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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Indigo Dyeing, First Attempt :: Make It From Scratch Dye Garden

Hi guys, 

Stefanie and I tried something new: dyeing with fresh indigo leaves! I ordered the seeds from an Etsy seller and started them inside in the late winter. In the spring, I transplanted the seedlings in the garden and let them grow. 

Here's what the plants looked like:

Here they are in context, just growing in a vegetable bed with dill blooming and broccoli hiding behind them.

In early August, I harvested about half the leaves from each plant, taking them from the bottoms. They can be pulled off easily by hand. I had to get up early to do this without the kids (they are super needy in the mornings! I would never get it done with them in tow). It was foggy and cool and felt kind of magical to have that time alone in my garden.

Here's what they looked like after harvesting. The plants should have plenty of leaves to keep growing and provide another harvest next month (more about that to come).

I soaked them in cool water for a couple hours. Then I simmered them in that same water for an hour. 

Meanwhile, I tied my cotton muslin fabric. I decided to use a shibori tying technique on my fabric. I used marbles to make consistently sized circles, placing each marble under the fabric and then wrapping a rubber band tightly around it. 

Then the leaves and water had to cool. I removed the leaves and added sodium hydrosulfite to the indigo-steeped liquid. Stefanie added oxygen by pouring and whisking the liquid. Foam develops, which is supposed to turn blue. Ours did not turn blue. We were disappointed. We added some washing soda and decided to try it anyway. 

First we soaked the fabric in clean water, then put it in the indigo vat. We soaked each piece for about 20 minutes, then let the fabric sit out in the air for about 20 minutes. The oxygen helps the color to develop. We alternated these steps a few times, which should darken the blue color. The fabric did turn blue!  It got darker a few times and then seemed to stay the same. 

Wet with just water

After the first dyebath

After the third dyebath

After rinsing, washing, and drying, the blue color is extremely pale. I really want that dark indigo color, so I've got to try again! From what I've read, I may not ever get a really dark color from using fresh indigo, but I want to try another technique. I think I can get closer to what I'm looking for. 

My plan is to do another harvest soon and try a method that involves pureeing the leaves in a blender. I've also read anecdotally that harvesting the leaves later may yield more success. So I will try again in October, and I'll let you know how it goes. 

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