The Magic of Indigo

  Photo by Diane Palme.

We asked textile artist Diane Palme about her affinity for indigo and the dyeing process. Read on to learn about her best practices for creating beautiful blue hues, then check out her blog. –Gina
From blue jeans to kimono, tagelmusts to tattoos, for centuries indigo has been used to give a distinctive blue color to our adornments. There’s simply nothing comparable to its subtle complexity. Indigo is a wonderful way to explore natural dyeing since it’s suitable for almost any yarn or fabric; it particularly loves cotton and silk, and it is the standard when doing shibori or other resist dyeing because it only colors the fabric directly exposed to the liquid.

The process of indigo dyeing has been greatly simplified with the introduction of pre-reduced or freeze-dried indigo crystals. These widely available crystals are easily soluble in a mixture of soda ash and water–your bath can be ready in about 15 minutes. You can also get indigo in its powdered form, but the vat-preparation is more labor-intensive; it requires reducing the powder with both chemicals and heat and it takes a good part of a weekend to ready the vat. Both methods give good results; it’s up to you how much work you want to put into preparing the vat.

  Photo by Diane Palme.

If you’re really up for a challenge, grow your own indigo–there are many varieties of the Indigofera plant available for indoors or out. Once harvested, the leaves are soaked and fermented to extract the indigo compound. Alternatively, you can make what amounts to an indigo tea straight from the fresh leaves. Either solution must then be reduced in an alkaline bath to be ready for vat dyeing.

Finally, it’s possible to use fresh indigo leaves as stencils. Simply lay the leaves on your cloth, cover with a thin sheet of plastic, and pound with a mallet to directly extract the indigo onto the fabric. After you’ve pounded out your aggressions, remove the leaf pulp and let the fabric oxidize for at least a day before washing. This is a fast and easy way to not only improve your mood, but also to get just a hint of indigo on your project.

I hope you’ll give indigo a try the next time you need something blue. It’s fun, easy, and simply magical.


imageplaceholder Gina Kuzmick
Assistant Editor, Spinning Daily

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