Plumbing the depths of indigo ignorance

Now for something totally out of its logical place in the order of things. Before I went to Allansford, I decided to go all out in exploring the depths of my ignorance.  It’s my observation of learners that many of us over estimate what we know.  We haven’t grappled with our own ignorance sufficiently to realise what a teacher has to offer us.  We haven’t applied what we think we know enough to realise where its outer edges are.


I decided on an all out attempt to use my stock of knowledge and supplies to find the limits of my own understanding. I’d been itching to dye and unable to find time, so holidays were a gift.  I had multiple attempts to dye with woad and then turned over to dyeing with what indigo I still had.  I used up my remaining fructose, and couldn’t find more.  So I experimented with sad fruit from the bargain pile at the local shops. I also collected fallen fruit and such. I read all the books and instructions again.  I had no joy with the woad no matter what I did and in the end composted two vats.


I tried a yeast vat.  It was quite something watching it fizz! In the end, I weakened and bought another package of colour run remover and rescued some indigo with that. between all these vats, I overdyed leaf prints I hadn’t liked much.  I dyed scraps and offcuts from old shirts that had been turned into drawstring bags.  I even tore up a very worn, patched and mended damask table cloth from the stash and dyed that.


I achieved only soft blues, but soft blues are beautiful.


I went to Allansford convinced that I was struggling with achieving reduction, and maintaining temperature, and quite possibly other things besides.  And it was really helpful to go, knowing this, and to be able to see that I had been aiming (mostly) at the right things, checking (mostly) the right things, and had some concepts right, but was applying them in wrong places.  It gave me a really strong sense of the limits of my own judgment.


Some of the bits and pieces have already begun to re-form… a bit like my understanding of how to dye with indigo!


Filed under Natural dyeing

8 responses to “Plumbing the depths of indigo ignorance

  1. I agree whole-heartedly Mary. There are so many differing recipes, instructions – both in books and internet…it’s mind blowing. What I have found is that ‘time’ is the most successful tool. I don’t hurry, I say prayers and give offerings and thanks. I respect the vat and talk to it a lot. I treat it gently and make sure its temperature is constant and never too hot. I love learning and know I will always be a novice compared with subtle variations in cultural knowledge passed down through generations. Thanks again for the inspiration.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for these kind and informative words, Keryn. I think I to will be a novice for my entire lifetime on this. And that is OK. I am glad to hear time is an asset. I think I will have time to explore…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. norma

    Lots of things need a good teacher to show the little things that really make a difference – & to enthuse

    Liked by 1 person

    • I absolutely agree, Norma. Being able to teach yourself increases the number of things you can learn. But being unprepared to learn from others would be so limiting!


  3. I love how you think. We should all explore those edges more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I think it is easy to be precious about one’s own ego, and about what might be lost through trying things out. I am always on the lookout for ways to let myself, and other people, try stuff out and make mistakes. It isn’t the only way to learn, but it is hard to learn much if you can’t do it at all!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jenai Hooke

    It seems to me that all the real learning we do in our life is the result of PLAY. A discovery through exploration and play is worth more than all the universities, books and professors combined. When I discover something new and amazing from playing with materials, techniques and processes, I am left touched, moved and inspired, this is how my world expands and I expand with it.
    As adults we need to give ourselves permission to PLAY with no right/wrong, judgement, agenda or preconceived ideas of how it should turn out. Play requires being in a space of nothingness, that’s the space where anything is possible, it is what artists talk about when they say “being in the zone”.
    In some cultures it is believed that indigo is the connection between the mortal world and the spirit world and the indigo dyer has an access to that world, for me play also gives me access to that world.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for this lovely set of thoughts, Jenai… permission to play and to explore is so important. I’ve long been a person with a strong tendency to work at things and value practice and persistence. And, while sometimes this isn’t my favourite trait, I have learned a lot these ways. But how happy it is to be able to step away from some of working at things into exploration–‘touched, moved and inspired’ is a glorious way of experiencing anything. I am loving being in more of a place of exploration in making now than previously. Playfulness–now that’s a lovely thing to head toward…

      Liked by 1 person

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