Archive for the ‘Vat dyeing’ Category

Hitting the Restart Button

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Hi all,

I am back.  Our move out to California has had a much longer settle in time than I would ever have imagined possible.   My life was pretty much in a holding pattern for the first 3 1/2 months out here.  Among other challenges, I was never able to fully unpack and my dyeing workspace never materialized.  I don’t want to dwell on the drama of it, but we have moved for a second time.   We are now in a great place, my work areas are functional and I am ready to get on with living and making some art.


I had been working on cave pieces prior to all of this life upheaval, but am feeling very drawn to making things with nature images right now.  Making things that reconnect me to a feeling of peace seem just right.  I am busy screening pieces with vat dye and will steam my pieces at the end of the week.


Maine Pond (C) Tracy McCabe Stewart

I have been spending time at a great local studio:  A Work of Heart and took a resin class.  I’ll be experimenting with using this new resin to incorporate mixed media into my pieces.  I’ll post pictures.


Dragonfly (C) Tracy McCabe Stewart

Thanks for sticking with me!



Back on the Face of the Earth

Monday, December 13th, 2010


"Cave Series VII" (C) 2010 by Tracy McCabe Stewart

I know it’s been a while.  I have been busy with non-art stuff for a while and haven’t had much that really seemed worth writing about. 

I just completed the piece shown above.  It’s another piece in my cave series; all are based on the incredible images found on the cave walls of Altamira (Spain), Lascaux (France) and chauvet (France).  As much as I work with these images, they never cease to thrill me.  I have another piece on the boards, so it will be a lot less time before the next post!

Vat Dyeing and Dramatic Toad Rescue

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Okay, the rescue wasn’t really all that dramatic.  I did a bit of vat dyeing today.  When I came down to the basement, I had some little toads staring at me through the window wells.  we’ve had rain of biblical proportions the past few weeks and these little guys got washed through the grates.  It seems to happen every time we have really heavy rains here.



I finally used a great silk screen that I made at a workshop with the fabulous  Barbara Schneider (I love her workshops!).  The effect was made by dribbling the design goop and letting it drip.  I love the effect.  Here it is on some hand dyed fabric.  I’ll be using this for my latest cave piece:

dribble screened vat dye

and here’s a scarf I screened vat dye on while I was at it:

vat dyed scarf

It’s all one screen, but different colors.

Another layer tomorrow!

Big in Japan-More Preparation

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Here are the scarves I started a few days ago.  I will bring them all to Japan and let my daughter choose the one that I give to my daughter’s host mother.  I posted about this yesterday here.

I thought the scarves needed another layer of vat dye, so I screened an indigo and grey mixture over them.  I got better haloes today, too.  I think this one below is my favorite.  There’s a real hot spot from my camera’s flash.  The color is much more even:

Procion MX and vat dyed scarf by Tracy McCabe Stewart

 Here’s the second scarf:

Tree screened scarf by Tracy McCabe Stewart

The final scarf turned out all right, but the new screeend flowers turned out really blurry.  It was all the same vat dye, so I don’t know what happened.  I like the look of it anyway:

Procion and Vat dyed Scarf by Tracy McCabe Stewart

Big in Japan-Trip Preparation

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

I am headed out for a 10 day trip to Japan this Wednesday.  My daughter has been finishing her last year of university in Kobe and staying with a host family there.  she has a minor in Asian studies. 

Big in Japan is a fun song from the 80’s by Alphaville.  It’s one of the worst music videos ever; complete with Robin Hood sort of outfits that don’t really have much to do with Japan, as far as I can see.  See it here.   We hum it around here because I am 6’2″ and going to the land of 5′ people.  I’m guessing I won’t exactly blend in. 

Right now, I am trying to get gifts together for Ashley’s host  family.  The Japanese have a somewhat complicated ritual of gift giving.  Here’s what I know:  gifts from/related to your geographical location are appreciated.  The presentation is really important, too.  I will wrap my presents in hand dyed fabric to try to make them extra special.  

I am from Chicago, so I am bringing them a book on Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.  I am also making a hand dyed scarf for my daughter’s host mother.   Apparently she wears very plain, dark clothing, so I am trying to do something pretty subdued.  I started by dyeing silk scarves blue grey and screened them with vat dye solution.  Here are the results form the vat dyeing.  They will probably get a layer of fabric paint before they are complete. 

Here’s a picture.  I am having a hard time getting the colors true because the silk is so reflective.  I barely got any haloing on these-too bad.  She wants plain, so I won’t add another design layer, but may screen some paint to make the effect more monochromatic.  

Hand Dyed Scarves by Tracy McCabe Stewart

Vat Dyeing Primer

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

With all of this vat dyeing I’m doing lately, I probably should have started by posting an introduction to the process and some instructions for doing it.  Better late than never 🙂

By the way, There isn’t any vat in vat dye.  Don’t ask me why it’s called vat dyeing, I didn’t name it 🙂  Actually, I think the name came from indigo dyeing techniques which are the same type of dye.  Don’t quote me on that, I may have made it up.

Here are the basics general info-almost all of which is information I got from Barbara Schneider’s  fantastic workshop: 

  • Vat dyeing is a really old technique (18th century)
  • It is the most light fast dye. 
  • Vat dyes are a specific type of dye rather than a dye process:  they are water insoluble in pigment form.  They are made water soluble-or able to bond with the fiber molecule- by adding a reducing agent.  The reducing agent used in my experiments is Formusol.
  • Once vat dyes are mixed they will last forever
  • The reason for the halo effect is that the discharge agents move faster than the dye agents
  • Increasing glycerine increases the haloing effect.  Other liquids need to be reduced accordingly.
  • The dyes we use(d) are Aljo Zymo-Fast (Vat Dyes).  Barbara does NOT use their recipe or directions.
  • Vat dye colors will not blend with previously dyed fabrics, but will blend with each other.


In order to vat dye, you need to steam the fabric.  For this, I bought a huge tamale pot on ebay.  It gives me plenty of room to add the fabric without it touching the sides of the pot. and has a steam tray built in that keeps the fabric out of the water while still being steamed. 

Humongo tamale pot

Humongo tamale pot


Humongo pot’s steamer tray:

vat dye primer1

I also purchased a 1500 watt hot plate so I could do my steaming out in the garage.  Formusol is formaldehyde based and releases fumes during steaming and application.  Do your process in a well ventilated area and/or wear a ventilator.

Within the pot, you want a few layers of craft felt and 3 layers of paper to sandwich the material.  Make them about 2″ smaller than the pot so steam can circulate. 

vat dye primer 3

Brown craft paper layer:

vat dye primer 4

 The layers go from top to bottom like this:  steamer tray/paper layers/craft felt/rolled fabric/paper layers/craft felt and then a larger couple of layers of craft felt under the lid of the pot.  Like this:

vat dye primer 5


 Once you have applied the vat dye by screening, stamping, etc.  Let it dry.  You then want to roll it loosely inside an old piece of fabric (a sheet works well).  See my last post for exceptions to this arrangement.  Wait until the water in the steamer is fully steaming and then arrange the layers as described above.  Steam the fabric for 15 minutes.


After the 15 minutes, remove the fabric and give it a good spritz with a plant mister.  Leave it for half an hour before rinsing and washing it.  This allows the halo effect to continue.

I then rinse my fabric out a bit with water and then pop it into the washer with some Synthrapol.


Vat dyeing can be repeated with additional layers.


Fine Art of Fiber starts tomorrow!

Vat Dyeing Experiments-Day 2

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Hi all,

I was at the vat dyeing again yesterday; trying to increase my understanding of the process.  I had some interesting results. 

First, the fuscia dyed cotton.  I screened some turquoise and some indigo vat dye onto this and got similar results to the day before.  My conclusion is that pretty much everything discharges/vat dyes to the green/blue family from fuscia.  This was true of my samples as well.  It’s a pretty combination, so I’ll use it again.  I got the same yellow, somewhat blurred results from sky blue again.  Here is the fuscia cotton from yesterday:

Vat Dyed Cotton

Vat Dyed Cotton

Here’s a detail showing some of the blue:

Cotton detail

Cotton detail


Here’s the sample from the day before using skyblue and violet-not much difference.

day 1 sample

day 1 sample


I did make a a great discovery with my silk organza.  Tuesday’s sample discharged beautifully, but didn’t lay down any new color.  I thought this might have something to do with the material’s position in the steam bath.  Normally, all of the vat dyed fabric is loosely rolled inside of a piece of fabric and steamed (like a jelly roll); the vat dyed material is not directly exposed to the steam.  The steam has to penetrate through the sheet to reach the material; sometimes through a few layers of fabric if it’s on the inside of the jelly roll.  For my experiment, I decided to steam the organza outside of the sheet; meaning it was directly exposed to the steam.  The result was much more color laid down.  Still no haloing, but a definite improvement.  I screened grey on there and love the silver effect that I got.  I will try to replicate the results in the next session.

vat dyed silk organza

vat dyed silk organza

Here’s a detail:




This piece of organza was on the inside of the roll and it didn’t even discharge all that well.  No new color laid down; I may be on to something.  I have more organza that I will experiment with on Thursday and try to confirm my conclusions.  I use organza all the time in my pieces and would really love to get that haloing effect on the translucent fabric. 

more organza

more organza

ThursdayI will be adding another layer of vat dye to the scarves I did on day one and playing with these organza pieces some more.  I will take pictures of my set up and process to try to paint a clearer picture of things. 

Comments/discussion from anyone else working with vat dyes would be greatly appreciated.  I would love to know whether anyone has figured out any hard and fast rules with this process.  It seems fairly random to me right now!