This is my second year growing Japanese Indigo from seed originally purchased from FIBERSHED Marketplace. It is easy to grow from seed and seems to love my garden. You can save your own seed from year to year. Start it in the Spring and harvest it in the Summer. When I went out to harvest it yesterday I noticed that the honeybees were loving the beautiful pink Indigo flowers. I try planting for the bees and birds and us so this made me quite happy.
Yesterday, Lily and I used the “one-day” recipe out of Rebecca Burgess’ wonderful book HARVESTING COLOR. We harvested the Indigo and removed the leaves from the stalks. We put 3/4 pound of leaves in a 2 1/2 quart jar of warm rainwater. I use rainwater because we catch it here but you could use filtered water. You just don’t want the chlorine in city water going in your dye bath.
The jar was placed in a big pot of water we heated to 170 degrees. We used a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature. The water immediately turned blue! The leaves heated in that jar for three hours. We have an outdoor stove so we didn’t have to heat up the house in the process. After the three hours of heating I put a colander over a stainless steel pot and strained the solution. The leaves were then squeezed over the pot to get the rest of the liquid out. They were then thrown into the compost and the work began!
A tablespoon of baking soda was then added and for the next 10 minutes Lily and I poured the solution from one pot to another to oxygenate it. It changed color before our eyes (which this dye bath did many times throughout the day!). As it was poured back and forth it got darker and darker and turned a very dark bluish green color. At that point we added a tablespoon of Spectralite I got from Dharma Trading Company (thank you Julie!). Lily very gently stirred this into the dye bath trying her best not to make any bubbles. The Spectralite removes oxygen from the dye bath. We kept the liquid at 100 degrees by putting the dye pot on top of the pot we heated the jars in since the water was already hot. After 8 to 10 minutes it was supposed to turn yellow. Our dye bath stayed blue-green so we were worried that it wasn’t going to work.
We forged ahead anyway by putting in Lily’s pre-wetted wool yarn and my silk scarf. They had been soaking in the warm water pot. We put them in the dye bath gently so we would not make any bubble and add oxygen. The yarn was immediately blue so we were still concerned since they were supposed to come out yellowish and turn blue when they hit the air. We left it all in the pot for 10 minutes or so and when we pulled it out it was a yellowish light blue. Like a magic trick it turned a gorgeous deep blue right in front of our eyes! The neighbors probably thought we had lost our minds were so excited!
Last Summer the kids and I used the Indigo leaves fresh by putting them in a blender with rainwater and making a raw liquid dye. We used some raw silk shirt scraps from a thrift shop purchase and they made little bags. They made their own cordage handles with Japanese Iris leaves from the backyard and were quite happy with themselves!
Why use natural dyes? As Rebecca Burgess point out on her website, “The textile industry is the number one polluter of fresh water resources on the planet, as well as having an immense carbon footprint. The average CO2 emitted for the production of one t-shirt is up to 40 times the weight of that shirt.”
We can use locally grown fibers for clothes and locally grown plants for dyes. Since I am not a knitter (yet) but I am a thrift shopper I buy used clothes and dye them with plants grown in my yard or gathered in my neighborhood. Just about every color is available from plants. Now, I’ve got blue!