Indigo Dyeing with Anna Joyce

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This is a guest post from an expert on all things art and crafts Melanie Falick*

I just watched Anna Joyce’s Easy Indigo Dyeing class where she creates beautiful pillow covers using the Jacquard Indigo Tie Dye kit. I’ve known Anna since 2013 when she sent me a proposal for her first book. That proposal focused on applique but, after talking for a while on the phone, she and I agreed that a different idea was more reflective of her personal passion. Anna has a degree in printmaking from the California College of the Arts and today she designs an eponymous line of hand-printed products. A book on easy stamping, stenciling, and painting projects seemed logical and appealing.

Anna is an evangelist for pattern and for teaching easy ways to apply pattern to anything and everything. In her book, which we titled Stamp Stencil Paint and which was published by STC Craft in September, she prints on everything from kraft paper, cotton, silk, and leather to terra cotta pots, a wicker basket, a barn lamp, and walls. During the year-plus that Anna spent designing the projects for and writing her book, we checked in with each other regularly via email and phone, and with nearly every encounter she impressed me with her energy and enthusiasm. Of course, there were days when she needed a pep talk or deadlines loomed large and she needed some help prioritizing, but more than anything, the experience of working with Anna was easy and joyful. She is one of the most focused, hardworking people I have ever met.

Anna lives with her husband, also an artist, and two young daughters in Portland, Oregon. She wrote the book from her home studio/dining room, but since then she has rented a workspace walking distance from her house. A few weeks ago Anna left Portland and flew to New York City for a Stamp Stencil Paint book tour, an exciting celebration of her accomplishment. Among her stops were Etsy HQ, the Textile Arts Center, the Brooklyn Book Festival, Makeshift Society—and my house in the Hudson Valley. Anna squeezed me in between a signing at the festival on Sunday afternoon and a class at Makeshift on Monday night.

Magical is a strong word that is sometimes used carelessly but, honestly, the time Anna and I spent together did feel special in that way. It was nearly 24 hours of ease and creativity. On Sunday we relaxed by the river, ate a delicious dinner prepared by my husband, sipped wine, slept well. On Monday morning we awoke early ready to do some indigo dyeing. The weather was beautiful so we used my screened-in porch and backyard as our workspace, which made everything especially easy. We had plenty of room to spread out our materials and tools on the porch, and we set up our dye bucket and a makeshift drying rack on the grass outside where we didn’t have to worry about drips or spills.

The process of dyeing with indigo is always alchemic. Using the Jacquard kit makes it exceptionally simple since the trio of key ingredients—indigo, soda ash, and a reduction agent—come premeasured and ready to go. All we needed to provide was a 5-gallon bucket, water, stirrer, and cloth to dye. In Anna’s Creativebug class she teaches how to both dye the cloth and sew pillow covers, but we decided to take the no-sew route and dye a flat sheet, a few pillowcases, and a smallish piece of linen from my stash, all of which Anna showed me how to strategically fold and bind to create different patterns. Once we started pulling our items from the dye bath (just 15 minutes after they went in) and watching them turn from acid yellow to blue (as the indigo came in contact with the oxygen in the air), something happened that I’ve since learned isn’t uncommon: We wanted to dye more! On Instagram I captioned my first photo of the day, “Everything might be blue soon.” And then into the dye bucket went two pairs of socks, a skirt, and my Converse sneakers.

We had set up our drying rack with a long dowel between two sawhorses but it wasn’t big enough for all of the photographs we wanted to take. So we headed over to my neighbor Gordon’s backyard to use his clothesline. While we arranged our creations, Gordon invited us to pick apples from his tree, which he planted in the 1950s and is so much larger than any other apple tree I’ve ever seen that I think it should be in a fairy tale, maybe a new version of Jack and the Beanstalk.

“There’s something magical about this day.” I commented to Anna as we headed back to my house with our cloth and a basket full of apples.

After we cleaned up and shared a quick lunch, I drove Anna to the train station so she could return to the city. Soon after she messaged me one more time. “Thank you,” she wrote, for a magical time!”

Not everyone can be as lucky as me and take a private lesson with Anna, but everyone can take her Creativebug class. Take it with a friend on a beautiful day and I think there’s a good chance that you’ll have a wonderful—possibly even magical—experience as well.

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Anna, wearing my Orenburg shawl, looked like an enchanted fairy preparing our indigo elixir.

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We ironed the fabric while the dye bath settled (which took about 15 minutes). Ironing carefully helps the folding and binding of the fabric come together nicely.

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This pillowcase was white when we gently submerged it into the dye bath. When we took it out, after about 15 minutes, it was acid green.

Sheet exiting bath

This is the large sheet when we took it out of the dye bath, before the oxygen in the air turned it blue.

Closeup of dyed cloth

The areas of our fabric that were bound remained undyed.

Sheet on clothesline

Magic!

*Melanie Falick is a creative consultant and freelance editor and writer. She is the former publishing director of STC Craft, an imprint of Abrams. She also teaches several Creativebug classes, including Leather Wrap Bracelets. Connect with her on social media, as follows:

Website: melaniefalick.com

Instagram, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook: melaniefalick

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