Friday, October 7, 2011


I love indigo, and lately nothing in my home has been safe. My indigo vats have been particularly strong as of late. As a result, I now have indigo dyed sheets and pillowcases, indigo dyed towels (in gradations of blue), dish towels with shibori designs, and even indigo rugs in the bathroom. I was so enthusiastic that I dyed up a mess of T-shirts for the Pine Lake Lakefest last weekend. We did pretty well. We never sold much plant dyed yarn or felt at Lakefest--just smatterings. Not everyone knows how to knit or crochet or sew. Maybe folks will like T-shirts, I thought. I went to Old Navy and bought the most beautiful white, gauzy blouses on summer clearance. I also bought T-shirts. Old Navy mostly had womens and girls shirts, so my gal and I also went to Walmart. The sturdy, Faded Glory T-shirts were on sale in the boys section. They took the dye so well! I got some mens T-shirts, too.

As I was dyeing the children's shirts, I wondered what I could do to make designs. I was tie dyeing some or making shades of blue, but I wanted to do more than just use rubber bands and marbles. I didn't have time for some fancy kind of resist. Then I spied a bottle of washable Elmer's glue! I drew turtles, flowers, and hearts on shirts. I spelled out Pine Lake. It was great! The glue worked as a resist, but had a soft look to it--not like wax or other resists. When I washed the indigo shirts after dyeing, the glue washed right out. All of these shirts sold! I'm sharing this here because it was such a great technique. If you are nervous about starting your own inidgo vat, the Jacquard Dye Company makes an indigo tie dye kit that is very easy to use. I've used them before when I was doing a summer camp and needed to do a large amount of dyeing.

This is a fun actitivy for families, classes, fund raisers, parties, etc.... The kit, which I got from Binder's Art Store, was easy to use. It comes with pre-reduced indigo which is ready quickly. It's good to have extra rubber gloves on hand.

Another way that I'm trying to spread the indigo love is by making a hat for a special person. This year I've started teaching at LEAD, a homeschool organization in Atlanta. My first Handwork class is very tiny--only four students--but we have a great time! To get to our classroom, we have to walk through a rather large Robotics class. The Robotics teacher has been very tolerant and understanding of our comings and goings. I want to make something for her, and a Robot Hat seems just the thing. Here are some of the yarns I've dyed up for the pattern so far. I'm thinking if I do the robots in bright yellow (weld and osage orange), they will show up well against the variegated indigo background. There's plenty of indigo to go around!

Recently, I was asked to speak at the Chattahoochee Unit of the Herb Society of America at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. For the presentation, I did some more research on the history of indigo. It was a predominant crop in the colonial Southern US, but it's history goes back much, much further. You can find remnants of indigo in Egyptian tombs from thousands of years ago. Thousands of years ago, indigo was used in Central and South America by the Maya. You find it prodigously throughout Asia (India, China, Japan, Indonesia), but some of the most historically compelling roots of Indigo are found in Africa. The Yoruba People of Nigeria developed a complex method of applying cassava flour paste to fabric with chicken feathers. (I'm not mentioning Indigo Ikat or Shibori here because they are more commonly known.) This Nigerian technique is called Adire and is still practiced today. One of the best books on the history of indigo in Nigeria is from the University of Ibidan. The designs often had special meanings. I also found a story from Liberia that tells how the secret of Inidgo was given to a seeress. The story is tragic because it involves the use of tears, urine, ashes, and the death of a child, but the ending is powerful and uplifting. Okay, now I'm just rambling about the history of Indigo.

Indigo is magic. The dye comes from fermented leaves and will only dissolve in an alkali solution (thus the ashes and urine in the story from Liberia). In the past, recipes called for urine from pregnant women or men who drank strong drink. There were probably variations in the metallic salts. The urine had to ferment for about six weeks, and dyers were associated with bad smells. (Now we have easier, less smelly chemicals to use.) When the indigo is dissolved, the solution is a yellow green color. As the oxygen in the air hits the indigo--BAM! the item turns blue right before your eyes--Indigo Magic! I loved doing this with middle schoolers as a chemistry experiment--you could talk about bases and then you could neutralize the base with acetic acid (vinegar) to cause extra indigo to fall out of solution.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this color is amazing to make, very healing to the soul, and pleasing to the eye. You can also just toss shirts and stuff you've dyed with indigo in the washer and dryer with the rest of the laundry--it's lightfast and colorfast. It's accessible and easier to use than you think. Why not give it a try? Bring some fun, amazing, healing blue into your life! A little Indigo goes a long way ;D Happy Dyeing!