It is never late to start a new life,
even if you are a tablecloth
When I was at a thrift store, I walked along the row with bed sheets and tablecloths thinking about all these beautiful pieces of fabric made for people to decorate their homes, but no longer needed. Some colors had faded, the pattern was out of fashion or there were holes in the middle of a beautiful linen table runner. The textile was still strong, getting even better over time, softer to touch. Pure cotton and linen aged wonderfully, they were durable and can last many more years with a proper care, but now they were abandoned and there should be a way to save them, creating something beautiful.
We have so many things around us and it is so cheap to get a new cup, a new scarf or a new chair, so people prefer to get something new instead of fixing and re-using old things. When I think of this huge piles of things people throw away to get new ones, I feel sad – it is such a waste of materials and labour, so thoughtless and careless way to communicate with the world around us. In average, people in 21 century own more, but care less. Ready to buy, but not ready to fix. There are a lot of discussions about recycling and reusing but still tons of unsold garments from thrift stores will go into landfill.
So, once upon a time, I woke up with an idea to save some used textiles and give them a second life. There are many ways to add colors and patterns to fabric: screen printing, painting, batik, shibori also known as “tie-dye”. The last technique was originated from Japan and it is as simple as just folding and tying fabric in pleats and dipping it into color. After you will unfold the piece, you will receive various amazing patterns depending on the way you will fold it.
I had an array of natural and chemical dyes to use with shibori. Indigo was the most common dye to use in Japan, but also one of the most sophisticated in use. It needs a certain temperature and pH balance to react with the fabric to give this beautiful dark blue color. In my experience, I managed to get only a lighter blue, but it was still pretty. Fiber reactive dyes were less fussy and easier to handle.
Before I tie and dye the cloth, I cut it according to the pattern I used for the jacket. Light jackets in Japanese style were the perfect choice for such a project, as all the details were rectangular, without complex curves, and mostly “one size fits all” design, without any buttons or closure – ideal for a summer garment to wear over a light top or a t-shirt.
The process itself took some time to go through every stage. Firstly, cotton or linen piece (bed sheet or a tablecloth) from a local thrift store was cut into rectangles following the pattern I had in mind. Secondly, the cutting was fold in various ways to create wrinkles and pleats so the dye will affect it differently while the dye process, and everything was tied with cords or secured with clothespins to keep on place. Thirdly, the whole batch went into a dye vat for the time necessary for the reaction to perform. After pieces were dyed, I unfolded them and washed to get away the excess color. And finally, when I had these wonderfully dyed pieces at hand, I stitched them into a jacket.
Although the jackets were almost the same style and size, they looked so different because of different patterns and colors I used. If you will fold pleats like accordion, you will get straight lines, if you tie pieces chaotically with rubber bands, the result can be in more natural look with swirls and spirals. Applying more than one color will give you a richer look.
While working on these projects, I learnt a lot about various types of cotton and linen, about dyeing process and about shibori patterns. And it happened so people loved these jackets, they wanted to try them on, as they feel comfortable wearing a garment turned into a piece of art from an old bed sheet.