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Ombre Craft Projects

Martha Stewart Living, May 2008

In the lexicon of Proust and Monet, ombre means "shaded." In the decorative arts vocabulary, it fittingly refers to a historic method of dyeing fabric that renders subtle gradations of color from light to dark. An offshoot of a European weaving process, ombre has adorned pre-Civil War quilts and furniture textiles, Victorian-era ribbons and trims, and even -- in a wilder moment -- 1970s disco wear. In recent years, the technique has taken a sophisticated turn, appearing in all manner of fashion.

Ombre's true versatility and beauty -- then and now -- lie not just in its application but also in its inexact outcome. The resulting depth of tones ensures that each project takes on an impressive, shadowy life of its own. This is perhaps best revealed in these serene, sleek designs, suitable for any contemporary domestic space.

The gentle progression of color in ombre suggests the transition from wakefulness to slumber, especially in soothing shades of blue. The headboard slipcover and the matching pillowcases are shrouded in sky-blue linen that's dyed a deeper, sea-inspired tone, embodying the spare beauty of a monochromatic palette.

 

Not just for fabric, ombre can also be achieved by misting multiple coats of a watercolor solution onto paper items, such as a hanging lantern and rice-paper hurricane covers. Soft reddish-orange tones bring the luminous glow of daybreak to any room, at any hour. The rose-tinted paper takes on an even richer, more nuanced cast when illuminated from within.

A quartet of dyed linen panels creates a captivating minimalist display. All four works of art share a pale-blue base, yet each stands boldly independent given its overlay of color. The resulting variations attest to ombre's imprecise, delicate nature. On the bench, a canvas tote becomes a vibrant accessory.

Dyeing basic linens, whether new or those already in your collection, is a fresh, inspired tactic for renewing the dining table with festive or seasonal colors. Shades of coral embellish a napkin and a coordinating rice-paper place card, echoing the nearby anemone blossoms.

Bolsters and square pillows dyed to be a complex range of earth tones, including sage, chartreuse, and olive brown, brighten a neutral room, creating a lush palette that matches the painting. Two base fabrics in muted teal and robin's-egg blue broaden the array of colors.

Dyeing Fabric
White or tinted yardage and premade items work well for these projects. Look for all-natural cloth, such as cotton or linen, that is not water-resistant or permanent-press. (Wool requires a different dyeing process.) Machine-wash separately; iron as needed. Keep in mind that the color will fade with each laundering.

Tools and Materials
100 percent natural fabric
Professional textile detergent
Plastic drop cloths
Straight pins
Wide nonreactive bin
Basin or tub
Noniodized salt
Rubber gloves
Protective face mask
Fiber-reactive dyes
2 small nonreactive bowls
Nonreactive utensil
Soda ash fixer

Dyeing Fabric How-To
1. Machine-wash fabric in hot water with professional textile detergent. Machine- or air-dry.

2. Weigh fabric (the amount of dye solution you'll need to mix is based on fabric weight). If you don't have a scale, compare fabric with a T-shirt (about 5 ounces) or a pair of jeans (about 1 pound). Consult dye's label for instructions, or calculate the dye formula based on the following proportions.

For a 1/2 Pound of Fabric
1 1/2 cups noniodized salt
1 1/2 gallons warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons dye
1/6 cup (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) soda ash fixer

For 1 Pound of Fabric
3 cups noniodized salt
3 gallons warm water
1 tablespoon dye
1/3 cup soda ash fixer

3. Cover work surface and floor with drop cloths. Saturate fabric with water; wring it until no longer dripping. Smooth fabric. Decide how far dye will extend, and mark limit with straight pins on right and left sides of fabric. Divide area to be dyed into 5 even segments, and mark intervals with pins. (For specific folding and pinning instructions, see Project Variations, below.)

4. Position bin for dye solution near basin or tub. Dissolve salt in warm water in bin, according to formula. (Note: You'll want the liquid to reach a minimum depth of 4 inches.) Wearing gloves and mask (some dyes can be toxic), measure dye, and place it in a bowl. Add 1 or 2 teaspoons warm water, stirring with a nonreactive utensil to make a paste. Slowly add 1 cup warm water, and stir until dye dissolves completely and mixture forms a slurry. Add the slurry to bin, stirring until mixed. Measure soda ash fixer, and place it in second bowl; add about 2 cups hot water slowly, stirring until dissolved. (Avoid splashing, as fixer is caustic.)

5. Add the soda ash fixer mixture to the dye solution, mixing well for about 30 seconds. The solution will remain potent for about 1 hour and cannot be reused.

6. Place prepared fabric in dye solution, immersing it to the topmost pins; hold in place for 30 seconds. (The damp fabric will draw dye up, creating blurred gradations.) Raise fabric until solution's surface aligns with second set of pins; hold for 1 minute. Raise fabric to third set of pins; hold for 5 minutes. Repeat at remaining 2 pinned levels, holding for 5 minutes each.

7. Carefully transfer dyed fabric to basin or tub. Fill with cold running water, swishing gently to rinse. Drain. Repeat until liquid remains clear.

8. Machine-wash fabric in hot water with professional textile detergent. Machine- or air-dry.

Project Variations
Bedroom Pillowcases
If making your own, cut fabric 3 inches longer on all sides than pillow. Stack fabric for front and back pieces of 2 pillowcases, or stack store-bought cases. Pin through all 4 layers to mark shade levels. Dye as directed.

Headboard Slipcover
Cut fabric 6 inches longer on all sides than headboard. Lay rectangular fabric horizontally, and make 4 vertical accordion folds. Pin through all layers to mark shade levels, which should be parallel to short end. Fold down remaining fabric, and secure with binder clips to keep it out of solution. Dye as directed.

Tote Bag
Pin through both layers to mark shade levels. Secure handles with binder clips to keep them out of solution. Dye as directed; when using thick fabric, such as canvas, you may need to hold the fabric in dye longer at each level.

Napkins
To dye tops and bottoms, fold each napkin in half horizontally. Pin through layers to mark shade levels. Stack 2 pinned napkins, securing with binder clips at folded edges. Dye as directed.

Sofa Pillowcases
Cut fabric 3 inches longer on all sides than pillow. Fold in half to produce identical gradations at top and bottom or on both sides. For top and bottom shading, fold horizontally. For side shading, fold vertically. Pin through all layers to mark shade levels. Dye as directed.

Art Panel
Cut fabric 6 inches longer on all sides than stretcher bar. Follow sofa pillowcases how-to for top and bottom gradations. Dye as directed. Iron completed fabric. Attach it to stretcher bar using a staple gun

Art Panel How-To
1. Lay dyed fabric face down. Center the stretcher bar on top of the fabric.

2. Fold fabric over the left side of stretcher bar. Secure with 1 staple in the middle of bar. Repeat on the right side, pulling cloth taut. On the left side, staple once 3 inches to the left of middle; staple again 3 inches to the right of middle. Repeat on the right side, pulling cloth taut.

3. Continue stapling every 3 inches, alternating sides, until the left and right edges are secure.

4. Repeat on the top and bottom, starting in the middle and leaving 6 inches of fabric unstapled at both ends.

5. Working at 1 corner, tuck in unstapled fabric (as if you were wrapping a present) to create an edge flush with the adjacent, fully stapled side; pull taut, and secure with staples. Repeat at remaining corners.

6. Attach 2 eye screws on the back of the right and left sides about 1/3 from top. Insert a picture wire; hang.


Gentle Embrace

Soft, fine-spun silk scarves are an elegant and fitting medium for the delicate gradations of ombre. Muted pastels, such as robin's-egg blue and lemon chiffon, left and right, keep the hue as light as the fabric's texture, while more intense tones such as coral, center, create a bold, striking look.

Dye 100 percent natural, store-bought silk scarves, or make your own scarf.

Silk Scarf How-To
1. Cut a piece of silk charmeuse to 75 by 20 inches. Machine-wash fabric in hot water using the gentle cycle with professional textile detergent. Air-dry. Weigh fabric (the amount of dye solution you'll need to mix is based on fabric weight). If you don't have a scale, compare fabric with a T-shirt (about 5 ounces) or a pair of jeans (about 1 pound). Consult dye's label for instructions, or calculate the dye formula based on the following proportions.

For a 1/2 Pound of Fabric
1 1/2 cups noniodized salt
1 1/2 gallons warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons dye
1/6 cup (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) soda ash fixer

For 1 Pound of Fabric
3 cups noniodized salt
3 gallons warm water
1 tablespoon dye
1/3 cup soda ash fixer

2. Cover work surface and floor with drop cloths. Saturate fabric with water; wring it until no longer dripping. Smooth fabric. Fold in half lengthwise. Decide how far dye will extend, and mark limit with straight pins on right and left sides of fabric, pinning through all layers. Divide area to be dyed into 5 even segments, and mark intervals with pins. Fold down remaining fabric, and secure with binder clips to keep it out of the solution. 

3. Position bin for dye solution near basin or tub. Dissolve salt in warm water in bin, according to formula. (Note: You'll want the liquid to reach a minimum depth of 4 inches.) Wearing gloves and mask (some dyes can be toxic), measure dye, and place it in a bowl. Add 1 or 2 teaspoons warm water, stirring with a nonreactive utensil to make a paste.

4. Slowly add 1 cup warm water, and stir until dye dissolves completely and mixture forms a slurry. Add the slurry to bin, stirring until mixed. Measure soda ash fixer, and place it in second bowl; add about 2 cups hot water slowly, stirring until dissolved. (Avoid splashing, as fixer is caustic.)

5. Add the soda ash fixer mixture to the dye solution, mixing well for about 30 seconds. The solution will remain potent for about 1 hour and cannot be reused. Place prepared fabric in dye solution, immersing it to the topmost pins; hold in place for 30 seconds. (The damp fabric will draw dye up, creating blurred gradations.)

6. Raise fabric until solution's surface aligns with second set of pins; hold for 1 minute. Raise fabric to third set of pins; hold for 5 minutes. Repeat at remaining 2 pinned levels, holding for 5 minutes each. Carefully transfer dyed fabric to basin or tub. Fill with cold running water, swishing gently to rinse. Drain. Repeat until liquid remains clear. Machine-wash fabric in hot water on the gentle cycle with professional textile detergent. Air-dry.

7. Cut dyed fabric into 2 pieces, each 71 by 8 inches. Pin together, right sides facing. Sew together using a 1/2-inch seam allowance; leave 1 short end open. Trim excess from corners, and turn scarf right side out. Hand-sew open end; press.

Ombre Color Blends
To re-create the hues in our ombre projects, follow these color-blend recipes. Each corresponds with a sample strip shown in the photo. (Note: The three green strips at right -- F, G, and H -- feature the same green dye applied to different fabrics.) Mix the powdered dyes together well, and then measure the amount needed for the dye-solution formula, as indicated in the "Dyeing Fabric" instructions. The color names mentioned below are specific to Dharma Fiber-Reactive Procion Dye

A. Used for an art panel and the canvas bag; napkin; and a silk scarf:
1 part Soft Orange 1 part Marigold 2 parts Jungle Red 3 parts Coral Pink


B. Used for bedroom pillowcases and headboard:
1 part Orchid 1 part Cobalt Blue 2 parts Lilac


C.Used for an art panel and sofa pillowcases:
Seafoam

D. Used for an art panel and sofa pillowcases:
Chocolate Brown

E. Used for sofa pillowcases and a silk scarf:
Citrus Yellow

F, G, H. Used for an art panel; sofa pillowcases; and a silk scarf:
1 part Marigold 1 part Orchid 2 parts Citrus Yellow 4 parts Jade Green 4 parts Seafoam

Sources
Fiber-Reactive Procion dye in Seafoam (PR85), Jade Green (PR50), Citrus Yellow (PR97), Marigold (PR67), Orchid (PR64), Lilac (PR19A), Cobalt Blue (PR22), Jungle Red (PR45), Soft Orange (PR5), Chocolate Brown (PR35A), and Coral Pink (PR14); from Dharma Trading, 800-542-5227.

Dyeing Paper
Tools and Materials
Nontoxic watercolors in tubes
Fine-spray cosmetic bottle
Plastic drop cloths
Protective face mask
Lantern or paper

You'll need to mix a 1/2-ounce tube of watercolor and 1 cup of water in a bowl, stirring thoroughly. (Use less water for thin paper.) Pour the solution into a spray bottle. Cover work surface and floor with drop cloths; wear a mask.

Hurricane Cover
Measure a hurricane lantern's height and circumference; use a rectangular piece of rice paper with dimensions larger than height and circumference. Hold bottle 12 inches from paper; apply a light, even coat to 3/4 of paper. Let dry. Apply a second coat to 1/2 of paper. Let dry. Repeat, creating more gradations where desired.

Lay dyed paper face down on a piece of white paper on an ironing board. Set iron to medium heat with steam function off, and press. Cut the paper a few inches taller than lantern's height and a 1/2 inch wider than circumference. Wrap paper around lantern. Fasten overlap with double-sided tape.

 

Hanging Lantern
Unfold the lantern. Put a piece of paper inside to cover bottom hole; hold paper in place with lantern's metal support. Balance lantern, bottom side up, on a large bowl. Hold bottle 1 to 2 feet from lantern; apply a light, even coat to 3/4 of lantern, walking around lantern. Let dry. Apply a second coat to 1/2 of lantern. Let dry. Repeat, creating more gradations where desired. Remove paper inside lantern; hang.

Comments (6)

  • jamiedaniele22 17 Nov, 2010

    Has anyone made the dyed linen panels with ombre dye technique.

    I don't know how to do the dyeing in order to get the seafoam/blue bands in the center and then have the color on the top and bottom of the panel.

    Do you dye the entire panel blue and then dip the ends in the color? Or what is the method?

    Thanks!

  • rocknrobin704 10 Jun, 2010

    Personally I love to use silk pillows. I also love sleeping on silk pillowcases they are so soft

  • ElyseLucie 17 Sep, 2008

    Find the dyes, soda ash fixer, and supplies used in the project at Dharma Trading: www.dharmatrading.com They also have helpful instructions on their website. They have an 800 number too.

  • shesa5girl 29 Aug, 2008

    Glass hurricane lanterns can be purchased at Pottery Barn.

  • blkbttrfly71 8 May, 2008

    www.asianimportstore.com has lanterns for .55

  • IheartMartha 25 Apr, 2008

    Love the project idea but does anyone know where to find these hurricane lanterns? They seem like simple glass spherical lanterns but all the ones I've found have been too ornate.