Thursday, 18 June 2015

Tie Dying with Becci, Maggie May and William too - a summer craft tutorial for children

Before you start - check with your adult helper where you can do your tie dying! Dye stains don’t come out, so do it outside if you can – a bit of dye on the grass is better than on the carpet or kitchen table.  

Wear old clothes and plastic or rubber gloves. And ask your adult helper to read the instruction with you (and to read technical bits at the end) before you start. 

We hope you enjoy tie-dying your own t-shirts as much as we do…
Becci, Maggie May and William

·        T-shirts – white ones are best but light colours can work
·        Fabric dye  
·        Salt
·        Water
·        Plastic bowl and an old wooden or plastic spoon for stirring
·        Old table (or plastic sheeting / oilcloth covering)
·       Adult helper
(Dye catcher for washing is also useful- see technical bits)


Put the t-shirts in cold water so they are wet all the way through. Squeeze most of the water out of the t-shirts. Open them flat then fold, roll or scrunch each one up in whatever style you like. 

We've showed you how to do a simple stripe - but we have more photos at the end for other patterns.

Fold or pleat your t-shirt neatly and use elastic bands or string to tie it up - we used 2 but you can add more if you want more stripes. Make sure they are tied really tight to stop the dye getting in where you don’t want it. Adults are great at this. 

Ask your adult helper to help mix up the dye in a plastic bowl.  Tell them to follow the instructions on the packet – you usually have to dissolve the dye in water and then add salt – don’t forget this bit - the salt makes the dye come out a strong colour and stops it fading too much.  

Stir the mixed dye well with an old spoon – we love using wooden ones as the dye turns the spoon a great colour.  

Put the tied up t-shirts into the bowl of dye. Use gloves and put them in carefully - don’t drop it in – it will splash dye everywhere and you don’t want it in your eyes! And use the spoon to push the t-shirts under the dye and to stir them. 

Leave the t-shirts in the dye for as long as the instructions say – some dyes take ages and ages to work, others are really quick. But don’t take them out early or the dye will fade too much when you wash them. 

When the time is up, ask your adult helper to carry the bowl of dye to the sink. Tell them to be careful not to spill any on the floor!  

Wearing gloves, take the tied up t-shirts out of the bowl of dye and put them in the sink. Turn on the cold tap but don’t put the plug in - just swish the tied up t-shirts around in lots of running water.  

When most of the spare dye colour is washed away, you can untie the t-shirts. Ask your adult helper to help if you can’t undo the knots or elastic bands. Keep swishing the t-shirts around in cold water until no more dye colour comes out.

This is the really exciting bit - when you get to see what your t-shirt looks like. Remember each one is supposed to look different so they won’t be exactly like ours. And they may look a bit bright at first but they will fade a bit when you wash them.

Finally put your t-shirts in the washing machine and ask your adult helper to wash and dry them so you can wear them. 

Other ideas - as well as the Simple Stripe, we also did a Spiral Twist which twists the t-shirt in a flat spiral pattern before tying. And Scumble - scrunching t-shirt up (little bits at a time) into a flat round shape, and Target - pinching the t-shirt from the middle into a cone and tying just like the stripes. There are lots of videos on YouTube to show you exactly how to do these.

More than 1 colour - put just part of your tied up t-shirt into one bowl of dye - lean it against the side of the bowl so you don't have to hold it for a long time. When it's had enough color, rinse it carefully but don't untie it. Then you can put the other part into another colour.  This is sometimes called dip dying.

You can also "over-dye" by putting your already dyed t-shirt into another colour. This Scumble t-shirt was made by dip dying half in orange dye and then half in blue dye for a long time to get strong colours, then putting the orange part into the blue dye just for a little while - it came out a brown colour. 

Have fun and experiment - the photo at the top of the page shows a t-shirt we tied in a different ways and dyed in lilac, orange and red colours.  

Technical bits 

Fabric dyes – you can use most fabric dyes that are soluble in water – just follow the instructions. Most use salt to fix the dye, but some specialist dyes use other fixatives so check before you buy. Cold water hand dye products like Dylon are great for first attempts – you can buy them at most supermarkets and fabric shops fairly cheaply; they come in pre-measured dosages and only need salt - but they can take a long time for the dye to take. You may want to distract the young dyers with a good film while the t-shirts soak. You can use special dyes for the washing machine too – but I don’t think the kids enjoy this as much as swishing the t-shirts around in the bowls! 

You should be able to do 4 or 5 kids t-shirts from a standard dye packet – but you must be able to fit them all in the bowl so they are fully submerged. If you can’t fit them all in, keep the dye for a second batch but the colour will be paler so try leaving in longer.    

Mixing and stirring - use old bowls and spoons, or ones you've bought for crafting - while home use dyes are safe to use if you follow the instructions, it's best not to use your current cooking utensils.

Supervision and help – depends on the age of the child, but even older kids will need help mixing the dye liquid as well as general safety supervision.  You may need to help younger kids fold and tie the t-shirts to get a good pattern – I usually do a few myself while “helping” them do one each – that way there are lots to choose from at the end – essential to prevent tears if one doesn’t work out! 

Initial washing instructions – between 40 and 60 degrees without detergent or fabric conditioner. This first wash helps fix the dye but I usually add in a Dye Catcher – also known as colour catcher – a small sheet of special paper fabric that catch spare dye in the wash. Also great for washing new denim and other non-colourfast clothes – you can buy it at supermarkets with the laundry products. Subsequent washes can be as normal for cotton t-shirts – but try not to wash at too high a temperature to preserve the colours.  

This tutorial has been adapted from an article written by me for the Creative Crafting magazine (Crystal Lady Designs), and published in June 2014. You can see the original article in the Creative Crafting online magazine (on page 54). 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

New Year - forget First Footing - go visit the Newly Weds

I'm jumping forward a few weeks to the end of the year to share some more unusual New Year's Eve traditions.

The Mari Lwyd, a Welsh Mumming tradition
It all started when asking my husband what he knew about Mari Lwyd as part of my Christmas tradition blog series. The Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare or "Gray Mary" in English) is a Welsh mid-winter mumming tradition, often used to celebrate the New Year but it traditionally took place anytime between Christmas and late January.

Small groups of well wishers would be accompanied by a person disguised as a horse, and would go from house to house and sing a traditional song challenge at each door, hoping to be invited in for food and drink.  Mari Lwyd could look rather gruesome as it included a real horse skeleton - although the one shown in this picture from the Material Cultures website has been decorated with pretty rosettes. 

My husband told me about another Welsh tradition he had once taken part in when staying with a friend of his in West Wales. It was the custom locally to visit the houses of anyone you knew who had been married during the year. But just like First Footing, you were not allowed to enter the house until the New Year. After spending a very festive evening in the traditional hostelries (ok the local pubs), the newly weds rushed off home just before midnight, so that they would be ready to welcome friends and family, and the odd visiting stranger or two.  Of course, depending on how may people you knew and how many weddings there had been that year, you could end up having a very long night....

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Wales.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Does Santa really live at the North Pole?

Dressed for the Cold - Bodleian Libraries' Shop
Legend and stories tell us that Father Christmas (or Santa) lives in the far North. Exactly how did St Nicholas from Turkey end up in such a cold place, nobody knows, but that hasn't stopped people telling the tale.

For example, Thomas Nast, a 19th century cartoonist, did a series of drawings showing Santa living at the North Pole. Nash also gave him a workshop for building toys and a large book filled with the names of children who had been naughty or nice!

And one of my favourite authors, J.R.R. Tolkein (The Hobbit etc) wrote Christmas letters and drawings to his children between 1920 and 1943, including this one of Father Christmas dressed for the cold at the North Pole.

Many countries lay claim to be the home of Santa - well, the Artic Circle does cross many borders after all. In North America, letters to Santa are addressed to The North Pole, although the US uses an actual city in Alaska called The North Pole, and Canada uses the postcode H0H 0H0 - which is brilliant. And of course he has lots of different homes in the Nordic countries too, especially as many people wonder how the reindeer can find lichen to eat at the real North Pole! Maybe it's part of his magic so we don't really know exactly where he lives.

Me, I like to believe he's at the real north North Pole - you know, the one marked by the intersecting longitude lines on the globe. Although we can't see his home - it is magically hidden - I know he's there.

Santa Envelope - Welsh version - The Old Button
I imagine his home to be warm and cozy, with lots of log fires and plenty of comfy chairs for enjoying hot chocolate and mince pies. There is a workshop where he and the elves still make traditional toys - although he's sub contracted the more modern stuff to the big toy factories in recent years; stables (and lots of lichen) for the reindeer, and of course a sorting office for all the letters....

Of course, you don't have to post your letter - my children always wrote handwritten letters and left them in envelopes on the mantlepiece for his magical helpers to collect. I've developed this tradition into a gorgeous wool envelope design, with the address hand embroidered on the front - we call him Sion Corn in Wales, and Pegwn Y Gogledd is Welsh for The North Pole.

But the elves reliably assure me that if you believe, your letter will get to Santa, whatever address or language you use.

Every Christmas Eve in our house, we track Santa with NORAD - well I say we, but it's mostly me. My husband and teenage kids may watch a bit, but I check every hour and watch all the video clips -  Christmas doesn't start for me without a glimpse of the man himself in his sleigh pulled by reindeer - with Rudolph leading the way. But although he does seem to set off from the North Pole, NORAD are very careful not to give away his exact location!

Norad Tracks Santa
Why does NORAD track Santa? This You Tube video explains how in 1955 a little girl called the the Continental Air Defence Command telephone number by mistake, and asked the colonel on duty if he was Santa. The colonel explained that he wasn't, but that he had radar that could track him.  And the rest is history.....  Norad starts getting ready to track Santa on the 1st of December, and the main event starts on Christmas Eve of course, but they do have a great trailer.

And what about those fantastic reindeer - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen - these are named in the brilliant The Night Before Christmas poem (originally called A Visit from St Nicholas). But what about Rudolph? Where did he come from? Apparently the story of Rudolph can be traced back to a specific author - Robert L. May, a cartoon - who created the idea of a misfit reindeer who saves the day for Santa on a foggy Christmas Eve, for a Christmas coloring book.... Or did he think it up all by himself? Maybe he saw Rudolph's flashing nose one Christmas.... and Santa asked him to tell the story....