The New Color Wheel Fabric Dyeing
A book review by Lauren Camp
As printed in Studio Art Quilt Associates, Spring 2001
I'm surrounded by 25 fat quarters, all shades of complex blues, browns, and rusts. The palette is rich, deep, and unusual - one of the many Katy Widger sequenced overdyes I have completed in the years since I got my hands on the original version of this book.
Katy is well known as a dyer of fabric, which she offers for sale at www.katyjanewidger.com. A quilter for more than 20 years, she has been creating all the fabrics for her work since 1981. Her recipes are consistently good, and her dye combinations reflect the stunning colors of her New Mexican desert surroundings. Her book, which details the steps in her process, is not for the faint-hearted. Katy is exceptionally good at explaining how and why things work, but she approaches it from a higher level of understanding than most beginners can grasp. I needed to experiment with other dye books, and understand the equipment and supplies before I could fully take advantage of her information.
Her new book details the basics, from color theory to setting up a dye studio. Katy works with metrics in her system of measuring, a system I was hesitant to adopt at first but, once tried, converted to with enthusiasm. In fact, there are a few suggestions in these pages that you won't often find in the other books, the most vociferous being her adamant use of salt in any dyeing procedure. Her Web site shows the difference between using and omitting salt from the recipe.
Within the book you'll find a full - and very persuasive - explanation of its chemical necessity.
The book follows a logical progression from a basic 12-step color wheel to gradation formulas for color and value. She gives variations for alternative dye combinations and recipes for solid, versus mottled, dyeing. For the new "millenium edition", she also delves into silk dyeing and sueded cottons. And her troubleshooting pages are clear, concise, and intelligent.
Having worked with this and her previous version rather extensively, I am now hooked on the sequenced overdye system. This comes at the back of the book, after you've worked your way through the basics. The process is time-intensive and requires organization, but the results each time are fabulous and the dye formulas endlessly variable. Each palette I've dyed is a work of art in itself. And to recreate any of the fabrics, Katy had worked up a mathematical formula that allows you to determine the amount and proportion of dye you'll need for the yardage you're dyeing.
I am exceptionally impressed with the experience and intelligence she brings to the process. The New Color Wheel Fabric Dyeing is the primer to have if you want to understand the hows and whys of dyeing. As with cooking, you need a thorough grounding in the basics before you can venture out and experiment. Katy Jane Widger had put together a fine, well-constructed book that teaches those basics and provides some wonderful variations. In the end, you'll find yourself with the understanding you need to make your very own fabrics.