Austral Indigo 1: Cold vinegar process

My plant-knowledgeable and extremely generous Katoomba friends harvested some Indigofera Australis for me recently, and I brought it home gleefully to experiment.  They have regular access to a place where Indigofera Australis is growing plentifully and where it is native.  I had one previous opportunity to try dyeing with this plant and it was fascinating but completely unsuccessful.  So, it was exciting to have another chance.  There were 112g leaves in my parcel once I stripped them from their branches.  They had been kept cool or refrigerated in the 7-10 days since they had been picked–fresh but not really fresh.  I decided to try two different methods.

The first is a cold process suitable for protein fibres only, using vinegar.  I have found it described online as a way to process Japanese Indigo to achieve turquoise by Dorothea Fischer and in a booklet by Helen Melville.  Japanese Indigo is a prohibited import and not available in Australia (no matter my feelings on the subject of Japanese Indigo as a dyestuff, this country does not need more weeds).  It does seem logical that this method should work on other indigo bearing species, even if Austral Indigo bears a lower proportion of indigo!  However, using the leaves fresh is a key element and my leaves weren’t as fresh as possible.

Since my last effort, my Dad bought me a cheap secondhand blender (which I planned to use for papermaking).  It made pulping the leaves so easy I didn’t even try cutting them up manually…


The water immediately went a vivid green, and so did the froth on top.


I began with a sample card and a small quantity of silk thread, and gave them a few dips before bed time, then left them in overnight and re-dipped in the morning.  Here they are before being further re-dipped, with every fibre on my test card except cotton one shade of turquoise or another:

IMAG1617 (1)

I also tried dyeing some wool, but even after a lot of dips my little skein is barely blue.  End yield: 2 lengths of blue silk thread, three lengths of grey-green-blue silk thread and some off-white-in-the-direction-of-blue-merino.  Clearly, as I had heard, Indigofera Australis is a low yielding source of indigo.  But this method was brilliantly simple, easy and non toxic.  I will happily try it again when my plants are a little bigger.



Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

14 responses to “Austral Indigo 1: Cold vinegar process

  1. Pia

    I did it with japanese indigo a couple of years ago, and the wool was quite nice – but now the skein is quite faded greyish, just from sitting in a box. This year it’s so cold my plants just survive but they don’t really grow much.


  2. Natural Dyer


    I just came across your posts on Indigofera australis when Googling how to dye with this plant, and noticed you mentioned Japanese Indigo plants not being available in Australia. I had been looking for an Australian source of this species too, and found this nursery in Queensland which sometimes has it for sale if you’re still interested in growing it:,-75ml-pot.html


    • Thanks! I found them months back but they have never actually had it in stock. Exciting news. Thanks for letting me know.


      • Natural Dyer

        Hi again,

        Yes, I had the same problem with them never having it available—each time I wrote to them they said it would be back soon! However a friend sent me some seeds last year and though the dry summer meant my plants never got going well enough to pick leaves from (the spot I planted them in was much too hot and sunny), one plant did produce seed. Unfortunately I’d already sowed it all before I came across your post, but if you are interested I could send you a couple of plants in a few months, or alternatively seeds in late Summer/Autumn 2014. Let me know if you’d like some, and if so how we could organise it.


      • That is so kind of you! Let’s stay in touch and see if you have seeds to share at the end of the season 🙂 I hope your plants grow really well!


      • Natural Dyer

        I will let you know when the seeds are ripe, probably around April or May next year. The seedlings are growing really well so far even though the weather is still quite cool, so I’m hoping for a good seed crop, not to mention getting to dye with the leaves this summer!


  3. Natural Dyer

    Hi again,

    I just wanted to let you know All Rare Herbs (the website I mentioned above) just sent me an e-mail saying that they now have Japanese Indigo seeds available. The direct link is–seed.html if you are interested.

    My Japanese Indigo plants are growing very slowly so far with the very cool spring we’ve been having, but I’m still hoping I will get some seeds from them in the autumn—I’ll let you know.


    • Hi Natural Dyer, We must have both been on the waiting list at All Rare Herbs. I got an email from them too and my seeds are in the ground… I am delighted to hear yours have come up and I hope I’ll be able to say the same soon! best wishes for growing success and I look forward to hearing how you get on…


  4. Natural Dyer

    I’m glad to hear you got some Japanese Indigo seeds at last! I hope they grow well for you. I’m going to buy some from All Rare Herbs too, just to see how they compare with the strain I’m already growing, as there seems to be quite a bit of variation amongst different strains of dye plants. I grew some Woad seeds from a couple of Australian sources last season, alongside a strain of Woad from the UK. The plants from the UK seeds were much more robust and grew three times as large with a higher indigo content. I pulled up all the Australian ones before they flowered so I could keep pure seed from the UK ones and they’ve produced thousands of healthy seeds so I’ll be able to dye a lot of Woad blues in the coming years.


    • That all sounds so promising! I have true indigo and Japanese indigo planted but not sprouting at present and have failed to get woad to seedling stage in the past. It’s all very well planting these things in spring, but Adelaide summers are very challenging, and if we go away at all, the chance of anything in the garden getting tender loving care drops dramatically! So… fingers crossed. I am really impressed by your successes!


  5. Michele

    Hi … I was wondering what ratio leaves:vinegar you used, and was the vinegar diluted? I have I. Australis growing and keen to try.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Michele, I’m sorry, I didn’t keep a record, but you may find clues by following the link to the source I used or searching for people using this method with Japanese indigo. Good luck!


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