Summer Indigo 3: Happy endings and learnings

One of the fun things about doing a vat dye is watching the transformation through its many stages.  With indigo, even more so–because of the magical qualities of the dye–yellow while in solution in the vat but turning blue as soon as the fibre enters the air and oxygen reaches it, paired with the process involving multiple dips to build up depth of shade. Given my friend’s generosity with the camera, here are a few efforts to follow specific items through the process.

Cotton t-shirt with rubber band and loom band resist: before…





Lacy shirt rolled around a bottle and tied:




Pair of pants wrapped around a piece of garden hose and tied:




Screws tied into calico:


Really tightly tied!


There was a spectacular effect when they were untied–but it was temporary–the binding was so tight that air hadn’t reached the inside pleats despite rinsing and time on the line!



Marbles and rubber bands in a yellow t shirt:




So, given that all indigo vats are going to be learning experiences for me, possibly for the rest of my life… what did I notice and what did I learn?  Preparation of the fructose vat a day earlier worked well and this experience gave me confidence to try this process again and keep experimenting.


This time, I tried to hold onto what I learned from the last one: to trust my judgment about when to stop.  I am a beginner at this process.  But, limited as it is, my judgment is what I currently have, and judgment is there to be developed.  In my experience as a teacher, judgment is one of the most difficult, yet most important, things to acquire–but at least in dyeing the repercussions of poor judgment are more limited than in an operating theatre or a court!  This time, no evidence of crocking.


Some things were pale blue even after several dips. All of the calico items that went into the fructose vat, for instance.  I like the colour, but had not expected this.  I noticed that most of the items that only went into the fructose vat remained pale shades.  Some went from there to the colour run remover process when the fructose vat needed a rest–they were deeper.

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This might have been because the natural indigo in the fructose vat gave a different outcome to the synthetic indigo in the colour run remover vats.  It might have been due to the difference in processes or some failure of my understanding of the fructose process resulting in the oxygen not being sufficiently removed from the vat–though the colour of the vat was good.  It now occurs to me that I could have tested this by adding hydrosulphite to the exhaust of the fructose vat when I really couldn’t get much colour from it two days later. Next time?

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It might have meant the calico had a treatment that resisted dyeing–but other fabrics also came out pale.  We did dye a LOT of materials–and perhaps the fructose vat ran low on indigo.  It was in a bigger container so may have received more fabric (and more oxygen). But I had an exhaust vat extravaganza two days later and the colour run remover vats still gave colour–one in particular dyed quite a quantity of wool (after adjustment of the Ph to a level more suitable for protein fibres).

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Mmm… the indigo vat curiosity and the love continue… here, the fructose vat gets a cuddle as it warmly rests.


Filed under Dyefastness, Natural dyeing

12 responses to “Summer Indigo 3: Happy endings and learnings

  1. I agree with you that a probable cause of the pale calico was remnant sizing. It can be quite a bugger to remove. It is also true that you can expect colour differences between natural and synthetic indigo, but generally the natural gives stronger rather than weaker colours. The other colour variation can be from actual source of indigo. One collection i saw in Japan from an professional indigo dyer ranged from grey blue to intense indigos. His view was that any indigo giving a grey cast was of lower quality, whether it was synthetic or not. But that doesn’t seem to apply to your vats. Oh indigo, no wonder it takes a lifetime to understand it!


    • How wonderful to have had the chance to learn in Japan! I had a class with a Nigerian indigo dyer who clearly found synthetic indigo stronger than the natural sources he had trained with–but the sources of natural indigo in these two countries would be very different, based on my limited understanding. I don’t expect to ever become expert!


      • Yes there are so many plants that produce indigo. Most continents seem to have something that gives indigo, although I haven’t had much luck with Indigofera australis. My plant died before I could really test it out, probably because the nursery sourced it from a non-frost area. The plants grow quite happily in Canberra and surrounds in the bush so I just need to source a local plant before I can try again.


      • I have quite decent sized plant in my garden… but there is no doubt it doesn’t bear a high amount of indigo, and of course, has those delicate and sparse leaves!


  2. what was the size of the vat and how much indigo was in it? Michel told us than unlike other dyeing processes where if you have the correct weight of dyestuff to fibre it doesn’t matter how much water is in the pot, with indigo it does. for dark blues he recommends 300 gms indigo to a 20 – 30 litre bin.
    I scooped a bucketful out of my vat and warmed it up for dyeing cashmere and found it ran out of strength after the first 2 items, and I got lighter blue for the others even though I dipped them more times. but also I wonder if at the end of a session it gets too oxygenated …..
    lovely results though, I love the paler indigo blues


    • Well, I followed the instructions from Maiwa: which said 20g indigo to 15-20 litres. But I can;t help but notice that the fruit vat has 50g indigo to 15-20 litres. And, the other two vats were 10g indigo to about 10 litres of water. Mmm. So that’s another potential factor. thanks for the tip, Jane! I agree, the colours are lovely. Just not what I expected.


  3. I have also had trouble with getting darker shades with fructose vat. I always get much more blue from the same amount of natural indigo with hydrosulfite vat than if I use fructose to reduce it. To get a darker color from fructose vat I need to put much more indigo in it and have much less liquid. Perhaps the reduction process is different with fructose to hydrosulfite. I need to experiment much more with fructose:)


    • I knew I had read of someone else with this same issue, Leena, but I could not remember who it was. I wonder what the reason is? You are well ahead of me as an indigo dyer. I’ll keep reading your blog and learning from what you do 🙂


  4. you are makng some good experiments Mary, I am such a newbie to the whole magical process but am definitely sucked in and need to do more!


    • Thanks, Mo! It is pretty astounding, indigo. It is no surprise to find that metaphors and beliefs about magic abound in relation to indigo. So wonderful and so complex 🙂


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