The Modern Natural Dyer Work-Along: Flowers at My Fingertips Sewing Kit

Posted by Kristine Vejar on May 04, 2016 1 Comment

Walk into your own front yard, wander through your garden, and at your fingertips there very well could be dye plants growing.

May's Modern Natural Dyer Work-Along project is the Flowers at My Fingertips Sewing Kit. Through this project, we explore how the garden is a source of dye plants, and how to take those flowers and leaves and print with them on fabric. This process is also referred to as eco-printing and in my mind was first popularized by artist and natural dyer, India Flint. Not all flowers are created the same in the eye's of the dyer, there are certainly some whose color and print are longer-lasting than others, and we cover those in The Modern Natural Dyer. That said, I have seen some really amazing, unexpected results from plants I wouldn't have typically deemed as "dye plants". Perhaps it is the fact that the flower is so intently pushed into the surface of the fabric.

Once the fabric has been printed, it is cut and sewn into a traveling sewing kit.

This is what it looks like folded; all of your tools ready for a journey. I don't know about you but there is rarely a time I don't have a sewing or knitting project in tow.

Here are a few tips when approaching this project:

+ Always mordant your fabric for the most long-lasting and saturated color.
+ I used wool flannel for my sewing kit, though, feel free to use other medium weight fabrics, like white cotton denim, and simply follow the directions for scouring and mordanting cellulose-based goods.
+ Turn to The Modern Natural Dyer's 20-page spread of dye plants to find those which will make great dye - and for ideas of what to plant in your garden this Spring!
+ Experiment with plants in your yard, you only have to scour and mordant once, you can keep dye many times on that piece of fabric - in case you would like to add more layers, or a flower fades.
+ Though I made this kit with the sewer in mind, it could easily be adapted for knitting tools.

To help you with sourcing the materials for this project, at Verb, we have made a kit. This is a great project for you to do with kids! It includes the scour, mordant, fabric, thread, and branch which you use in the dyeing process.

If you are in the area, I am teaching a class on eco-printing called Mapping Color. Join me in making your own eco-printed fabric! And if you are interested in growing your very own dye garden, join Adrienne for her class, Growing and Gathering Dye Plants.

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The Modern Natural Dyer Work-Along: Depth, Texture, and Layers of Natrurally-Dyed Color with Alabama Chanin

Posted by Kristine Vejar on April 27, 2016 1 Comment


The typical pathway of creating an Alabama Chanin piece is to choose a sewing pattern, cut the fabric for the sewing pattern, stencil the fabric, layer the stenciled fabric over the a piece of non-stenciled fabric of the same size, stitch around the stenciled layers, cut the inside of the stenciled shape out, and then sew all the pattern pieces together. The last step is to add the neck and sleeve binding. Wait, the last step in completing an Alabama Chanin piece is to wear it...flaunt it? Yes, go for it, flaunt it.

When writing The Modern Natural Dyer, there were many experiments conducted, testing recipes, and fine-tuning projects. This process has provided us with an incredible library of naturally dyed yardage, yarn, and garments - like A.Chanin cardigans and tanks.

Some of the tanks have a bit of irregularity in the dyeing, as I have said before, there is always the option of embracing imperfection, and celebrating the movement of the hand, the aliveness of the natural dyeing process. Though, as an appreciator of the Alabama Chanin style of sewing, and one who finds the process of hand-stitching quite relaxing, I wondered what it would be like to add even more hand-work - to put two of the tanks together, and add the layers of stenciled paint, thread, and cut motifs, revealing another plane of naturally dyed color. I found this to be the perfect opportunity to try.

Both of the tanks I scoured, mordanted, and dipped into a wheat bran bath according to the directions for cellulose-based fibers in The Modern Natural Dyer.

Top Layer: Naturally dyed with weld in the darker of the two shades featured on p.98 of The Modern Natural Dyer
Bottom Layer: Naturally dyed with weld in the lighter of the two shades featured on p.98 of the The Modern Natural Dyer

Once dyed, both tanks were dipped into a bath of iron-infused water. Though I used weld, there are many other dyes and colors you can choose for your own piece.

Onto stenciling...

Stencil: Anna's Garden
Paint: custom mixture of brown, black, and a hint of bronze
Thread: Taupe

+ I added ironed a piece of freezer paper to the tank, for stability when stenciling, and so the fabric paint would not seep through to the other side.
+ When stenciling, I did not want to paint the binding on the neckline or on the armholes, so I taped over these areas.
+ If you do not own a spray gun to apply your fabric paint, using a square chunk of foam works better than a foam brush. The square piece of foam applies a thinner layer, more uniformly, so you will use less paint, and it will look more professional.
+ Paint the back first, so you can get used to the process. By the time you get to the front, you will be comfortable and confident. 
+ I applied the above principle to stitching. I started at the top of the back. Once I felt like I had warmed up, I moved to the front. Always making sure my seams along the side were pinned and did not shift while stitching.

I always get really excited when stitching, and have a deep desire to peek at what the finished cloth will look like, so I snip away some of the motifs before completing all of my stitching. Plus, I find it easier on my hands if I balance stitching with cutting. As you can see, I am not quite done with my piece, but it is going really well, and figure I will be done by the end of April. It helps that the garments are already sewn, as once I am done stitching, it is ready to wear!

I know natural dyeing can be a labor of love, and can involve a process akin to learning a new language, but when I sit and stitch this piece, I marvel at the beauty and the infinite intricacies of color and depth provided by nature, and am in awe and gratitude for the extra time taken to apply naturally-dyed color to this piece.

As we round the corner, out of April into May, we also say goodbye to Alabama Chanin April, though, really at Verb, it is always Alabama Chanin April. Don't forget, we have Alabama Chanin stitch-ins every month. We stock a full range of colors in Alabama Chanin organic cotton jersey, a full range of sizes in A. Chanin tanks and cardigans, are always happy to order you a custom DIY kit, (where you get to pick the colors of jersey, the stencil, the pattern, the thread color, and the kit comes stenciled and the pattern pieces come cut, very exciting, I'm dreaming of this one right now), and always have on hand a collection of Alabama Chanin garments, hand-sewn, representing the collection of sewing patterns in the line of Alabama Chanin books, in an array of sizes, for you to try on before, to help orient you in size, style, and fit, before embarking on a new project.

The tank written about in this essay will be on display at Verb starting May 1st, so stop by and check it out. This month has been such a delight to work in tandem with Natalie and Alabama Chanin, I look forward to seeing your naturally-dyed x Alabama Chanin-style sewn pieces.

-- Kristine

P.S. In May, we are focusing on eco-printing, dye gardening, and the project from The Modern Natural Dyer titled Flowers at My Fingertips. Stay tuned! We have some exciting projects in store for you.

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The Modern Natural Dyer Work-Along: Fashion Revolution

Posted by Kristine Vejar on April 20, 2016 2 Comments

This past weekend, I held a class helping people dye their own Gilded Cardigan and Iron Age Tank, a project from The Modern Natural Dyer. As you may know The Modern Natural Dyer includes shade cards which features a series of widely available natural dyeing extracts, the color they make, and the quantity of the extract needed to make that color. The Gilded Cardigan and Iron Age Tank is designed to show how one can expand on the colors featured on the shade card through the use of iron-infused water. Sarah, who works in the Verb dye studio, came to class and dyed her own A. Chanin cardigan and tank using pomegranate. Then, she dipped her cardigan in the iron-infused water to get green. I love her results.

As you are poking around the internet this week, perhaps checking your Instagram account, you may have noticed photos of people holding a sign which reads "I made your clothing" -- or -- just an image with the words asking "who made your clothing?" These photos are tied to a movement called Fashion Revolution, and is a particularly hot topic this week as it marks the anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex.

On April 24, 2014, 1,134 people were killed and over 2,500 were injured when the Rana Plaza complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Rana Plaza was a garment sewing factory who made clothing for Bennetton, Walmart, and many other large-scale clothing companies. The complex collapsed due to poor upkeep and over-capacity of workers. This type of working condition develops because corporations are trying to sell clothing at too low of a cost (and are possibly using too much money in marketing and paying top CEOs). In honor of those who have lost their lives, those who have lost a loved one, and for those who are still working in these conditions, this tragedy inspired the start of Fashion Revolution, a movement encouraging you "to use your voice and your power to transform the fashion industry into a force for good."

Fashion Revolution is encouraging people around the world to be curious; to consider who grows the cotton to make your t-shirt, or the wool to make your sweater, who is dyeing the fabric (and with what dye), who is milling the fabric, who is sewing the garment. And to present these questions to those labels you love to wear: #whomademyclothes

The movement has expanded from asking major labels to explain "who made my clothing" to people who make clothing and who care about transparency and trace-ability to come forth and declare "I make your clothing". This is a great time to learn and explore this exciting and burgeoning time in fashion and to support those making the effort. It's easy, search on the hashtag #imadeyourclothes

In the Gilded Cardigan and Iron Age tank, I specifically chose A.Chanin pieces because I could trace where the garments and the cloth come from. The garments are made in Florence, Alabama. The cloth is milled in the Southern United States of organic cotton. Regarding organic, my general rule of thumb is - if I wouldn't want to use a chemical (like a fertilizer or pesticide) for the sake of my health or the health of the environment, then I don't think its ok for a farmer to use it. Their health, and the health of the Earth, is as important to me as my health. We are one in the same. The pieces are undyed. In this project, you get to be in the driver seat as the dyer, and choose exactly what you would like to use.

I see the next evolution of this movement expanding to "I make my clothing".

I find making my clothing such a powerful way to cultivate new skills, engage my creativity, feel connected through meeting others with similar interests, and have even more of a voice over which materials I choose to use and why. I can support local farmers who are making a determined effort to live sustainably and to cultivate harmony between Earth and humans.

To support your efforts of making your own clothing, we have a winner for the West Water Tunic sewing pattern: Martina, who wrote "Dreaming of Squam…and wearing a West water Tunic made with indigo dyed linen with EVERYTHING!"

Fashion doesn't have to be bad. It doesn't need to hurt. Dressing ourselves can be filled with joy, a medium to express our journey and our ethics. You can help make a change!

Looking forward,


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The Modern Natural Dyer Work-Along: Printing with Flowers + Alabama Chanin

Posted by Kristine Vejar on April 12, 2016 2 Comments

Last Summer, Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin visited Verb, which is a cause for celebration. We invited the Verb community to gather and and to share in her company. There were many beautiful handmade, Alabama Chain-inspired clothing in the room. There was a heavenly buzz, as people chatted, swapping stories about the process of making their clothing. Natalie and I had a conversation about a topic I am very interested in; how clothing, what it is made of, what it is dyed with, motifs which are embroidered or appliqued on it, can communicate what is meaningful to the wearer and how it can be used as way to map our journey. Natalie shared with us her process of creating new patterns and stencil designs. I wanted to give Natalie a gift inspired by the evening's topic of conversation. I used flowers from the Verb garden, to print a pattern on Alabama Chanin cotton jersey yardage. So she would have a little piece of California to bring with her, home to Alabama.

In The Modern Natural Dyer, there is a project which teaches how to print with flowers, it is called Flowers at My Fingertips Sewing Kit. I used a process very similar to this when dyeing Natalie's fabric, though I want to take a moment to describe the process of printing Natalie's fabric, as it is a bit different, in the case you would like to create your own printed, Alabama Chanin fabric.

The main difference between the fabric I made for and the fabric used in Flowers at My Fingertips, is Natalie's fabric is made of cotton, also referred to as a cellulose-based fabric, where as Flowers at My Fingertips is made of wool, a protein-based fiber. So I followed the cellulose-based fiber instructions in The Modern Natural Dyer when I went to scour and mordant the fabric (p. 57 and p. 59). And I skipped the chalk / wheat bran bath all together.

Once completed, proceed to Flowers at My Fingertips for directions on how to print fabric using flowers and leaves from your garden. To print Natalie's fabric, I mainly used weld leaves and coreopsis. I decided to go with a less-is-more approach, and used fewer flowers, spaced apart, as I really wanted each leaf and flower to be well defined. Weld, coreopsis, and marigolds make great prints, and are trusted dye materials, though it is always fun to experiment with flowers in your own garden. If your flowers fade over time, you can always print your fabric again with new flowers.

In the next few weeks, I am going to print a new piece of AC fabric, and have many ideas of what I might make it into. Right now, I think I will print on the natural jersey, layer it over a piece of white jersey, and probably make an A-line dress. I hope this process inspires you to create your own printed Alabama Chanin garment. If so, do share with us what you think you might make!


Next month, May, the focus of The Modern Natural Dyer Work-Along, will be on the project titled Flowers at My Fingertips. In case you would like a little help souring the materials, we have a kit you can purchase.

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The Modern Natural Dyer Work-Along: Iron Age Tank and Gilded Cardigan

Posted by Kristine Vejar on April 05, 2016 0 Comments

When I began to write The Modern Natural Dyer, I could not wait to somehow incorporate the work of Alabama Chanin. I received the opportunity to meet Natalie Chanin, the founder, about four years ago, and quickly responded to the beauty of her designs and set out to create an Alabama Chanin-inspired wardrobe.

Alabama Chanin was founded on the act of hand-sewing cotton jersey fabric into garments and home goods. Natalie has published four books teaching the techniques she uses to create her line of garments and goods, so that those of us who prefer to create our garments and goods can follow in her footsteps. One of the things I admire about Natalie's business is her dedication to creating local employment. About two years ago, Natalie launched A.Chanin, a series of simple and wearable garments machine-sewn Alabama-based facility out of the same organic cotton jersey used in the rest of her line. This is yet another avenue within Alabama Chanin which cultivates employment, and due to the speed of the machines, provides a lower price point then the hand-sewn garments, allowing another avenue to support the work and efforts of Alabama Chanin.

When I first considered how to include the work of Alabama Chanin in the Modern Natural Dyer, what first came to mind, was dyeing fabric, then using her patterns to sew a garment. Though, on second thought, I imagined it would be fun to support the A.Chanin line, as it is the new kid on the block, and also because the garments are pre-sewn, so the focus could be on the dyeing. That said, I still think it would be great fun to naturally dye your own fabric and hand-sew and stencil an Alabama Chanin garment. 

So once I established I would use the A.Chanin pieces, came the planning of the project. The Iron Age Tank and Gilded Cardigan is the sister project to The Wanderlust Bag. Both projects guide you towards looking closely at the shade card and to recognize that there are colors missing, like one of the world's most beloved color, green, and to start thinking creatively about how to make them. Though we use plants to dye, and plants are green, a single plant rarely gives green dye. Whereas the Wanderlust Bag project uses a combination of any yellow dye and logwood to achieve green, logwood fades quickly on cellulose-based fibers. So instead of using logwood, to get green, create and use a bath of iron-infused water.  If green doesn't float your boat, or maybe it does, but you want to explore other options, here are a few examples of how iron affects color. From top to bottom, this is Alabama Chanin jersey dyed with cochineal, madder, quebracho red, pomegrante, and weld. The second column is each of these dipped in iron-infused water. For the third column, I applied a slight twist or pinch to the fabric to create a slight pattern...more on that in the next section.

 So let's look a little closer at the ways I pinched and twisted the fabric.

And the patterns created after these fabric samples were dipped into iron. Unfortunately, color is tricky to capture. The pink sample in real life looks a bit more like the peach sample located just below.

Though I dyed the fabric, manipulated the fabric, and then dipped it into iron, another idea is to try to create irregularites in the dyebath, like I did with this madder red sample. Then, when I dipped it into iron, the iron water exacerbated those imperfections, making what I think is a really pretty, complex, and mottled fabric.

Tips and tricks to completing this project:

1. Cotton and cellulose-based fibers are fun to work with because you don't have to worry about felting.

2. Cotton jersey is more porous than wovens made of cotton. Cotton jersey needs less dye to achieve saturated colors.

3. I prefer to use wheat bran instead of chalk. I have found that chalk creates more streaking along the fabric and the chalk can change the texture of the fabric, making it slightly brittle, whereas the wheat bran is more nourishing.

4. There is a learning curve to achieving a solid, uniform color on cellulose-based fibers. If you are interested in achieving a solid color: purchase a larger pot so the garment can float easily in the pot. If the garment is scrunched into too small of a pot, those lines will show up on the dyed garment. Heat the dyebath until steamy, and then add the fabric. Keep the garment submerged under water throughout the dyeing process. You might have to stand there and keep poking any parts that stick out of the dyebath back under. Any parts of the garment that poke out of the dyebath during the dyebath will be a different color than the rest of the garment. Rotate the garment often during the dyeing process, every 5-10 minutes.

5. Accept imperfection. A hand-dyed, naturally-dyed garment is bound to have bit of imperfection and this is what makes it uniquely yours and lovely! You might encounter splotches or irregularities in color. Totally ok!

6. Invite "imperfection". Knowing there is a learning curve to dyeing fabric a single solid color, or desiring pattern, you can purposefully mar your work. Just like I showed you in the photos above. And this is where the work of Alabama Chanin can lend a hand. Commonly, Alabama Chanin garments are made from two layers of cotton jersey. First, the garment is cut from the material, then, the fabric which will be the top layer of the garment is stenciled, the two pieces of fabric are layered on top of one another, and then the two fabrics are stitched together, the stitches following the stenciled shapes. The center of the stenciled shapes are cut away, revealing the second layer of fabric. You can apply this process to your Iron Age Tank and Gilded Cardigan in any number of ways. You could stencil your pieces. Add embroidery or a bit of applique. Natalie's books and journal provide tremendous inspiration.

For those of you who have purchased the Phase 1 Kit of The Modern Natural Dyer Work-Along (its never too late to join us!), we included 1/4 yard of Alabama Chanin jersey. This piece of jersey could be used as a swatch to test out the process of natural dyeing cotton jersey fabric, and it could also be used to create a reverse appliqued or appliqued piece upon your Iron Age Tank and Gilded Cardigan.

Happy Dyeing!


It's Alabama Chanin April at Verb! I hope you will join us to dye and sew your own Alabama Chanin-inspired garments!

Come to The Modern Natural Dyer Meet-Up, Saturday, April 23 - and show off what you have been making - or perhaps you're curious - all are welcome.

Announcing The Modern Natural Dyer Phase 2 Kit! This Summer, we will be working on indigo + grown and gathered dyestuffs. Join us!



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