Tuesday, November 23, 2010

> Language > Place - for Wednesday 15th December 2010

Dyeing for it
by Matt Potter

I do not know how many t-shirts I own, because I own so many. Some are in boxes in my mother’s garage in Adelaide, some are in boxes in a storage facility (also in Adelaide), and still others – some on high and some on low rotation – hang in a wardrobe in what is referred to as the spare room, the back room, Matt’s room and Map’s room, again in Adelaide. (My partner’s grandchildren – my step-grandchildren, two and three years old – call me Map.)
This room is in my partner’s home.
One reason I have so many t-shirts is that, having lived through seven summers in a row – southern summer, northern summer, southern, northern, southern, northern, and now southern again – I’ve had constant need of a few t-shirts.
Many of them are Bonds t-shirts, 100% cotton – Bonds is a household name in Australia – and actually made to wear as underclothes but bought by me, and some others, to be worn out, and were originally white. And all of them, the white ones, have been dyed other colours – orange, red, yellow, blue, purple, pink, green, even brown – in different shades and designs, most plain but some quite intricate.
They take the dye perfectly.
I’ve been dyeing for years. It’s a shortcut to creativity and it’s almost instant – truly, you just add water! – and on a day that’s dry and windy enough, the t-shirt is dyed, washed, and on the street in just a few hours. (Once, years ago, I almost blew up my parents’ new verandah following my dyeing muse, but that, leider, is another story.)
In Australia I favour Dylon dyes – an hour in hot, hot tap water, stirred a lot with added salt – and in Germany I favour Simplicol dyes, some of which I even ordered over the internet, auf Deutsch, which was risky. (What happens if I misunderstood the German and ordered a truckload of dye? I also first did this Deutsch internet-ordering while in Australia, so that they would arrive soon after I re-arrived in Berlin … again.)
These Simplicol dyes I’ve used in the frontloading washing machine, water as hot as possible, with lots of salt, and a bleach chaser. (The chaser is for the washing machine, not for the t-shirt or even for me.)
What I love most about these German dye-jobs is (1) there is a large range of colours to choose from, especially on the internet, and (2) I never look like anyone else in Germany when I wear them because they’re Bonds t-shirts, posted or shipped from Australia. So I can swan about Berlin feeling unique and gorgeous – few, few people in Germany wear anything more than dull, dull colours – and when back in Australia, I can swan around telling people I’m wearing t-shirts dyed using German dyes – deutsche Farben – on an Australian canvas (which is not just the t-shirt, but also me).
Some of these t-shirts are true trans-global warriors, having crossed between Australia and Germany and Australia and Germany a few times now.
I love them all, international trendsetters, beacons of colour – and I hope some style – especially on days when I, and perhaps others, need a colour boost.
I am often complimented on these t-shirts, in both countries, because some of them really are show-stoppers, blocks of rioting colour, tight and slutty.
And whichever country I’m in – Germany or Australia – they connect me to the one where I’m not.
And I love the idea that multiculturalism – or is it duoculturalism? – is alive and well and on my back.


  1. So now I'm curious! I'd love to see some of the shirts in those fabulous colors. Will you post pictures?

  2. These are on my Facebook page. Go here:

  3. O.K., so I took a look. Very. Very. Nice. Love the colors and the design. If you ever go into business, let me know. I'll buy some right away. [Tough to find good t-shirts.]

  4. Thank you - I can't claim to anything on the design or really, on the colours, just that I put them together. They were from 2009. The t-shirts I dyed in 2010 all came out much paler, though still nice, I think because the washing machine is new and does not get as hot as the previous, older machine, alas. But thanks for your interest.