Standing in her spacious Marigny studio, artist Kate Beck brandished a wispy poncho the color of burnt sienna, embellished with swirls of blue and green.
“I always think of tie-dye as this spiral rainbow of color,” said Beck, waving her arm in a circle to demonstrate. “The Grateful Dead! That’s what we all think about tie-dye.”
Beck created the exquisite piece by using a centuries-old, Japanese tie-dye (tied and dyed) technique called shibori — a word that roughly means to bind and resist.
With the shibori method, artisans bind, stitch, fold or twist a piece of fabric before dyeing it, rendering distinctive patterns reminiscent of abstract art. Strings, rubber bands, wooden blocks, or even plastic wrap can be used during the design process. Shibori is traditionally characterized by indigo dye, but the technique can accommodate just about any color that comes to mind.
Today, Beck will display part of her collection at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, in the Contemporary Crafts section. In May, she’ll begin hosting monthly shibori workshops in the courtyard of her studio on 611 Port St.
When the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was founded 50 years ago, among the traditions organizers wanted to celebrate were second-li…
Artist Andrew Hoogvliets, who has been working with Beck for nearly 20 years, will demonstrate the steps.
“We hit it off when we first met,” said Hoogvliets, wearing a soft, indigo-dyed suit that he created. “I started at ground zero, so Kate taught me everything I know.”
With his hands protected by elbow-length rubber gloves, Hoogvliets plunged a white button-down shirt into a thick, bubbly concoction of zinc, lime and indigo.
“We have to dunk it, massage it and take it out,” Hoogvliets explained, rinsing the shirt in a small bucket of water. “You have to let it breathe for a few minutes, and then you can go back for another dip.”
Using a shibori technique, Hoogvliets folded the same shirt, clamped it between two triangular slabs of wood, and submerged it into the inky liquid. He then rinsed the garment, let it oxidize in the air, and repeated the steps two more times. The end result was a blue shirt with diamond shapes of a deeper blue.
Indigo dyeing is a process of building layers, and it can take anywhere from an hour to days, said Hoogvliets. The more often the fabric is dipped into the vat, and the longer it’s exposed to the air, the darker it becomes.
A native of Portland, Oregon, Beck studied textiles at the University of Washington in Seattle. But when the artist began creating shibori tie-dye items in the late 1980s, she wasn’t alone.
“Little by little, I noticed more artists were starting to produce shibori pieces,” she said. “Then the next thing you know, the digital prints came, and that ruined the whole fabric.”
Beck said the clothing market was flooded with psychedelic, 1960s-style tie-dye patterns, because manufacturers could quickly mimic the tie-dye process by printing the designs, rather than by using the complex bind-and-resist method.
“Our pieces are all done by hand, and they're one-of-a-kind,” said Beck.
Beck briefly stopped practicing shibori, because she couldn’t compete with the shibori-inspired apparel that was mass-produced in places such as China. But after shifting her focus to felting and printmaking, she reintroduced shibori into her textile repertoire.
Beck typically works in her sprawling two-story studio, which features 16-foot ceilings and exposed brick walls, but she sells her products in her French Quarter shop called Alquimie Studio (938 Royal St.; 206-579-5219). She also travels around the country for art shows.
“I'm always doing something new,” she said. “I'm always trying to evolve.”
What: Indigo dye shibori workshops
When: Saturday, May 4, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., followed by workshops on the first Saturday of every month
Where: Kate Beck’s art studio (611 Port St.; 206-579-5219)