Indigo Dyeing that anyone can master!

2 07 2011
Indigo dyeing is an ancient and traditional art but it has not been for the faint hearted. In the past, Indigo dyeing was a difficult and time consuming process. Indigo in its natural form is non soluble, so involved a significant process to get it into liquid form. Originally sourced from plants, somewhere in the late 1700s, a synthetic version was created, yet the process was still difficult to liquify and ‘reduce’ the dye. These days, a pre reduced version is available and this is easily dissolved without turning to caustic chemicals and weeks of preparation. I have been playing with the pre reduced Indigo and it is not only very very easy, but a blast to use.

Linen Shirt with Indigo Shibori

The process is very easy.  You use about 20 grams of Pre Reduced Indigo, 100 grams of Soda Ash and 150 grams of Thiox in about 20 litres of water.  Mix the dye and then the chemicals in stirring gently.  You then leave the dye bath to sit.
Once it has sat for a while, the indigo dye becomes light green and transparent.  A slimy looking skim appears on the surface.  When this occurs, as surprising as it seems, you are ready to go.

Indigo vat is greenish and transparent

The skim on the top - otherwise known as the "flower"

To use, you skim off the flower and save it.

save the flower for later.

You then submerge your fabric, yarns, garments etc.  Today I dyed a pair of cotton socks and a linen shirt.  The shirt I tied with rubber bands.  The socks I just threw in.  They were “cotton rich” – in other words, not 100% cotton.  I wanted to see how the nylon and elastic took the dye.

White cotton socks in the Indigo bath. See how green they are!

Leave your items in the bath for a while.  If you want to intensify the colour, you are better to bring them out for a while and putting them back in rather than leaving for a longer period as the oxidisation is what creates the colour.  More on that shortly.
When you think you have had enough, take the items out of the indigo vat and squeeze the excess dye out.

Remove the items from the dye vat. They will be green.

Hang the dyed items out, take any ties or bands off, unfold any pleating etc.  As the air hits the indigo dye, it oxydises, turning it blue and locking the dye molecules into the fibre.  This is WAY COOL to watch.  Rotate the items if you need to.  Thicker layers such as hems or facings will take longer to go blue than others.

Partially oxydised socks

Once you have taken everything out of the dye vat, replace the flower and stir gently.  The indigo vat will last several weeks before burning out.
Here are the finished socks.  The nylon and elastin has taken the indigo beautifully.  Who knew?



4 responses

3 07 2011

Thanks for sharing your sock experiment. I see indigo socks in my future! It has finally warmed up in our area, so the outdoor dye studio is opening soon. Have a wonderful weekend.

3 07 2011
pat dwyer

Thanks Cecile what a fabulous process on my list of things to do for sure..thanks for providing this wonderful visual certainly are a wealth of information..cheers Pat

5 07 2011

What a load of misinformation! Weeks of preparation to make an indigo vat? Only if you were growing the plant and harvesting the leaves yourself….

5 07 2011

ha, too funny. Can’t keep everyone happy. As you know Lyn, there are many ways to prepare an indigo vat. If I was going to go into all the detail, I would have to write a much bigger post. Made my morning to know you follow my blog under a hotmail account. Thanks for posting.

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