I stumbled across a fantastic art store earlier this summer, just a couple of weeks before Father's Day. On a whim, I went inside to see if I could buy a gift card for my dad, who paints. There's a great art store in DC, near my parents' house, but I knew he was coming for a visit soon and it seemed extra meaningful to get him a gift he could use when he visited.
Sure enough, they sold gift cards. A week or so later, when he was in town for L.'s birthday, we went to the art store together. I left him to browse oil paints and looked around for things I could use towards T.'s list of crafty activities for the summer. I found tie-dye kits! Lots of them. But instead of settling for the traditional multi-colored ones, I bought (for only $10) an indigo dye kit. I loved the idea of dyeing using a more traditional and ancient method, and I thought the science behind creating an indigo vat would appeal to L.
The kit sat on our kitchen table for some time.There are some crafts that are easy to set-up, start, and finish satisfactorily, and then there are those crafts that are a little more daunting, that seem like huge adventures to be embarked upon. Like an ambitious baking or cooking project, such crafts need to be left for the right time, and right circumstances, and the right companions.
Then, a friend of mine e-mailed me about getting her two boys together with L. for a playdate. I invited her over for Friday afternoon and in the morning, as I was sipping my coffee and planning the day I thought about the tie-dye. How perfect! And my friend is just the kind of wonderful craft-loving, patient person who would actually enjoy spending an afternoon crouched over an indigo vat with me. After breakfast, I took the kids to a mega cheap super store near us and bought several white shirts for $3/each, and a pack of boys' white t-shirts for only $5. When my friend arrived, we dyed and talked and wrung out shirts and exclaimed over the amazing circles and patterns the dye and rubber bands produced, for hours, while the boys played too much Wii inside. It was one of the best afternoons I've had in awhile and one of the most fun and satisfying crafty activities we have ever done.
Aren't the shirts amazing? I couldn't believe how many unique patterns and designs the dye made!
So fun, in fact, that we called up T.'s BFF from around the corner and invited her over to dye shirts later that day.
If you have the time, I highly recommend indigo tie-dye. This is the kit we bought:
It comes with rubber bands, and one pair of gloves and everything you need--including a neat booklet all about the history of indigo dye.
You might also need some other supplies, like extra rubber gloves, if more than one person will be doing the dye. We used chopsticks to dip the shirts, etc. into the vat, although you could certainly just use your gloved hands as well. You'll also need a bucket with a lid (Scott found this one for me at Lowe's for only $4).
Once you mix up the dye, you let it sit for upwards to an hour so a smelly, foamy substance forms over the top--this is called the "flower"--although I can't figure out why. L. said it was "the smelliest" flower he'd ever come across. You have to skim the flower gently off the top of the dye with a container and set it aside before you dye. When you're done, and if you want to continue to dye the next day, as we did, you replace the flower on the top of the dye and cover. Keeping the vat covered in between dyeing sessions is important, so too much oxygen doesn't get into the vat.
The kit was supposed to make only about 15 shirts, but we dyed way more than that and the dye was still going strong the next day, when L. got a second wind and decided to dye a whole bunch of other things. He just might now be the only ten-year old boy with indigo tie-dyed tighty-whities, and matching tube socks.