Summer Indigo 1: Preparation of fructose vat and fabrics

I’ve had indigo on my mind (oh, and on my fingers, too!).  I’d been planning a summer indigo dyeing day with a bunch of locals–and there are folk at the Guild who want to try indigo too.  I was keen to try the fructose vat again.  My last experiment with the fructose indigo vat involved some errors on my part… so I decided on treating it (and all other indigo vats) as a learning experience and trying again. I love the idea of being able to run an indigo vat without using sodium hydrosulphite, and I also love the idea of being able to use local fruit and even the leftovers from jam or other uses of fruit to prepare a vat, thus wasting nothing.  This is what the fructose vat has to offer… So, I took up Maiwa’s instruction sheet for Michel Garcia’s fructose vat, and began.  I am just so delighted to have access to Michel Garcia’s wisdom on this subject.  You can see the instructions as a blog post here or a downloadable pdf here.

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I decided to make a starter: beginning with a concentrated solution first and adding it into the larger vat later. The instructions on hydrating the indigo with marbles in a plastic jar are just such genius… so I started there. I also decided to start the day before I planned dyeing with my group of friends–this was one part of the instructions I missed last time.  Soon my strong solution was ready. Freshly mixed:

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And then… the magic started!

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I mixed the starter into the larger vat and then contrived a very sophisticated system for overnight: a very big bucket with a towel and my two woollen dye blankets inside for insulation, then the vat.  Wrapped for the night!

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Next morning… it all looked rather fabulous!

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In the meantime, I’d been plying my needle during various festive gatherings.

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Can you see the half-circles in the half-light?

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I read Vivien Prideaux’s A Handbook of Indigo Dyeing and tried out some of her ideas in a rather less precise manner than she proposes.  Essentialy, I decided that anything I could prepare to dye in advance was a bonus and precision was the least of my concerns.  her ideas were very helpful.

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I had so much calico from my most recent inheritance I really just stitched whenever I could find time and interest…

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And piled up a little stack of fabric in preparation.

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Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing

13 responses to “Summer Indigo 1: Preparation of fructose vat and fabrics

  1. mstery

    I am really keen to see how you go using this method. I use hydros and would like something less yucky. (Altho it is relatively easy and predictable)


  2. It’s not too hard to make a fermentation vat? I’d like to try it, come summer time.
    The only other ‘real’ indigo vat I made used urine……. talk about stinky!!
    Can’t wait to see your fabric….. what fun!!


    • I don’t think this is a fermentation vat in quite the same way as the traditional fermentation vats–which don’t sound too hard to create but do require time, patience, judgment and a way to maintain temperature. I failed with temperature on my only attempt. The fructose vat I tried here is simpler and quicker. The urine vat sounds amazing in a few different ways (I have heard rumours of the stinky part)… and much more tolerant of a range of temperatures. I may still try that!


      • It’s true that I didn’t have a problem with temperature…. kept it outside in the shade (it’s HOT here in the summer). But I had a heck of a time getting rid of the smell after dyeing.
        And it helps that I have a partner who doesn’t think it’s odd when I collect my pee 😉
        But I will definitely try the fructose vat when it warms up here…. I have some chunks of dried indigo already, from many years ago.


  3. oooh, can’t wait to see the results! I have a Michel Garcia vat made with henna, and then fed with various things, true it needs to be warmed to use it, so I have it in a bain marie (actually a plastic dustbin sitting in a steel bin of water over an electric heating element, on overnight on my cheap night-time electricity – which is from a green source) and will be adding a bit of fructose this morning, going to use it in a couple of days … 😀


  4. in fact I got bolder and instead of fructose added the exhaust dye bath from my first-time madder trial, hot from dyeing, using madder, tannin and citric acid (Michel’s recipe) instead of fructose. the vat lapped it up and produced lots of blue bubbles 🙂 will be indigo dyeing in a couple of days


    • That sounds so exciting! Madder would be an ideal addition, wouldn’t it? I guess you have to adjust Ph for the citric acid, but that is at least straightforward. Good use of the exhaust bath, I reckon!


      • Michel’s instruction is to feed the vat with the reducing element when you have worked it (like a donkey, he says, with an image of the vat slurping it up with a huge tongue and then going to sleep) and then give it lime to wake it up before you use it again, so that takes care of the ph! 🙂


      • Thanks for this tip. I think he said this in one of his videos, but my powers of forgetfulness are impressive, to say the least 🙂


  5. Susan

    What a way to go! I will definitely look up his pdf. I have used the urine vat, Years ago and more recently the freeze dried stuff and we found it was almost impossible to exhaust the vat…underwear anyone?
    Can’t wait to see your results!


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