Indigo Jewel Box Quilt

I feel like a “real” artist! I hand dyed all the fabric for this quilt myself.

I bought an indigo dyeing kit, and went to work in my back yard – where I could safely knock over the dye vat (read 5 gallon bucket) without turning my kitchen floors blue.

I highly recommend giving this technique a try. It’s not expensive, fairly simple to do, and requires little equipment. I’ll warn you though, it’s addictive! This first time was more experimentation than anything else. But I do I have fond memories of the last time I dyed fabric way back at Camp Mokule’ia in Waialua, Hawaii in the sixth grade, and it involved rubber bands and t-shirts with the Captain and Tennille singing Love Will Keep Us Together on the local FM station in the background – obviously some time ago! May I say a good time was had on both occasions!

But as a result of experimenting, I used every technique presented in a book by Nicola Gouldsmith, called Shibori, The Art of Indigo Dyeing. I wanted to try it all! Next time around, I will concentrate on one or two techniques so that the results are a bit more predictable for use in something as large as a quilt. Check out Nicola’s book – she makes the whole process very accessible and includes 25 projects you can make, ranging in size and difficulty. But I’m a quilter, so I ignored all her advice to start small. I couldn’t help myself.

I bought an indigo dye kit from Amazon, and the package came with excellent step-by-step directions from mixing the dye to how to dip the fabric into the 5 gallon bucket I used as a dye vat, to how to hang it to dry. I used white cotton fabric I bought from my local quilt shop, Bella Solids in Snow – I started with 5 yards, but I wish I had bought more (never fear I’ve already bought another dye kit and more fabric). I cut the fabric into roughly quarter yard lengths just so they would be easier to work with.

Interestingly, when you first dye the fabric and pull it out of the vat, it’s actually green! It doesn’t turn blue until it gets into the air. Luckily both the book and the directions mention this fact or I would’ve been shocked.

The quilt itself is traditional block called Jewel Box, and often is seen with vivid colors with a black background. Never one to do a quilt exactly as tradition would suggest, I gambled that the indigo was a dark enough blue to contrast with the white I used as a background, and I think it worked out alright.

I did wash and dry the fabric after I dyed it, but when I washed the completed quilt, my sweet lemon colored binding turned a stomach-turning chartreuse… I should’ve used a color grabber, but since I had already washed the fabric I wasn’t worried about it fading. I was wrong! Live and learn. But having said all that, I’m not enthusiastic about ripping off that binding and redoing it.

For the quilting I stayed with something very simple – I did a gentle wave down the whole length of the quilt, and varied the distance between lines because I thought that would add interest and movement. Ha! Just kidding, I varied the distance because I didn’t want to mark the whole quilt at exact intervals and then have to stay on those marks… you know the old adage “If you make a mistake once it’s a mistake. If you make it twice it’s a design choice”! That attitude just makes the whole quilt making process more fun and less stressful. So yes my quilted lines are meant to be at irregular intervals!

I said at the beginning this project made me feel like a “real” artist. And it did – I got to control the whole process. From color to design to finished quilt. I purposely used a “traditional” block though – they are in the public domain, meaning not copyrighted. I can’t step on anyone’s toes, or mess with someone else’s creative hard work, if I use the block how I want. I am a bit unsure of myself in the design arena, so it’s easier for me to take a traditional block and tweak the layout or usual colors, than to try to come up with a totally unique design. But this process was inspiring, so maybe I can push myself towards making my own pattern designs. Remind me later I said that, when I chicken out.

Hmmm. I just had a thought. Perhaps it was the royal blue backing fabric I used that bled, and not the indigo. Whatever, doesn’t matter. I’m beginning to love chartreuse.

I did leave one of the dyed panels uncut – this one is just to pretty to chop up and make into a quilt block. So I hemmed three sides and make a small rod pocket at the top and turned it into a wall hanging. It’s about 12″ x 20″.

I had a few pieces of fabric remnants that were mostly white, and I was concerned they did not have enough contrast to translate into a quilt block well, so I made a little pig with the left overs. This is a vintage Simplicity pattern that I had copied and reduced by 50% – the original pattern makes an impractically large pig. He has safety eyes so if my grandson wants to play with him, it should be fine. And how about that pipe cleaner tail!

I wonder if I could grow indigo on my farm?

I appreciate your time! Thanks for reading and keep on stitching!


3 thoughts on “Indigo Jewel Box Quilt

  1. Absolutely beautiful! I would like to try this when the weather warms up enough here.
    1. How warm out do you think it needs to be? (50s during the day here now)
    2. Which dye kit on Amazon did you get? The $56 natural dye one?
    3. Perhaps some Retayne along with color sheets would help?

  2. Hey Pat – I’ll answer here, but also send you an email in case you don’t get a notification from WordPress to look here.
    1. I think it needs to be in the 60s outside to get the darkest color. Maybe cooler if you could bring the dye vat inside at night. I will double check both the book I referenced and the box of my dye kit when I get home and will see if they say anything different.
    2. I got a kit from Jacquard. I just looked on Amazon and the exact kit I bought is no longer available – other Jacquard kits are though, and are cheaper than the $56 you mentioned – but that kit may have more equipment included.
    3. I’m willing to try anything! I don’t know about Retayne though – is it another kind of sheet or a liquid or powder? I’ll google it.
    Thanks Pat!

  3. Madame Artist well done!
    Very cool indeed. I like the chartreuse binding too, it really does look like you meant for it to be there! I wonder if it will disappear thru the years.
    Thank you for taking time to share and document, seriously the blog is inspirational! Xx, 29

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: