Tie-Dyeing Away the Summertime Blues

Tie-Dyeing Away the Summertime Blues

By Deb Gerish

Schacht Spindle Company has discovered the best way to increase employee happiness while educating them in textile arts. It started with food—delicious company meals served at long tables. Then employee appreciation lunches morphed into something more. On one memorable day, people entered their handmade textiles, yarn, and woodworking designs in a contest with special guest judges and prizes. In the before-times, these occasions happened at least once every season. When COVID hit, these gatherings had to end. But they’re coming back, and they’ll be better than ever (even with masks and social distancing). This year, we’re adding indigo tie-dyeing to the mix!

If this idea seemed to come out of the blue (pun intended), it didn’t. We have a lot of textile artists on staff, and lately we’ve all been smitten with dyeing, especially with natural dyes and indigo. The party planning committee decided to set up a big indigo vat where we could tie-dye T-shirts. Since I’m of a certain age, I immediately flashed back to a famous episode of I Love Lucy, where Lucy had to walk around a vat pulping grapes to make wine. “It’s not going to be like that,” the committee said. (I knew that, because I’ve used indigo vats before, but the mental picture still made me giggle. A bunch of employees milling around inside a vat, getting their feet blue, then coming out and rinsing off with a hose. Maybe somebody gets dunked, accidentally-on-purpose . . .)

The reality was much simpler and probably easier to execute. Everybody got a white T-shirt, and we could bring our own fabric or yarn. We got a quick lesson on how the vat worked. We learned how to prepare our shirts with folds, ties, knots, and resists. Then we got smurfy with it.


twisting damp shirtsPreparing damp t-shirts for dyeing—sometimes a team effort!


rubber bands on shirts
Rubber bands create circles of white and blue.

instruction sheets for patterns
Handy instruction sheets showed how to set up different dye patterns.


As indigo dyers know, the shirts came out of the vat looking like bright green rags. (We had a really dark vat.) People busily removed rubber bands, wood resists, etc. and unfolded their shirts to lay them out on a tarp. The longer shirts, fabric, yarn, and fiber sat in the air, the bluer they got. Basically, pandemonium ensued. You know that thrill of watching a dye project unfold? Now imagine 50 people, sharing that moment loudly and enthusiastically.

white shirt going into vat
White items go in.

Items turn green (and arms turn blue--gloves are a great idea whenever you dye).

shirts out of the vat

And items turn blue. Notice the shirt on the right, turning from green to blue.

Whether you’re looking for a creative outlet or just an excuse to hang outside on a beautiful day, indigo tie-dyeing will deliver. It’s one of the easiest dyes around, which makes it perfect for a party setting.

  • Indigo works on any natural fiber and doesn’t require mordanting.
  • It’s easy to prep the vat, and then you can store it for reuse.
  • You don’t need much dyeing equipment: a bucket with a lid, a stick for stirring, gloves, and a dust mask will usually suffice. Buy a kit with all the materials, and you’re ready to go.
  • Prep the materials, dye the items, rinse the items. That’s all there is to it. Even kids can handle it, with adult supervision.
  • People of all ages will totally lose it when they see their dye projects change color. Guaranteed. Usually folks express their amazement with loud shocked sounds and distorted facial expressions. It’s a great opportunity to take embarrassing photos of your loved ones.

shirt and yarn

An OOAK shirt next to handspun yarn.

Creative talent, technical knowhow, and food. I can’t think of a better way to spend a summer afternoon!

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