie the two ends and hide them inside.
Creative recycling, Project 1, step 8
Creative Recycling, Project 1

Alternatively, consider to use a self-designed, self-dyed, or self-printed fabric.

Ready-to-future: the sustainable lightness of textiles

Sustainable design: sustainable means bearable, tolerable. But what do you mean by design?

Design is an evolutionary process based on the generation of ideas, aimed at creating a product.

Research and development activities are crucial in this process, where function, aesthetic quality and market demands require a more than careful negotiation work.

Design should therefore be considered as a search for the most suitable solution to solve the problems raised during this phase, through analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

That is, it should allow you to go back from one stage to another in product development, to get the best solution.

Impact of design on production

Textile system operates today mainly using non-renewable resources in the production of products that are then used for a short time, finishing in incinerators or in landfills.

Production methods of any product and social and environmental impact of those necessary to manufacture them are some of the key factors that every designer should face in every new project.

Let’s think of a simple cotton fabric. Even if we imagine it is as natural, different aspects underline its low sustainability:

    • Use of large quantities of water for cultivation
    • High risk of fresh water contamination from outflow fertilizers and pesticides
    • Salinisation of soils due to excessive water sampling for crops
    • Likely use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
    •  
Cotton Plantation

Therefore, summarized from an environmental point of view, the main problems may concern:

  • Water consumption (In textile industries, in addition to generating steam, it is used as a means to remove impurities, to apply color and fixing agents)
  • Energy consumption
  • Harmful substances to human health (both for workers and for consumers)
  • Harmful substances to the ecosystem (CO2 emissions, for example in the trasport from distribution chains to retail: and greenhouse effect: the gases emitted by textile production are greater than the combination of those produced by international flights and maritime shipments)
  • Packaging and waste processing
  • Planned obsolescence, whereby a product ends up in landfill almost new

In Countries where environmental legislation is weak (or wherever they try to elude it, winking at the phenomenon of market globalization), many toxic compounds are likely to end up in streams and soils, and can also be transported away from their source of origin through ocean and atmospheric currents.

Even through simple domestic washing, various types of synthetic garments can release plastic microfibers, of which about half a million tonnes each year contribute to ocean pollution.

Seabed

Designers and consumers role

Since 80% of the economic and environmental product costs is the result of the pre-production design phases, designers play a key role in the creation of products that have the minimum social and environmental impact.

An environment-friendly design is sustainable: consumers themselves should demand the assurance that materials used for production are properly found and that manufacturing methods provide for the minimum energy use.

In fashion system, where too many chains are lost in the opacity of submerged economy and in global production networks, we are called as consumers to ask questions about the origin and the actual quality of our clothes, (and by quality we mean the social / environmental impact of production, as well as the quality of a product), without taking anything for granted and distrust appearances.

Even ethics in fact risks today to become a market product and a marketing tool if it doesn’t concretize and remains only a unilateral and facade declaration of intent.


Purchasing power: how to choose what (not) to buy

What are for attentive consumers the spy indicators to orient themselves in choosing their purchases?

  • TRANSPARENCY / TRACEABILITY

As consumers, we have the right / duty to know in which Countries production has taken place, how the production chain is composed, who are the suppliers and where they operate.

Through this information it becomes possible to assess the level of social and environmental risk connected to the product and to activate independent audits, through trade associations, experts, campaigns.

  • PRICE COMPOSITION

Price structure synthesizes the distribution of the so-called “added value” along the entire production chain and describes the distribution of power among the different actors.

Transparent prices do not say yet whether the price acknowledged to every actor in the supply chain is right and allows him to live in dignity, but at least clarifies whether we are in the presence of speculative and asymmetric phenomena.

An example is the source price in agriculture, which indicates the first price at which farmers sell their product. In this way it highlights how much profits – behind producers and consumers – the distributive segment.

One slice for each
  • CHAIN RESPONSIBILITY:

Client companies have specific responsabilities when they decide to outsource their production.

Social rights and respect for the environment must be guaranteed at all stages in whatever Country they are carried out.

A self-certified code of conduct not negotiated with trade union, as well as a social certification that does not avail of surprise inspections, are vitiated at the origin.

A “Stakeholder engagement” verifies wheter company declarations of intent are reflected in reality of facts, through the listening of consumers, workers, associations, and local authorities.


Principles of circular economy

The concept of circular economy relates to an alternative conception of production and consumption compared to the current model, and is based on three fundamental principles:

  1. Avoid waste and pollution
  2. Design longer-lasting products, developed for upgrading, reuse, recycling, ageing and repair
  3. Regenerate natural systems (e.g. by preferring the use of renewable energies in lieu of fossil fuels, or by bringing nutrients to the ground to allow regeneration)
The sun as a source of renewable energy

In conclusion, to initiate a real change in today’s world, designers should imagine not only how products will be manufactured and used, but also (or above all) how they will be disposed of.

Insights

Deborah Lucchetti – I vestiti nuovi del consumatore. Guida ai vestiti solidali, biologici, recuperati: per conciliare estetica ed etica nel proprio guardaroba. Altreconomia Edizioni

A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future

Connecting the Threads: A Microfibers Research Guide

The beauty of imperfection. Pattern design with Shibori techniques

Nella tecnica Shibori spesso si utilizza un cordino per realizzare i pattern tessili

Shibori is a Japanese expression to define reserve dyeing and different decorating techniques used to create motifs on fabric.

It is an ancient method (Edo period in the history of Japan), still used in different cultures around the world.

Motifs can be realized with various methods: binding, sewing, bending, twisting or compression, always before immersing fabric in a dyeing bath.

You can bend fabric in the desired way, fixing it so that it remains bent, then you can immerse it in the bath of colour until it is fixed.

Key word is to experiment: mixing ideas, techniques, textiles and colours, possibilities multiply.

Pleating and color in Shibori textile dyeing techniques

In creating new patterns, it may be a good idea to document every step through photos and a visual diary: this way remembering the process will be simplier.

Each fold has the power to create a variant and affects the final design, and non-dyed areas affect as much as the coloured ones.

Considering pattern space and placement in garments design means considering its symmetry and dimensionality.

All these elements together contribute to make a truly unique hand-dyed creation.

Choice of fabric and technique

The easiest thing is to start with light fabrics, such as cotton voile, silk or muslin, all traditionally used in Japan.

Being thin, they have the advantage of making dye coloration quicker.

On the other hand, even if dye could take more time to decorate thicker and heavier fabrics, these could be more suitable for the desired use, such as coatings or heavy curtains.

Size of garments too is a determining factor in choicing a reserve technique: techniques with more demanding workings, such as sewing reserves, could be more suitable for small garments or for placed prints.

Pre-soaking phase

Always recommended before dyeing phase, it has the function to guarantee a uniform dye colouring.

As fabric can shrink when wet, it is possible that the applied reserves will loosen up and are no longer effective in preserving these areas from colour. Pre-soaking phase reduces this risk to a minimum.

In addition, water acts temporarily as a barrier, making it less likely to reach reserve-treated areas.

Heavier fabrics will need a longer soaking period.

Winding Shibori technique

A simple method that involves the use of stones around which fabric is wrapped, then tightly tied with a string or elastic. Although this technique is simple, it creates very interesting motifs.

Pebbles to put into practice a Shibori technique of textile dyeing

How to:

  1. Wrap fabric around some stones, tie it tight, and immerse it in water for at least an hour, preferably all night long.
  2. Remove fabric from water and plunge it into the chosen dyeing bath.
  3. Once desired colour shade is obtained, remove fabric from dyeing bath.
  4. Rinse fabric while it is still tied.
  5. By opening fabric you finally discover the created motif.
  6. Wash fabric with neutral ph soap, rinse and hang to dry.

Mokume technique – basting

It is a Shibori technique with a sewing dyeing reserve, known for its structural, wood effect motif.

This kind of dyeing reserve provides for parallel lines of basting stitches. Pulling threads you create a fabric curl of compressed areas in which dye cannot penetrate.

There are different types of sewing dyeing reserve techniques and this is one of the simplest.

Mokume technique lends itself well to light fabrics and dense textures (voile and Habotai silk), requires precision and the realisation of a pattern.

With a ruler and a seamstress chalk you can draw the basting lines, which will be better if made with a thread of contrasting colour.

Experimenting with small fabric samples you can better understand the amount of tension needed to pull threads.

Mokume technique also opens the door to a whole range of different stitches, offering different results each time.

Needle and thread to create a special Shibori technique in reserve

How to:

  1. Press your fabric sample.
  2. With a seamstress chalk and a ruler draw horizontal lines at intervals of 2 cm.
  3. Using a double thread, fix it with a tough knot. Make basting stitches along first line. When end is reached, cut thread at a distance of 15 cm and knot the ends.
  4. Repeat process for each drawn line.
  5. For each line, take the ends of threads and pull gently, creating a curl. Tie pulled threads with a tight knot.
  6. Let fabric soak all night long. Once removed from water, stop the water excess with a towel.
  7. Put fabric in the chosen dyeing bath.
  8. Rinse with running water, cut off all knots and remove all stitches. Rinse until water is transparent.

Wrinkling technique

The simplest technique is often the most effective.

Fabric is randomly wrinkled, then tied with cord or elastic before dyeing phase. The resulting pattern is random and abstract, with directional lines similar to branches over the entire fabric.

The most important factor is the ligature tension: too much tension (or too little) creates very few motifs and effects.

If you are not satisfied with the results, you can always retry by wrinkling again.

The twine, useful in different Shibori techniques of textile dyeing

How to:

  1. Wrinkle various parts of fabric randomly.
  2. Tie various crumples with elastic or cord.
  3. Soak fabric in water, preferably all night long. When finished, stop the excess of water with a towel.
  4. Check that elastic bands (or cords) are tight enough to resist the dyeing bath (wet fabric shrinks).
  5. Plunge fabric into dyeing bath.
  6. After finishing dyeing process, rinse with running water and remove ligatures. Rinse again until water returns transparent.

Cultivating colour: making textile dyes naturally

Una dalia, fonte naturale di colore per le tinture tessili

Natural textile dyes (when made with plants from biological cultivations, correctly harvested and preserved) are an ecological alternative to synthetic colours because they derive from renewable and biodegradable resources.

Ingredients and colour palette

  • Dyers chamomille (Anthemis tinctoria) By flowers you can get shades of yellow, bright gold, grey-green and dark green; by leaves and stems: from light to bright green and grey-green shades.
  • Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) By leaves you get light and dark green.
  • St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) By flowers you can get light brown and yellow tones; pink and green.
  • Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) By berries: shades of violet, dark blue and gray.

  • Mint (Genus Mentha) By leaves you can get colours from acid green to blue tending to green.
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) You can obtain shades from green to brown.
  • Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) By fruits, leaves and stems you can obtain tone from light pink to dark blue-grey.
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa) Even without the use of mordant you can get a bright yellow, which with some heat becomes darker and tending to orange.
Curcuma, a simple ingredient for natural textile dyes
  • Red onion (Genus Allium) By the skins you will get bright yellow, green and pink-orange.
  • Red cabbage (Brassica oleracea) It yelds shades of colours ranging from lavender to deep blue; with salt you get blue shades, with lemon colour tends to pink.
  • Avocado By the skins you can get a flesh-pink shade without making use of mordant.
  • Carrot (Daucus carota) By the ends you can obtain a shade of yellow.
  • Tea By sachets and leftovers you can realize shades of brown.
  • Coffee (Coffea arabica) Using coffee grounds or roasted coffee beans you can achieve different shades of brown.
  • Grape (Genus Vitis) By the skins of grapes you can obtain blue-violet tones.
Grape berries to make a textile dye
  • Olive tree (European olea) By leaves or by fruits and kernels: shades from light salmon to dark blue-green (depending on the mordant used).
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) Using flowers, leaves and stems: from bright yellow to dark green.

  • Walnut (Juglans nigra) By husks you can create brown; without mordant you can get a light brown.
  • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) By the dark red leaves you get a light pink without the use of mordant.
  • Bamboo (Genus Bambusa) By pruned or fallen leaves and branches: golden yellows and shades of cream.
  • Poplar (Populus) By leaves you can get gray and black.
  • Larch (Larix pinaceae) Using larch needles you can obtain brown tones.
  • Spruce (Picea abies) By cones you get shades of red.
  • Oak (acorns) Without mordant use: light beige.
  • Wild apple tree By bark: tones from pink to orange.

  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) Using both flowers and leaves you can get shades of yellow and green.
The dandelion, an ingredient for natural textile dyes
  • Marigold (Calendula officinalis) You can get shades of yellow.
  • Wood sorrel (Oxalis pes-caprae) By flowers and leaves: colours from bright yellow to gold, dark green.
  • Dahlia (Genus Dahlia) Shades of yellow.
  • Lavender (Lavanda angustifolia) Antique pinkish grey; by leaves and stems: shades of yellow.
  • Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) Light yellow and pale greens.
  • Rosehip (Genus Rosa) Rosé beige.
  • Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) Pink.
  • Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) Shades of blue-violet.

Natural textile cornflowers and dyes

Extracting colours from nature

In this process, place plant material in a stainless steel container, with enough water to cover the fibres. Approximately 4 litres of water are used every 100 grams of dry fibre.

You can opt for rainwater collection (it contains few minerals and favors bright colours rendition), putting a bin under your gutter and then transferring it into a tank.

Rainwater, excellent for natural textile dyes

If you want, you can also use seawater. The alkalinity of salt water is in fact a modifier agent or an additive for all those recipes of tinctures requiring alkalinity.

What to dye

Once you have extracted dye, you can colour almost everything that is made of natural fibres.

Dye is suitable for many types of natural fibres, both plant and animal, in particular silk, linen, cotton and wool.

Vegetable fibers

  • Hemp
  • Linen
  • Organic Cotton
  • Organic Bamboo

Animal fibers

  • Alpaca
  • Angora
  • Cashmere
  • Silk (cruelty free)
  • Sheep wool

It is also possible to experiment on knitting yarns, paper, lampshades and carpets, and other objects such as wood beads, shells and leather, or shoes and clothes (old or new). You can also try to renew or restore the colour of old synthetic garments.

Keep a diary, a cookbook and a sample book

The success of a natural dye depends on several variable factors, including:

  • Lenght of procedure
  • Amount of used heat
  • Freshness of plant materials
  • Parts of plant used
  • Dyeing method
  • Type of water and mordant used
A cookbook for natural textile dyes

If your result is satisfactory, just write down the whole process in the recipes book, inserting a sample result, so that you are able to reproduce the same colour shade next time.

To create samples you can hold pieces of fibre or fabric and pin it on cardboard. On the back you can write recipe, date of the experiment and some notes on the used method.

Samples also allow to check colour, once washed or exposed to light.

Materials

Tools that can be used are often kitchen tools, but once destined to colour dyeing are no longer usable to prepare food.

Pots must be sufficiently large: dipped fabrics must be able to be “stirred” easily and without any danger.

Lids help to boil quickly and prevent odors and fumes from dispersing.

Stainless steel is the material of choice because it does not harm dye’s colour or modify it.

Cold dyeing method

Preparation phase is important with animal fibres: at least one hour (or even all night long) they should remain immersed in water. Then proceed with dyeing bath.

Dyeing baths can last from one night to several days, depending on the desired colour gradation.

Vegetable fibres are very well dyed at room temperature, but must be immersed and kept in dyeing bath for several days.

Lavender is one of the ingredients that can be used to make a natural textile dye

Insights

Permacouture Institute

Slow Fashion

Pattern design with Serti technique

Set di pennelli per dipingere

Serti technique is a particular reserve dyeing technique, used to paint on fabric.

It is suitable for any kind of subject, but it is essential to make drawings with closed shapes.

Gutta-percha, a waterproofing that prevents colour from expanding, is applied to contours.

The ideal design has therefore well defined shapes and a clean graphic structure, consisting of closed shapes, avoiding large background surfaces, or too small and meticulous details, more suitable for direct painting.

Materials and equipment

  • Worktop (a table)
  • Wooden frame and drawing pins
  • Cut of fabric (Habotai silk is very used)
  • Brushes and pads
  • Gutta-percha and water-based specific colours for fabrics (available in fine arts shops)
  • Applicator

Work surface

It will take a good table on which to place your frame. Frame is essential, because fabric should always be detached from table’s surface.

In case dimensions require it, frame should be supported by stands.

You can choose to work seated or standing, but in second case you will have a more complete overview.

With a plastic towel or with old newspapers protect the working area.

Frame

To stretch fabric well, which must not come into direct contact with table, it is necessary to use a frame.

The more fabric surface is stretched on a regular basis, the easiest will be the entire work.

Different types of frame are commercially available, but the quality of wood is an important factor, because to stretch fabric you will use drawing pins.

To realize a simple frame choose four strips of seasoned wood (section 3-4 cm, lenght from 60 cm to 1 m approx.), and with a a hacksaw make some notches at regular intervals. (Notches allow to assembly your frame according to the size of fabric).

The wooden frame to paint on fabric

In the photo example, each notch measure 1,5 cm in length and depth, and is about 8,5 cm from the others.

Fabric preparation

By applying some drawing pins, you can attach your fabric sample to the frame.

There are different types of pins: those from architect (three-pronged) have the advantage of penetrating completely into wood.

It is important to always start from a corner, fixing fabric to the frame every five cm, and proceeding on the side perpendicular to the previous one.

After a little practice, a good tension of fabric will require less pins: a square of silk of 45 cm (side) has 4 pins to the 4 angles, and 2 pins on each of the sides.

Brushes and pads

The most suitable brushes for Serti technique are those used for watercolour: round, soft and with a thin tip.

Watercolor Materials

For all backgrounds it is better to use a flat brush, or to use some pads.

To prepare a pad, tightly ball up a piece of absorbent cotton, then wrap a gauze around it and stop the whole thing with a clothes peg.

For more limited surfaces use simple cotton-buds.

Pads and cotton-buds, each for one colour, must be discarded after use. Wash brushes immediately after use in a bath of lukewarm water and mild soap, or pure alcohol.

Washing operations must also be carried out when changing colour. Dry residual water or alcohol thoroughly to avoid stains or halos.

Colours

Specific Serti technique colours to paint on fabric (silk, cotton and sythetic fabrics) are available in fine arts stores, ready for use and water-dilutable.

The range of available colours is usually wide in assortment.

In addition, there are other types of colours in a concentrated form: professional inks for silk an wool, 50% water or industrial alcohol dilutable.

Gutta-percha

Gutta-percha is a resin. It comes in the form of dense and semitransparent liquid (but coloured variants are commercially available).

Two types of gutta (transparent and coloured), applicator and Tiralinee

Once applied and dry, it becomes a rubbery substance that adheres to fabric, making the treated part waterproof.

Colorless gutta-percha washes away after fixing.

Proceeding

Motifs are realized by first tracing contours with gutta-percha, which once dry, prevents liquid colours from expanding beyond the established zones.

The first operation is therefore to draw your pattern using a frame as to stretch fabric.

There are different possibilities:

  • Tracing a previously prepared model, using a pencil if fabric is sufficiently light or – in case fabric is heavy – carbon paper, taking care to trace the signs with a light hand.
  • Freehand, using a pencil (although it is advisable to follow preparatory sketches) or for the more experienced, directly with gutta-percha, without any guiding path and following the inspiration of the moment.

The important thing however, is to circumscribe in close forms all the colouring areas.

Next step: gutta-percha. You can use a brush or a specific applicator: a soft plastic container, provided with a cap, to drill as finely as possible with a needle.

In order to obtain a thinner stroke you can also screw a special tip.

Residues should be immediately eliminated, cleaning the container.

Colouring is the penultimate stage: if gutta-percha is dry, you can paint inside and eventually outside resin strokes.

Colour must be given starting from the center of the surface, leaving it to reach up to the contour line.

For the final drying phase: simply follow the indications given on the colour packages. Usually it is enough to iron on fhe reverse side of fabric.