It's nice to take a break from the ever-constant pre or post mordanting rituals that accompany most natural dye practices and just go ahead and dye with some indigo. Bonus: You only need to scour the fabric. Double Bonus: You know that cute tank you got from the thrift store, but it's only 70% natural fiber and therefore cannot be dyed with natural dye? Indigo can handle that. Indigo is magical because it is technically a PIGMENT. Not a dye. So it'll soak into anything (including your fingernails. Wear gloves!)
The complexity is not with the treatment of the fiber, but rather with the treatment of the vat. With most natural dyes, you simply extract the dye matter from the dye stuff through a water bath. With an indigo vat, it can get tricky making sure the pH balance is JUST RIGHT. And I really mean it. We have had our fair share of vat failures... but after we started using the following recipe, things started to look... well... a little bright bluer.
There are many different types of indigo vats- some are as authentic as using urine... that's right, urine... to ferment the vat. I'm curious about that one, but haven't yet convinced myself or my husband that we need to start collecting our urine. There are also indigo recipes out there that use toxic chemicals, and we also (obviously) aren't interested in that. So we use Michel Garcia's recipe 1-2-3 Organic Indigo Vat.
If you're ready to take the indigo challenge, click on the link above to follow the recipe. It's solid. Below are some troubleshooting tips I've provided to accompany the above recipe. Be creative and have fun!
Tip #1: IF YOU ARE USING A LARGE VESSEL, USE AT LEAST 4 OZ of INDIGO POWDER.
In Michel Garcia's recipe, it first indicates to turn the indigo into a paste by adding just a little water and stirring it. This is called "wetting out" the indigo.
TIP #2: USE MARBLES or STONES INTEAD OF STIRRING.
Instead of stirring the indigo, I have found a lot of success with placing marbles or pebbles with the weighed powdered indigo in a little jar. Add some boiling water to the jar. Put the lid on and shake vigorously. The marbles will do a fantastic job at making sure that each individual indigo particle is "wetted out" properly.
After wetting out the indigo, I transfer everything to a plastic picture. I also keep a kettle of almost-boiling water ready to add after each ingredient. I pour in my jar of indigo and rinse the jar with the hot water into the plastic container.
After adding the fructose, really make sure that everything is dissolved. I usually add a bit more water 9about 1/2 full.
TIP #2: AVOID OXYGENATION OF THE VAT. SLOWLY add the calcium hydroxide. Try to avoid introducing ANY OXYGEN into the vat from here on out. Oxygen will eventually throw the balance off and your vat will no longer work. This means stir slowly and add new water in a way that creates the LEAST amount of air bubbles.
Tip # 3: PROPERLY SET UP YOUR DYE SPACE. While your 2-quart concentrate is brewing, set up your dye space. The pots we usually use are HUGE because we normally dye large pieces of fiber, so we usually dye outside. When a fire isn't realistic, we use a burner with a propane attachment. It works great, AND i get to be outside! Next to your dye vat, put a bucket of water and have a drying rack ready! Here's my set-up:
Tip #4: YOUR VAT MAY NOT BE READY RIGHT AWAY. Once you've GENTLY added your concentrate to the large vat, and the vat looks like this, you may introduce your fabric:
THE actual WATER should be brownish/yellow. The "flowers" on top should be bright blue.
Tip #4: WORK IT! Work your fiber in the dye vat, especially if you are dying a large piece of fabric. Instead of placing it in the vat and walking away, I like to gently massage the fiber, keeping it from touching the bottom of the vat as well as keeping it completely submerged under water.
Tip #5: AFER-RINSE. After dyeing, oxygenate your fabric in water. Some people just hang the fiber right out of the dye vat, but i like to oxygenate the fiber in a bucket of water. 1. It collects the extra indigo that we can reuse later, and 2)the fiber tends to turn out more evenly dyed. 3) It creates space on the fiber for future dips.
Tip #6: REPEAT DIPS. Usually to get a deeper blue, you'll need to repeat these steps 4-8 times. Let the fiber rest at least 5-10 minutes between dips.
Wash with a ph neutral soap until water runs clear. Hang to dry!