Needle in hand, Amelia Poole hunches over a folding table in the small back room of her Brooksville studio on a chilly winter morning. The heating system sputters and grinds as a nearby window floods the fabric in her hands with light, bringing into sharp focus hundreds of delicate, patterned stitches, gathered bunches and winding string.
This isn’t your typical summer camp tie dye. Not even close.
“I cringe at the word tie dye. It has so many connotations,” she says. Each of her “crazy-looking sculptural pieces” of stitched, bound, and pleated fabric can take upwards of 40 to 50 hours to make, so any comparison to kids with rubber bands, white t-shirts, and vats of synthetically colored water in every shade of the rainbow is definitely cringe-worthy. And that’s besides the 10 hours she spends dying and re-dying each piece in indigo to get a beautiful, lasting shade of blue.
Plus, this traditional Japanese form of “tying and dying” called indigo shibori is actually a 100 percent winter activity for Amelia. She spends her summers wandering Maine roadsides for the perfect plants to wrap her fabrics around and steam them — a form of botanical contact printing that she’s better known for. Eco-printing, she calls it.
But there are no fresh, green plants along the Maine roadside in winter and “we have six months of winter here, so what do I do then?” she asks with a gesture around her and a laugh.
When Amelia first saw indigo at a linen preparation workshop she attended over 20 years ago, it was love at first sight.
“When I first saw it I thought, ‘Oh, wow. This is magic. I need to do this,'” she says. She immediately went home and started dying yarn — turning her hands blue in the process. And other people, too, she joked, as her first batches rubbed off on the people handling them. “Luckily indigo in its blue form washes off!”
Indigo is an odd dye in the sense that it starts blue, but should be a yellow-green color in the vat when it’s properly prepared. And then, when fabric emerges from a dip in the solution and is exposed to oxygen, the dye begins to slowly darken from yellow to green to turquoise and, ultimately, that recognizable blue. All right before your eyes.
“It’s absolutely magic,” Amelia says. “I’m still excited every single time I bring something out of the vat and I’ve been dying with indigo for over 20 years.”
The part of the process that causes her the most anxiety — and relief — is the big reveal. Amelia will carefully remove all those stitches, hours of work, to reveal the intricate patterns underneath. Cloth is malleable, she says, so not everything always goes exactly as expected.
“Even if it’s not exactly what I thought it’s still beautiful,” Amelia explains. “I do it because I love it. I mean love in the strongest sense of the word.”
“I’m excited to wake up and do what I’m going to do that day. Every day.”