Are you ready to get your hands on your own indigo bolster pillow? If you’re like me, you’ve got a handful of things on your wish list for your home that feel special enough to spend a little extra on, but if you could make it yourself, it’d feel even more satisfying to include it in your space!
This DIY not only shows you how to create a fun pattern using a shibori binding technique, it gives you some insight into dyeing with indigo. Yes, you’re going to want to Pin this one.
There are kits on the market like this one that have pre-reduced indigo so that you can work through all of the steps in a shorter amount of time and without working with lye. It’s still a bit of a time-consuming project, but the end results are always worth it—especially since you can dye more than a few things at a time when your vat is ready.
Start with a bolster pillow, and then try your hand at a top or a dress! Unwrapping each bound piece of fabric is such a surprise, and it’s a thrill to see how things turn out once they’re oxidized and hanging up to dry!
For Indigo Dyeing
-canvas drop cloth measuring 6′ x 9′ like this one. This will yield more than enough fabric for a bolster pillow but is the perfect textured but soft canvas for replicating a vintage indigo mud cloth tapestry.
–Indigo dye kit (should include rubber gloves, indigo dye, thiox, soda ash, rubber bands, instructions, etc)
-leakproof bucket or can with a lid that can hold at least 5 gallons of water
-50 or more wooden clothespins with a hinge to create the dotted effect
-15 or more wooden clothespins without a hinge to create horizontal lines
-plastic tarp or lots of cardboard to protect your dyeing surface if dyeing indoors or on concrete
-stick or dowel rod about 2′ long for stirring your indigo (if using kitchen utensils, they will no longer be food safe)
-small plastic bowl for removing the indigo flower
-clothesline or space to let your dyed garment oxidize
–specialty detergent to ensure it doesn’t rub off on your sheets
For Sewing Your Pillow
-dark blue cotton thread
-20″ x 36″ pillow (this looks and feels more luxe with a down or down alternative insert)
Dyeing Your Fabric
Prep your fabric for dyeing by washing it in warm water with a mild detergent. This will remove any oils and finishes from production that may keep it from being fully saturated with the dye. If you’re ready to dye right away, leave it damp. It will absorb the indigo more fully.
If you’re starting with a clean, dry piece of cloth, wet your fabric fully in the sink and let it sit for about twenty minutes before squeezing all of the excess water out.
Step One: Protect your surface with cardboard or a plastic tarp. Prepare your indigo vat by filling your container with 4 gallons of warm tap water. Then add your indigo powder, thiox, and soda ash to the warm water and stir until dissolved. Be sure not to splash as you stir as you don’t want to introduce more oxygen into the dye vat.
Stir in a circular motion, and then reverse the direction and graze the edge of the container as you go. This will encourage all of the foam to gather in the center. Cover the vat and let it settle for about 30-40 minutes.
Step Two: The vat will have a blue shimmery surface but will look green underneath. You can see the indigo foam in the center but it needs to be scooped out and set aside (you’ll add this back in if you want to save the vat for another day or two) so that it doesn’t leave uneven dye spots on your fabric. Use your bowl to carefully scoop it out without disturbing the vat too much.
Step Three: The cut of your fabric will depend on the pillow size you land on. You’ll need one panel to measure exactly as tall and wide as the measurement of your pillow and a second panel that is just as tall but at least 10″ wider. My pillow was 20″ x 36″ which is a standard king size sham, which means the front panel would need to be 20″ x 36″ for a snug fit, and my back panel would measure 20″ x 46″. I wanted to dye one individual cut of fabric instead of cutting out my panels before hand, so I cut my drop cloth to measure 20″ x 82″.
Then I folded it in half so that the short ends came together. The above photo is of a different measurement but the process is the same. I also dyed my excess pieces of drop cloth canvas in a similar manner since dyeing a handful of fabric at once is the most resourceful way to use the rest of your indigo vat while the pH levels are balanced.
Step Four: For this pattern, you’ll want to start on the short end that is folded and fold it under about 4″. Place the non-hinged clothespins so that they are evenly spaced or leave a gap between two groups, depending on your preference. These will be creating the dash patterns on your pillow.
Step Six: For the third accordion fold, add the clothespins with hinges and space them a little closer together. If you place them over your fold as far as they will go, you will get a four dot pattern once it is opened up. If you place the end of the clothespin closer to the edge, you will get a two dot pattern. Continue an even accordion fold, and then on your last fold, add in a few of the leftover unhinged clothespins for more dashes.
Step Eight: Your indigo vat should be ready to use by now. So take the lid off and scoop the indigo foam, or the flower, off of the surface and set it aside.
Step Nine: Put your gloves on and gently dip your fabric down into your vat. Be careful not to splash it around and don’t bob it up and down. This kind of jostling in and out of the water will introduce more oxygen into the vat and upset the pH balance—rendering your vat less effective.
Step Eleven: With your gloved hand or a dowel rod, gently press your entire bundle of fabric under water. Then gently massage it under water with your gloved hands so that the dye can reach between the folds and saturate it, but be careful not to disturb your clothespins. Leave the fabric in the vat only as long as it needs to become saturated, maybe two minutes.
While it’s true the longer you leave it in the dye, the darker it will get with other types of dye, indigo operates differently. You achieve darker colors with multiple dips into the vat with oxidization occurring in between dips.
Step Twelve: Gently pull your fabric out of the vat with one hand without letting it drip and splash in the vat. The trick is to hold the bottom of the fabric just below the surface while the excess dye drains down and then squeeze the bottom of the fabric as close to the surface as you can before pulling it out. I like to have another plastic bin or a tarp available to rest it on as soon as I’ve pulled it out. You can see here that the fabric is a mix of greens and blues.
Step Thirteen: Place the lid back on your vat to let it rest for at least 20 minutes before you dip your fabric again. Then spread your fabric out on a tarp, the grass, or in my case, a bush to make sure all parts of your fabric can be oxidized without actually pulling any clothes pins off. If you leave it bundled up like step twelve, the larger parts that don’t oxidize will stay green and then later look like a blotchy area when you open it up all the way. I learned this the hard way!
The trick is to gently open up the folded parts in between one clothespin and the next without disturbing them so the oxygen can hit that space. Then move on to the next space. It can feel tedious but makes for a much more beautiful pattern. Leave it to sit for about 5 minutes.
Indigo will dry a shade or two lighter than it looks at this point. If you’d like a darker shade, repeat steps 9-13 one or two more times WITHOUT REMOVING YOUR CLOTHESPINS. Let your fabric oxidize between each dip for about 20 minutes. Once you’re happy with the color, remove all of your clothes pins to unfold your fabric to reveal the pattern! Wash your fabric in cool water with a mild detergent. I suggest this kind to ensure your indigo doesn’t rub off on your bedding.
If you’re happy with a lighter shade, go ahead and wash your fabric after it has oxidized the first time in cool water with a mild detergent as mentioned above.
Return your indigo foam (indigo flower) to your vat. If your water is still green under the surface, you can continue to use your vat. If it has turned blue, it is no longer pH balanced and can be discarded. It’s safe to pour this down the drain once it’s expired, but if it hasn’t and is still able to dye, don’t let it sit in your sink or it will dye your sink (or concrete, sidewalk, etc.) No fun!
Stitching Your Pillow
Step Fifteen: Cut your back panel into two pieces. One should measure 20″ x 14″ and the other should measure 20″ x 32″.
Step Sixteen: Fold one of the long edges on your 20″ x 14″ panel in about 1″ and then fold it in another 1″. Iron flat and pin every 4″ or so. If you have a seam on any of these pieces, be sure you’re folding your new hem in to the side where the seam is showing. The side where you can see the fold of your hem and the seam is the wrong side of the fabric.
Step Seventeen: Close up.
Step Eighteen: Stitch down that hem so that you’re stitching close to the inside fold. Back-stitch at the beginning and end to keep it from unraveling any. Repeat steps 16-18 with the short edge of your other back panel.
Step Nineteen: Place your longer back panel on top of your front panel so that the right sides of the fabric are facing each other. This means the side with the fold of your hem showing should be facing you. Be sure your edges and corners are flush on the un-hemmed side. Then place your smaller back panel so that it’s flush with the opposite edge. They should overlap by a few inches. I’ve folded it back a little so you can see how they should lay. Pin along the perimeter of your pillow case.
Step Twenty: Stitch along the perimeter of your pillow case so that you leave about 1/4″ of space from the edge. This is called seam allowance. You’ll stitch over the places where the two back panels overlap. It’ll be thicker there, so go carefully unless you’re using a denim needle on your machine. Remove your pins.
Step Twenty-One: Fold your pillow case right side out and iron for crisp seams.
You can see the difference in all three binding patterns above. The dashes are from the hinge-free clothespins, the four dot pattern is when the full clothespin was fastened on the fabric, and the two dot pattern is when only the end of the clothespin was fastened on the fabric.
Don’t you just love the depth of color! Experimenting with pre-reduced indigo can produce some incredible textiles, and as much as I loved dyeing these napkins and this duvet cover with this synthetic blue dye, I’m officially hooked on this process. It’s an easier version than fermenting your own and working with lye, which can be dangerous if not handled properly, but it still offers gorgeous results! Who is ready to dye everything within reach? –Rachel