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July 31 Indigo Summer

A good part of this month has been spent playing with my raised beds of Japanese Indigo. On a whim back in March I spread the seed heads I had collected from last years small attempt at growing and dyeing with Japanese Indigo. Much to my surprise all of them came up. I pricked some out and potted them on and eventually the crop ended up in two raised beds hastily constructed from leftover lumber and a pile of topsoil intended for bear spots in the lawn.

With such an abundance of riches I started experimenting with the indigo a the beginning of July. First up was fresh indigo dyeing which is simply leaves, cold water and ice in a blender and strained. Put your wool or fabric on and wait 20 minutes. Instant satisfaction.

This was followed by a series of experiments with a washing soda/hydrosulfite vat. We eventually had successful results but it’s clear why vat dyeing has a reputation for being tricky. The fact that we were working with fresh indigo instead of powder added to the difficulty factor I think

After several days break we when back to a somewhat unsuccessful vat and got great results after reactivating it. This time we did some shibori dyeing on muslin squares and some yardage.

We attempted a lime fructose vat that we’ve thus far been unsuccessful with. I moved on to a cooked leaf enzyme vat that isn’t really a vat at all but a variation on the fresh indigo method using cooked indigo leaves for the majority of the indigo and 10% fresh strained indigo for the enzyme to kick start the reaction. I was able to dye 376 grams of yarn with 240 grams of indigo and get the color below.

I’ve dried some indigo for use later in the year and there will be more experiments until frost shuts us down. It’s been fascinating so far. I’m very impressed by the amount of color that I’m able to get from fresh leaves. At this point the fresh methods seem easier, more ecologically sound (you only add water), and give great colors. They are fleeting and can’t be used again or saved. I want to try a fermented vat and perhaps going from leaves to powder or a sludge for future use.

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