Why Dye with Organic Indigo?

Learn to make an indigo dye vat either with ferrous sulfate or fructose!

A raw silk sample being dyed in a vat of organic indigo. Learn to make two different types of indigo dye vats in Dyeing with Indigo.

Dyeing with indigo is a wonderful way to elevate your handwovens with a near-infinite variety of gorgeous blue shades. Indigo can be used to dye yarns for warp and weft ikat patterning, for woven shibori, or for dyeing your handwovens.

While there are synthetic indigo dye kits on the market, you can achieve better results with a much gentler environmental impact by using organic indigo. Elizabeth McTear has recently released a video, Dyeing with Indigo, that will teach you how to make organic indigo dye vats in your own home. Here’s Elizabeth to share why she loves organic indigo, and her two favorite indigo dyeing processes. ~Andrea

With convenient synthetic indigo kits on the market, you may wonder why I use organic indigo. There are many reasons, including the ecological impact organic indigo vats have over synthetic ones, but there are also aesthetic ones.

Here are the components for a ferrous dye vat using organic indigo dye. Learn how to make natural indigo dye here.

The components of a ferrous indigo vat: organic indigo, ferrous sulfate, and calcium hydroxide.

I primarily use the ferrous indigo dye vat for my work. This is a simple recipe of indigo, ferrous sulphate, and calcium hydroxide in a 1:2:3 ratio. It’s a wonderful recipe for cellulose fibers and silks, though using it on wool requires care and caution and a shift in the pH.

Another organic indigo recipe I like to use is the fructose vat. This too is a simple recipe using indigo, soda ash, and fructose crystals (some people have used overripe fruits in place of the fructose crystals). This recipe is wonderful for all fibers, even wool.

Both the ferrous and fructose indigo dye vats are cold vats. They begin with hot water and then can be used cool, making their carbon footprint smaller than if they required constant heat for use. They can be revitalized several times too, reducing water usage. You’ll learn how to make both ferrous and fructose vats in my video, Dyeing with Indigo.

Dyeing yarn with natural indigo dye gets incredible results!

Even right out of the dye vat, you can see the difference between yarn dyed in a ferrous vat (left) and a sugar vat (right). While the green coloration of the sugar vat will fade, they will oxidize to different colors.

There are other organic indigo recipes out there too, and each produces its own particular range of blues, with subtle shifts and tones. And they’re each easily and safely disposed of either down the drain or composted for your garden.

Here are samples of indigo dyed fabric made with natural indigo dye.

Samples of indigo dyed fabric. Samples are paired so you can see the difference between the sugar vat (left samples) and the ferrous vat (right samples). In general, the sugar vat will get slightly greener results.

I love the ferrous indigo dye vat the most because it produces such intense and rich blues for my work. Both the ferrous and fructose vats are quick vats that reduce in about the same time as their synthetic counterpart—an hour—without the use of harsh elements like thiox.

And they’re fairly economical to make as well. Bulk ferrous sulphate (iron) is available from various sources, like Amazon, and calcium hydroxide (Calx) is only about $20 for 1000 grams while fructose powder is about $30 for 1000 grams, allowing you to splurge on high-grade organic indigo powder. I like to purchase mine from Botanical Colors, based in Seattle. Their indigo is $150 for 1000 grams, but it gives excellent results. The average vat (made in a 5 gallon bucket) requires only about 20 grams of indigo to give you rich results. So 1000 grams will go a long way!

Once you have your supplies, it’s time to start dyeing! Learn how to make a ferrous vat and a sugar vat, as well as how to dye with indigo, in Dyeing with Indigo.

—Elizabeth

P.S. Elizabeth McTear’s new video is available on DVD and to download instantly!

Elizabeth McTear

Elizabeth McTear

Elizabeth McTear lives and works in Germantown, Pennsylvania, where she works on utilitarian art for the everyday. She uses 100% natural fibers and plant-based and green dyes and pigments. She is the instructor in the videos Natural Shibori: Arashi and Natural Shibori: Itajime.

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