Category Archives: indigo

Indigo Dyeing Workshop

Last month I spent an entire Saturday at Ann’s place learning how to make indigo dye vats. Our guild (like many others) has a wonderful scholarship program. If you want to take a fibre arts workshop or class, you can apply to the scholarship fund and get a portion of your tuition covered by the guild. In exchange you are required to give back to the guild in some manner. Ann attended a couple of workshops at Maiwa and her “pay-back” to the guild was to offer an indigo dyeing workshop – sharing some of the key things she learned.

From the Maiwa website: Natural indigo is an extract prepared from cultivated plants of Indigofera Tinctoria. Indigo is the only source of blue in the plant world. Its ability to produce a wide range of blues has made it the most successful dye plant ever known.

What you see below is a fruit vat. This one is made with bananas, but you could make it with mangoes instead. To make a litre of dye you take one very ripe banana, mash it up and add 1/4 c water. Keep mixing this and then add 1 TBS of indigo dye powder. Add a bit more water and then add 2TBS hydrated lime. Keep mixing and add enough water to make one litre. The pot you see below is 10 litres. . . . so it started with 10 mushy bananas.

These are cotton and rayon samples dyed in the fruit vat.

These are  wool, silk and mohair samples that were dyed in another vat made with ferrous sulfate. The green skein is an overdye from a skein dyed with turmeric.

Then of course we had to play with silk and cotton scarves to see how quickly the dye sinks into those fibres. And nothing like a good gate to hang the skeins and scarves as they oxidize.

And here is the total collection of samples I did. Each one had a couple of dippings as I tried to get more intense colour. They continue to oxidize and deepen in colour.

I won’t even pretend to understand the chemistry of indigo, yet. It is something of a mystery, but hopefully not for long.

Ann has graciously offered to put up more dye vats and we can continue to play and learn.

Best way to manage the blues

Yesterday I hosted a “Good Day to Dye 2013” at our home here in Glen Valley. There were five of us in total, all with varying degrees of experience making an indigo dye pot and doing the actual dyeing. Each dye pot could dye approximately two pounds of fibre. So we made three dye pots.

You start out by making the dye stock: that’s what’s below. After you make it you have to let it sit for an hour to “reduce”. In that process it turns from being a stunning deep indigo to a lime green.

After the stock reduces, you carefully add it to the five-gallon bucket of water (which has a wee bit a lye and ivory detergent in it). You can’t just pour the dye stock into the water, because you can’t let the dye hit the air. When it hits the air, it oxidizes and turns dark blue/indigo and expires the dye.

So you carefully lower the entire jar of dye solution into the bucket and empty it without letting it hit the air. Then you let that sit for another hour.

There’s a lot of down time as you wait for the stock to reduce, then wait for the dye to settle in the dye pot. So we entertained ourselves with good food, beverages and spinning. 
When the dye pot was ready, we added the wetted fibre and skeins to the dye pot – and then let that sit for half-an-hour. After that we carefully lifted it out of the dye pot, making sure to squeeze the liquid out of it while it was below the surface. The skein below was once white. When it’s lifted out of the indigo pot it looks light greeny-blue. But within moments, as the air hits it, it starts to turn a lovely blue. It’s a magic moment. You can do repeat dippings if you want to make the colour more intense. Just let the fibre/yarn sit in the air for half-an-hour and then toss it back into the dye pot.
The grey and white skeins below were added to the dyepot. Here’s what they looked like after they were spun and washed. 

The five skeins below are 1) a white skein, 2) the two grey skeins featured above, 3) another white skein and the last one will be explained further on. The fibre on top is the fibre we are going to be using in the sheep-to-shawl demonstration at the Aldergrove Fair Days.

Once you see the magic of the indigo dye pot, you get Dyeing Fever. That means you start to look around for all kinds of other things you can throw into the dye pot. I’ve had this lovely skein of hand spun blue-faced leicester (Sweet Georgia Yarns — Yellow Curd) in my stash for a while. It’s lovely and I have nothing against yellow, but I was curious what would happen if it went into an indigo pot. Here’s the before photo:

And here’s the after shot. I was surprised at how much indigo this absorbed with only one dipping.

However, once the dyeing is over, you let your fibre/yarn sit for minimum of 24 hours and then you give it a final rinse. So I may lose some of the intensity and see a bit of green.

And here are the results of my dyeing efforts. The rack was completely full yesterday with skeins and fibre from five gals. But this is my stuff after everyone left. Later today I’ll rinse it out and if there’s a dramatic difference I’ll do an update.

 It’s a beautiful process and I’m hooked.