Different symmetrical patterns will emerge, depending on the way you fold and dye your rice paper. Once the paper dries, get wrapping!
My love affair with dyeing happened suddenly, and took me by surprise. I’d been gifted an indigo dye kit, and one afternoon I decided to try it. I enjoyed the methodical process of setting up the dye bath and binding and tying the fabric. It was exciting to envision how the folds and shapes that I made would translate into patterns. This new way of working with dye seemed to combine everything that I love about making art: the meditative process, the unexpected patterns, and the deep, soulful colors the dyes can bring to a simple piece of cloth or paper.
There’s something satisfying and almost miraculous about teaching someone to dye for the first time. It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw or you’re not “crafty.” Almost everyone can wrap rubber bands around cloth and fold fabric with the same level of confidence. I’m always amazed in class as I watch students delight in their results and leave with the courage to move forward and experiment.
Dyeing also lends itself well to working together in groups, and the collaborative energy naturally leads to laughter and solidarity. This feeling of community and of finding success with a new craft is something that brings me back to teaching and to working with dye again and again. Gather together with friends and family, or even children, to try your hand at dyeing wrapping paper for gift-giving this new year. This calming, creative outlet is a great way to de-stress, while offering a personal touch to your gifts.
Make Your Own Orizomegami
For this colorful project, you’ll learn orizomegami, the Japanese art of folding and dyeing paper. I offer two variations of this project, which is an easy, versatile way to play with pattern and color combinations.
Make sure you have lots of extra rice paper on hand — orizomegami is so fun to make, you won’t want to stop once you start. Leftover sheets of paper can be used for collages, book art, or any other paper craft.
This orizomegami rice paper project can easily be modified in color or scale. Have fun experimenting with different folding techniques, or layering colors in a different order for totally new results. If you don’t live near a well-stocked craft store, these supplies can be easily purchased online.
- Newsprint or a dropcloth
- Clean rags
- 2 or 3 shallow plastic or glass containers
- Liquid watercolors in several different colors (I used Dr. Ph. Martin’s Radiant Concentrated Water Color in Ice Pink, Yellow Ochre, Tobacco Brown, and Violet)
- 36 sheets of 24-inch rice paper, or as many as desired
- Bone folder (optional)
Triangle Fold (Dyeing with 3 Colors):
1. Cover your work surface with large sheets of newsprint or a dropcloth. Have a jar of clean water and a pile of clean rags ready on your work surface. Add 2 tablespoons water to each of 3 shallow containers, and then 6 to 12 drops of liquid watercolor (depending on how saturated you want your colors) to the water in each, 1 color per container; I suggest experimenting with how much pigment you add to the water before you begin working on your project paper. Set the dyes aside.
2. Accordion-fold 1 sheet of rice paper lengthwise at 1-1/2-inch intervals; if it’s helpful, use a bone folder to help smooth the folds. Fold up the bottom corner of the paper to create a triangle. Continue folding back and forth until the entire sheet is stacked into a single triangle (see “Triangle fold” photo at right). Hold the folds of the paper in place with a clothespin.
3. Dip one of the long bottom corners of the triangle into your first watercolor (I used yellow), and hold it there until the color begins to absorb into the folded paper. Allow the paint to wick about 1 inch into the paper. Add more water and watercolor to the container as needed. Repeat with the opposite long bottom corner.
4. When the first color has absorbed, rotate the triangle, dip the short top corner into the next watercolor (I used violet), and allow it to wick into the paper as in Step 3. Remove the clothespin here, if you prefer.
5. Dip each of the three points of the triangle into the next watercolor (I used brown) one at a time, until the pigment begins to wick into and blend with the previous colors
6. Set the folded paper on a clean rag and allow it to dry slightly. Meanwhile, repeat the dyeing steps for the desired number of sheets.
7. Gently unfold the damp papers, being careful not to stretch or rip them, and hang them from a drying rack. You can also allow the papers to dry flat, placing each sheet between sheets of clean newsprint for several hours or overnight. Allow the papers to dry completely before wrapping gifts.
Rectangle Fold (Dyeing with 2 Colors):
1. Prepare this variation as in Step 1 of “Triangle Fold,” but use only 2 containers of watercolor.
2. Accordion-fold a sheet of rice paper lengthwise at 1-inch intervals, and then fold the paper into rectangles. Hold the folds in place with a clothespin.
3. Dip both short ends of the rectangle into one watercolor (I used pink), and allow the color to saturate the paper. Repeat with the next watercolor (I used violet). (See “Rectangle fold dye” photo at right.) Set the folded paper on a clean rag, and let dry slightly. Meanwhile, repeat the dyeing steps for the desired number of sheets.
4. Gently unfold the damp papers, being careful not to stretch or rip them, and hang them from a drying rack. You can also allow the papers to dry flat, placing each sheet between sheets of clean newsprint for several hours or overnight. Allow the papers to dry completely.
Dyer’s Kit at a Glance
If you love orizomegami and want to try your hand at other techniques, here’s a quick guide to the items I suggest having in your dyer’s kit. These tools should get you through any dyeing project!
- Safety gear
- Measuring and mixing tools
- Plastic and glass containers
- Newsprint and a dropcloth
- Rags and paper towels
- Resists (clamps, twine, rubber bands, etc.)
- Drying rack or clothesline
- Test material
- Soda ash
- Dyer’s salt
- Citric acid or vinegar
- Professional textile detergent
- Fabric and paper scissors
- Measuring tape or ruler
- Masking tape
- Permanent marker
- Iron and ironing board
Anna Joyce is an artist, designer, and author based in Portland, Oregon. This is excerpted from her book Hand Dyed: A Modern Guide to Dyeing in Brilliant Color for You and Your Home (Abrams Books). Visit her hand-dyed shop online.