TORRINGTON — Margaret Gumbs was considering what to do with her time when she retired — some day. Being a quilter and having studied interior design, she took the advice of her husband, Rodney, and turned a hobby into a new line of at-home work.
The Torrington resident, who works as a nurse, placed what she calls Maggie McFly Designs, on the website Etsy. She offers hand-dyed cotton yarn, hand-dyed cotton fabric, organic cotton “onesies” for infants, hand-dyed table décor, and ice-dyed clothing. She plans to broaden the scope of her offerings even more as her business gains traction.
“I began just by making a tie dye shirt for my husband, and also made one for my son. They loved them and encouraged me to continue and offer them for sale,” said Gumbs, who spends four days a week immersed in her new cottage industry.
Meanwhile, Rodney Gumbs calls himself the CEO of shipping, handling and delivery of the items to customers via mail or other means.
Gumbs creates what is known as tie-dye fabric and clothing, wildly colorful patterns on cotton that became all the rage back in the 1960s and 1970s when flower power, and love and peace signs permeated society rather than political discord. The unique clothing designs faded with subsequent generations but never really went away. Tie dye has has become popular again in recent years among young people and some elders, who want to relive their days of rebellion and counter-culture living, at least in the way they dress.
In “ice tie-dying,” the t-shirt, or whatever fabric one is using, is completely wet, then wrung out. The material being dyed is scrunched up and placed on a rack over the top of another container or dish. The more “scrunching”, the more chances of white peeking through. Said Gumbs, “The dye comes in a very fine powder form. When you apply it you need to wear a respirator mask so you don’t breathe it in.”
The container holding the item being dyed must be large enough to contain any liquids from the shirt. Gumbs then generously covers the fabric with ice. Crushed ice insures coverage of all of the edges without the risk of larger ice cubes sliding off right away. This step could be substituted with snow. The ice covered items must be left alone for six to eight hours or longer. The longer it sits, the more intense the colors get. The items must be rinsed until the water runs clear. Then, the item is allowed to dry.
The process of traditional tie-dye typically consists of folding, twisting, pleating, or crumpling fabric or a garment and binding with string or rubber bands, followed by application of dye(s). The manipulations of the fabric prior to the application of dye are called resists, as they partially or completely prevent the applied dye from coloring the fabric.
More sophisticated methods involve additional steps, including an initial application of dye prior to the resist, multiple sequential dye and resist steps, and the use of other types of resists (stitching, stencils) and discharge.
Unlike regular resist-dyeing techniques, tie-dye is characterized by the use of bright, saturated primary colors and bold patterns — spirals, mandalas (a geometric figure representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism), and the peace sign, as well as the use of multiple bold colors. The majority of tie-dye made today use these designs, and many are mass-produced.
The ice tie-dye designs that Gumbs creates are pleasantly free-flowing and almost replicate the works of avant-garde painters. The colors are vibrant with no predetermined patterns, only those that emerge somewhat serendipitously. Gumbs does carefully place the colored dyes in a container before the ice is added to avoid having certain colors bleed into one another and make what she calls “dirty” hues, such as drab brown.
“For instance, if you have purple and orange mixing together during the process, you might come up with a muddy brown, whereas if you have red and yellow melting into one another, you will produce a nice orange,” she said. “I need to be careful when I’m creating colors for fabric that quilters might use, because the pieces have to fit with their original color scheme. In that case, I might use only three or four colors to create, rather than seven or eight that I might use to create a shirt or pants.”
Gumbs was initially thrilled with the reception her designs met on Etsy when she launched in late August, although business slowed a bit in the following month.
“Things are starting to pick up again and I know it will take a while to get the word out and build the business,” she said. “I’m hoping we get some holiday traffic ... I believe the pants will eventually be a big seller. They are quite beautiful, different, chic and only cost $34 in various sizes. My reviews have been very positive thus far and I have had repeat customers.”
In her review, a customer named Colleen said, “Vibrant colors of dyed fabric. Exactly as pictured. Prompt shipping and delivery. After receiving my first order of hand dyed fabrics I made a second purchase. Another review read, “This is some of the most beautiful hand dyed fabric I have ever purchased. The colors are deep and rich.”
Some of Gumbs’ creations appear psychedelic; others, such as her cotton fabrics, resemble an Impressionist painting, blended colors exploding and delighting the eye.
“I guess this isn’t the best time to start a new business because of the pandemic,” said Gumbs, “and people not having the money they might ordinarily have to spend on such items. But I wanted to do it now and hope that as the economy comes back and people get more discretionary income, sales will build steadily. We will see where we are in a year. We may go to our own website to sell eventually, but being on Etsy works right now.”
Her prices are extremely reasonable given the effort and imagination it takes to create the items, as well as the quality of the workmanship.
“Not only is this a second job for me and something I can do when I retire in a few years, but I really enjoy it. It’s fun and exciting to make these pieces,” said Gumbs with a smile.
Oh, the Maggie McFly company name, “My nurse friends always called me that, so I thought it was a natural.”
Visit Maggiemcflydesigns on Etsy and get a eyeful of Gumbs’ uniquely colorful items for sale.