This series of posts is morphing all the time! I started out talking about painting silk fabric with mud in soy milk, and now I’m going to tell you what’s been happening with my efforts to dye with henna. Oh, well; that’s how things go!
In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy seeing this quick video I found on YouTube that shows a traditional use of henna commonly practiced, especially popular for weddings, along the coast of Kenya:
For more about Mehndi, a lovely cultural celebration of body and spirit, see Wikipedia.
OK, so my friend Charu said I should try dyeing with henna. I got a packet of that and saved up leftover coffee for a couple of days, then mixed the two together and set about dyeing a new set of fabrics. Now, remember, I am over-dyeing a set of fabrics that did not dye well, so the pieces I am working with are already a nasty pink. I’m determined to transform them into the fabrics of Africa.
Poorly dyed pink silk dupioni
With Jonny’s help–he twisting and me tying–I managed to tie up a couple of pieces of fabric to make some tie-dye effects. One piece I wetted, scrunched up and tied into a ball, and the other one I folded on the bias and then we twisted, twisted, twisted as I wrapped the length of the fabric with some old metallic thread I had left over from years ago, the kind of thing I would not use today. It did the job, though!
The first thing I learned is that henna is a bit tricky to handle. It’s a greenish powder, rather fine, so if you have allergies as I do you probably won’t want to breathe the stuff.
I mixed about half the packet of henna I had with a small amount of water in my dye basin, and worked hard to stir them together. The henna clumps, a bit like flour in hot water, so I had to stir too much! Anyway, I got through that part of it, then added a good deal more water to complete the dye bath. To that, I added my leftover coffee and some of the coffee grounds, then in went the fabric. For good measure, I threw in the iron!
Periodically throughout the day, I shifted and stirred the loose fabric, hoping to avoid blatant splotching and result in a smoother dye take-up. I’m too busy and disinterested and stand over my dye baths, so I often get bits of cloth that look weird and out of place, but never mind that; this is Africa!
Henna, coffee and iron dye bath with fabric
So, my fabrics sat in the dye bath all night. This morning, I pulled them out and had a good look. Not bad, but I was not entirely satisfied. There was a splotch on the loose fabric that had gone REALLY dark, and I liked the look of that color more than I did the rest of the fabric. That caused me to think that perhaps I had not used enough henna. So, I reached for the packet and began mixing some water into what henna remained.
Fabrics halfway through this dye job
Not too stupid, I finally figured out that this job would go easier on everyone if I used an electric blender, so I switched the mess to that and in seconds I had a lovely smooth henna paste to add to the same dye bath. When I took the photo of the pieces of cloth out of the bath, I added in the rest of the henna and gave the bath a good stir, then plunked the fabrics right back into it. They will sit for another day and night, and I’ll let you know how they turned out in the next episode. Stay tuned!!
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