Hapazome - Leaf Dye

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Hapazome - Leaf Dye
Lately I have been getting feedback that the traditional natural dye methods that I have been experimenting with take too long. I am not really sure what to say to that. Processes take time and with time, the product becomes more valued and admired.  An analogy I would say is the process of making wine? The longer it ferments, the more robust the taste of the drink. Well, I was leafing (no pun intended!) through India Flint's Eco Colour Book (a wonderful gift from a generous friend) and found hapazome, or leaf dye in Japanese. Hapazome involves transferring the colours and the image of the plant material directly onto the fabric or a piece of paper. In this case, the dye is not "integrated" with the fibers but merely placed on the surface.

To be honest, it does look very pretty because plants such as the blue pea flower, or the red leaf hibiscus give bright colours. This was unexpected because I tried an immersive bath with red leaf hibiscus and I got an abysmal grey. With Hapazome, you can even lay out the plant material like a drawing and stitch over them with embroidery work like I have done here. Doesn't it look dainty? I'm very pleased with the result.

Natural dyes, hapazome and free motion embroidery by Agy

Will it last? 
I have used soya milk and alum to prepare the fabric before hammering away. Others have suggested using soda ash to mordant the fabric. Nevertheless, the colours will fade and the image will smudge if you transfer it to water. So, the suggestion is not to wash it at all. It works perfectly as a collage of colours to hang up in the living room. 

Workshop at The Green Collective SG

Hapazome is another way of transferring colour to different materials. As you can see from the picture below, the best part is you get to transfer the actual plant print too. On top of that there is the added advantage of relieving stress through pounding the leaves and flowers using a hammer or a stone.  It sounds very easy but there are a lot of tips and tricks that I will share with you at my workshop at The Green Collective SG. The workshop is happening on 19 May (2.30pm - 4pm).

Venue: The Green Collective SG, #01-26/27, OneKM Mall
Nearest MRT: Paya Lebar (Circle and EW Line), 8 minute walk from the station
Sign up link

Hapazome Leaf Dye Workshop

What is The Green Collective SG?
More than a dozen homegrown eco brands have teamed up to launch a multi-brand concept store on the first floor of OneKM Mall.  From April to 3 July 2018, visitors can look forward to shopping from a range of sustainable products, and participate in regular workshops ranging from making soaps, natural dyes and transforming upcycled textiles to handcrafted necklaces. Find out more here.

The Green Collective Singapore

Tips on Relieving Artist Wrist and Hand Pain

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Tips on Relieving Artist Wrist and Hand Pain

Stitch, stitch, stitch. I don't ever remember getting aches and strains from sewing, but when I was working on my piece, "A Walk in the Garden" a few weeks ago, my fingers, palms and wrists were starting to freeze up and I just couldn't continue stitching even though I had a deadline to meet. I googled and found that the name for this pain is "Repetitive Strain Injury, RSI". The pain is a result of the tendons becoming inflamed and in turn causes pain and stiffness in the joints, namely fingers and wrists.

The last time that I had felt this type of pain was when I was breastfeeding and  holding my baby. I had my arms in the same position for long periods without any rest. It had not occurred to me that other than taking breaks there were other things I could do to relieve the pain.

Many of you gave wonderful tips and I tried a few of them out.

  1. Take scheduled breaks - sometimes we forget to (guilty!), but this is very important even if you are in the flow of things. Taking a break not only gives your hands and eyes a rest, but it's a good opportunity to step back, look at your work and think how it can be improved. If you keep forgetting to take a break then set your alarm to ring at certain times of the day. One of my friends said that she has her computer to black out as a reminder for her to take a rest from her computer work! 
  2. Get an embroidery hoop holder - you might think that your sewing hand is doing all the work, but the one holding the embroidery hoop is also using some muscle! A good sturdy embroidery hoop holder will prevent you from straining your hands.
  3. Use wrist support - I have not tried this but according to a few friends, it works for them. The support is supposed to provide some compression and relieve the wrist of pain. 
  4. Exercise those muscles - it might sound counter intuitive but it's not. I followed these exercises by Dr. Jo (see video below) and with the right stretching and relaxation, my wrists were feeling much better. I think it is great that Dr. Jo also takes you through exercising the whole upper body too. My favourite is the monkey-like swinging! Thank you to Stella from Australia for sending this video to me.
  5. Hot pack or hot water bottle - another fave of mine especially before bedtime is just holding a hot pack / hot water bottle. It really relaxes those muscles. 

These tips can also be used to prevent the pain from happening as well. At the end of they day it is about being mindful of your body, what it can take and when to stop. What do you do to relieve or prevent wrist/hand pain? Tips are welcome!

Tips on Creating Botanical Prints

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Botanical prints with leaves. Natural Dyeing

What do the words "natural" and "eco" mean to you? Just like the word "sustainable", "natural" and "eco" can be interpreted differently depending on your beliefs and values.  To some people, natural means no chemicals.  Others may interpret it as being direct from the source and no industrial processing whatsoever. When I started my natural dye journey, I realised (as I had mentioned in this post) that the process is not at all as natural as people make it out to be. In comparison with synthetic dyes, however, the process is a lot gentler.  Perhaps, we should call it "botanical dyes" or "botanical prints" to avoid the misconception that the process is completely natural. What do you think?

The City Ramble, Citizen Farm

I definitely had a lot of queries regarding the "natural" part of the dye process during my "Reconnecting with Nature" dye installation over the weekend.  Many visitors did not know that chemicals are used in natural dyeing, and were also intrigued by the long process. In fact, I guess you could say that the only natural part is the dye source itself - not processed and no additives! It sparked very interesting conversations, and one discussion I clearly remember is one with a secondary school chemistry teacher, Gerald. He said that perhaps I should use solvents instead of water to extract the pigments. This is something worth investigating!

Citizen Farm Singapore

A Walk in the Garden

Before the City Ramble, we were given a tour of the venue, Citizen Farm. Sam, our guide for the afternoon, shared with us the farm's philosophy of challenging the way we eat and live.

"Instead of consuming industrially-produced food shipped halfway across the globe, we want our community to thrive on sustainable, safe, and locally-grown fresh food."

It was interesting to not only see greens thriving in an urban setting, but also the rearing of black soldier flies for the breakdown of food waste, and their research into aquaculture technology to raise fish and grow crops. I love how the farm incorporates the close-looped concept into its operations!

I got a chance to try out marigold, red leaf hibiscus and red cosmos from the farm. I purchased a small box of the flowers and got down to the dyeing.  Once the dye pots of the marigold and red leaf hibiscus were made, I got busy. I was amazed by the yellow from the marigold (right, image below)), but the red leaf hibiscus (left) was awfully disappointing.

Red Leaf Hibiscus and Marigold Natural Dye Pot

Tips on Creating Botanical Prints

After getting an intense yellow from the marigold, I decided to use them in botanical prints. I sprinkled them together with the red cosmos in the middle of a long sheet of fabric before rolling it up tightly around a pipe. The piece was steamed and then allowed to rest before over-dyeing with mango leaves. I finally hand-embroidered the piece with a variety of Wt 50 sewing threads (DMC and Gutterman).

Botanical Print - A Walk in the Garden
🍀A Walk In the Garden🍀
Magnolia and cosmos botanical print
Mango leaf dye
Hand embroidered
Textile waste
Approx 30cm x 120cm

After so many attempts in botanical printing, here are some of the tricks that I have applied.
  1. Metal conducts heat so a metal pipe gives you the advantage over a plastic or paper-made pipe. 
  2. Roll it up tight and I mean REALLY tight to get defined and clean prints of the flora.
  3. Cure it for as long as you can. I cured it for at least 3 days before unwrapping it. 
  4. If you look really closely at the print, you will notice that flowers tend to smudge a bit and I found it particularly so for the red cosmos.  Compare this with the leaves that I have been trying out (see video below). So if you would like something really defined then perhaps leaves will be your go to flora.
What are your tips? Do share below!

Thank you to ShopHouse and Co for inviting me to be part of The City Ramble 2018, and to Citizen Farm for providing their support and lovely venue.

Have you signed up for the workshop?

Botanical Printing of Clothes & Slowing Down

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Botanical Printing of Clothes & Slowing Down
It has been a long time since I last blogged. Christmas came, then it was the New Year, and immediately after that it was time to celebrate Chinese New Year.  On top of all that I was busy preparing for my upcycling and textile art workshops (have you seen what I have in store for you?) and collaborations.  I always try to remind myself to slow down, which brings me to the point of posting my tutorials. When I was known as Green Issues by Agy, I was posting DIY and upcycling / repair tutorials almost every week. The reason why I was doing this was that is what my wardrobe needed - it needed a revamp and I did not want to buy new clothing, and I also wanted to share it with everyone.  It was a lot of clothing to go through!

It then transitioned from upcycling into repair, and now I am at the stage that I don't see the need to be posting more of these DIY tutorials unless I have a need for it. I don't want to do the tutorials for the sake of doing it, or going out to buy a thrift item just to upcycle it. It would be such a waste. In fact I wrote about How to Upcycle to Complement Your Wardrobe.  Now I am focusing on my art and artivism, and if it adds value to my wardrobe then I will definitely use it.

Botanical print

My Natural Dye Journey So Far

Anyway, enough waffle, because I have been working on printing leaf dye onto my clothing. I have an organic cotton top from Thought Clothing and, with all the sweatiness in Singapore, it starts to go yellow. So I steamed the leaves directly onto the garment before overdyeing it with mango leaf dye. Finally, it was back to some handstitching with DMC embroidery thread. I must admit that I had very difficult time with the stitching because there was so much iron-on tear away stabilizer involved. Without the stabilizer I would have warped stitching in the jersey material, but it took so long to remove it!

Eucalyptus leaves

Botanical printed t-shirt

Botanical print - eucalyptus leaf
Immersion dye - mango leaf
Fabric - organic cotton (scoured, soya milk binder and alum mordant)
Embroidery work

Embroidered and botanically printed organic cotton t-shirt

How long did this take me?

Here is a breakdown:

  1. Scour and dry - 1 day
  2. Soy milk binding plus drying - 1 day
  3. Alum mordanting - 2 days
  4. Botanical print plus curing and drying - 5 days
  5. Immersion dye and drying - 2 days
  6. Embroidery work - 5 days
Total number of days spent was 16 days!

Natural Dye T-shirt

Is Dyeing Using Botanicals Difficult?

Since starting in early 2017, I would say a definite "YES!". I find it very difficult to predict the colours from the plants especially when nature changes over the year.  Different month, different colour. It is so complex, yet very satisfying when you see the result.  I find it hard to imagine what natural dyeing would have been like before the invention of synthetic dyes - I spent 11 days just on the dyeing of my t-shirt. I recently read this article on Turkey red process where fabric is taken through a laborious 25 day process with various organic matter including blood and dung!

Is it More Environmentally Friendly?

To be honest, I am not sure. I may be taking colours from nature, but I:

  1. Used soy milk that could have been drunk
  2. Used manufactured alum
  3. Used a lot of water, heat, and even the botanical print involved the use of cling wrap! 

I suppose the fact that I saved the t-shirt from the landfill is some sort consolation for me, but the important take home for me is the slowing down. It is so therapeutic, as I explained to Nova of Cultivate Central in this video.

What steps have you taken to slow down?

Be part of my natural dye journey at the City Ramble Design Trails - Process this weekend, 10 - 11 March at Citizen Farm.

Take part in my beginners natural dye workshop (in collaboration with GUILD) happening in May!

Craft it for the Cats - Help Save Singapore Cat Museum!

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Last year we welcomed a kitten, AJ, into our family. He was 6 months old and so tiny, and had been found abandoned with his siblings in a construction site. When we were deciding whether to get a pet, I had my reservations because I did not know how a cat would fit into my creating schedule. I had fabric, thread and yarn everywhere, and I did not have my own studio. My son had already told me that thread scraps are dangerous to pets, and I needed to make arrangements to accommodate the kitten. So before we formally adopted AJ, we had to cat-proof the whole flat. This meant putting up mesh on the windows to prevent him from leaping out from the 10th floor, and putting away all my art stash!

Sewing cat

AJ has settled into our home and he's now 2 years old. He loves to hop behind the sewing machine and lie there watching the needle move up and down. I think he likes the whirring sound of the machine. Other times he will play with the t-shirt yarn although there was one time I realised that he had run off with a ball of it and hoarded it under the sofa!

“Save the Cat Museum – 100 Days of Hope”
AJ was adopted from the Singapore Cat Museum, a volunteer-run sanctuary for rescued strays, and also an adoption centre to re-home the rescued cats.  They have been operating out of their current premises at Purvis Street, Bugis for close to 3 years but come June 2018, they will be forced to close down.  They are now hoping to find a new permanent home before then and they need our help!

Upcycling Workshop

Craft it for the Cats - Upcycle Your T-shirt into a Statement Necklace
So, I decided to host 2 workshops on 4th March, and 50% of ticket sales will be donated to the Cat Museum.  Learn how to turn old t-shirts into yarn, finger knit them into your own statement necklace, and at the same time help the Singapore Cat Museum. Sign up here.  Hope to see you all there!

Upcycle t-shirts into statement necklaces

This workshop is in partnership with CDL, Singapore Sustainability Academy and Taikensonzai. It is also part of the EcoBank 2018: Save Our Stuff campaign.

Update: We raised $357.95 for the kitties at The Singapore Cat Museum. If you would like to contribute financially to their work, please visit their website

You can be creative!

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Yes, you can be creative....and sew! That's what I believe in, and I have definitely seen it happen in my upcycling workshops. Last Saturday, we saw nine participants come together, learn how to use the sewing machine, share ideas and just create. It felt like Project Runway but minus the drama and divas (and of course, Heidi Klum)! Our youngest participant was 12.5 years old and she and her best friend were on a roll with their ideas.

Restyle Your Wardrobe Workshop - Upcycling

Here are a few before and after shots of the participants' creations.
Upcycling a dress to a skirt and tissue box holder
Upcycling a dress to a waistcoat

Here I am guiding one of the ladies with her transformation of a long cardigan into a cinched wrap top.
Upcycling workshop

If you are keen to join our next session of Restyle Your Wardrobe, stay tuned for the updates or sign up for my newsletter below.

Update - our next session is happening on 26th May 2018. Sign up here. 

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Thank you to Christine who helped out, and to FashionMakerSpace for the studio.