Indigo Tie Dye with Children

Oh no! I had a little bit of a craft emergency this morning when I realized that all the art and crafts stores in Portland are sold out of Indigo Tie Dye kits! B complained that I’ve been using all his beautiful vintage handkerchiefs as toddler spit rags (guilty as charged) so I bought a pack of white handkerchiefs with the goal of making them prettier with some shibori patterns and indigo dye.

I’ve never been a fan of the more traditional multi-colored tie dye, as rainbow style just a bit too wild for my tastes. Working with indigo gives you all the fun of regular tie dying, but because you’re only using one color (blue), the focus becomes the patterns that you make by twisting, tying, and folding the fabric.

I first tried indigo dying as a group activity a few summers ago at Phoenix Farms horse camp, after agreeing to teach an afternoon art activity to the campers in exchange for a riding lesson. I used a Jacquard Indigo Kit, brought a 5 gallon bucket, and scavenged my mom’s house for white textiles to practice on. I ‘borrowed’ all of my mom’s white kitchen towels to dye and I ended up liking the result so much that she let me keep them. The camp director also bought white bandanas, so that each girl would have something to take home that day.

Overall, this proved to be a great 1 – 2 hour group activity for 7 – 11 year old girls that kept them engaged, each step of the way. I earned myself a riding lesson and was able to dye my bedspread at the same time!

As you can see from the blue stains on my legs, indigo vats can be very messy work!

Earlier this summer, I had another chance to use the Jacquard Indigo Kit with my friend R and her three little girls.

Being the amazing Canadian homeschooling mom that she is, R did a ton of internet research with her girls in the week leading up to our “Dye Day” – so each kid had a very clear idea of what kind of pattern they wanted to make and each kid was pretty successful! I was very impressed with how her 4 and 5 year olds were able to tightly tie their rubber bands and execute fairly complicated shibori techniques!

This shibori technique involves wrapping your cloth around a marble and securing with rubber bands. The finished effect is a bright white circle.

Here are a couple of things that I wish I had done differently:

1. As the kids really enjoyed helping me mix the soda ash and sodium hydrosulfite into the indigo vat, I wish that I had made it into more of a chemistry lesson for them by explaining the science behind each ingredient, particularly indigo (which made from the leaves of a plant through the process of fermentation).

THE INDIGO QUEEN, HIROKO UEYAMA-SAN -- LOOKING THROUGH A HAND-CUT STENCIL TO THE LEAVES THAT WILL PROVIDE THE INDIGO COLOR FOR A MAGNIFICENT SILK KIMONO
THE INDIGO QUEEN, HIROKO UEYAMA-SAN — LOOKING THROUGH A HAND-CUT STENCIL TO THE LEAVES THAT WILL PROVIDE THE INDIGO COLOR FOR A MAGNIFICENT SILK KIMONO – photo credit: Okinawa Soba

2. At that time, I didn’t really know very much about making patterns beyond the basic concentric circles with rubber bands. For future teaching, I would probably have the kids watch a video on folding techniques first and then demonstrate how to do them in person. I also plan to bring a few examples for different techniques, so that younger kids can point and say “I want to try making that!”

3. On the topic of younger kids, I did notice with the horse campers that some of the younger girls (5-6) struggled to get the rubber bands tight enough to create the seal needed for resistance dye techniques (basically, leaving a white part where the rubber band is). It really depends on the kid though – R’s kids had no problem pulling off complicated folding methods (mostly) on their own.

All in all, I highly recommend trying out an indigo kit with your family or kid friends. I think you’ll be as pleased with your textiles as I have been!

Modeling my custom indigo bath robe in the garden.

Published by playfulchildhood

The cool kids call me Teacher Alison. I'm an early childhood educator living in Portland, OR.

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