Wabi Sabi Shirting

Our summer shirts have been hand-dyed with natural indigo and then screen-printed (also by hand). They’re all a little different. We love that. Here’s why.

It’s a lot of work to make fabric this way. A lot of hands and more than a few natural variables are involved. Each leaves its own imprint and those shade and texture variations are indicative of the process: an extra layer of dye, a windy drying day, an older screen for printing, or a firmer pair of hands pushing the ink through it.

Comparing these textiles to industrial manufacturing with its synthetic indigo and digital printing and it’s totally inane goal of total uniformity is comparing apples to oranges, firstly. Secondly, we like oranges, but we don’t want to eat the same orange every time.

So here’s how these shirts got made, and all the ways you can see the process in the shirts themselves. Wabi-sabi may have worn a bit thin, but here it is.

Natural indigo is a living fermentation, like kombucha, and must be ‘fed.’ Each vat gives a different shade and the 1st dip will look different than the 100th. The dye is applied repeatedly  to build up more layers of surface pigment, hang drying and oxidizing each time. Extra layers of dye? Shade variation. Fabric folds over itself while oxidizing? Shade variation.

Those layers of surface pigment give indigo its special, deep color. They rub off quickly as you wear it, and the first wash is a doozy for color change. We pre-washed these shirts so 1) they’re a little more ‘what you see is what you get,’ 2) there’s less chance you will ruin the light colors around you and 3) you won’t shrink the shirt much if it accidentally ends up in the dryer.

Our silk screens and block prints were hand made, so no two are identical. An older screen or block will ‘leak’ more ink around the design’s edges and maybe smudge a little here and there. The screens repeat: one person lines it up a centimeter too close, another a centimeter too far. This creates little gaps or overlaps.

We love this stuff, and we want to be upfront about what it is (hand-made, slightly feral) and what it is not (industrially uniform). If you get one and you are not entirely satisfied, let us know and we will try to make it right.