I just finished up a pretty crazy October. Happy and resting on the couch today, celebrating…November…book reading season is approaching.
I taught 3 textile based workshops this month, two in Gibson’s at The Arts Building, and one in Powell River, BC. I posted about the Thickened Natural Dye Workshop last, and this post is all about Indigo…
Up until last spring, I was sold on the ‘chemical vat’ that uses Thiourea dioxide as a reducing agent, and Lye as the Alkaline for a good strong, long lasting, Indigo Vat. However, now that I learned how to make an Organic Indigo Vat using fruit, I think I’m sold on that! Read on for the recipe…
I have followed the same recipe for 6 years, usually always achieving beautiful deep blues.
The recipe I follow is based on Maiwa’s recipes. It is as follows.
Create a Stock Solution
Fill up a quart size Mason Jar with warm water. Add 1 1/2tsp lye* to the water. Once you pour the lye in, back up and let it sit about 30 seconds before you stir it all in. Next add 2 1/2 tbsp Indigo to the jar and stir in a circular motion, for about 2 minutes. Now you are ready to add 1tsp thiourea dioxide and stir for one minute. Let this stock solution sit for 30-60 minutes.
*When working with lye you should always wear long sleeves, protective eye wear and rubber gloves. Lye is caustic and will burn your skin very badly if the lye-water gets on you.
Once 45 minutes pass, fill up your plastic or non-reactive vessel with 20 litres of warm water. Add 1/8tsp lye to this and 1 tsp thiourea dioxide. Let this sit 15 minutes, and then slowly add your stock solution to your vat. Stir in a circular motion to activate the Indigo, for about a minute. Let sit for 15-30 minutes and then you are ready to dye your fabric.
In one of the classes I taught we doubled this recipe and got some noticeably darker shades on our first dips. I would suggest this if you have a lot of fabric, or a lot of people. This recipe is for dyeing 2lb of cotton light blue and 1lb of cotton dark blue.
You want to leave your pre-wetted fabric in the Indigo Vat for 2-5 minutes and then take it out and let it sit in the air for 10-20 minutes. This is called oxidizing, and you will see your fabric turn from the green color it comes out of the vat, to a blue color over the first couple minutes in the air. You will achieve a deeper blue by dipping and oxidizing, not by leaving the fabric in the dye longer. In Japan they only do one dip a day!
Ok so yeah. I love this recipe, it works great, they call it the ‘workhorse’ vat at Maiwa. However once I started teaching this recipe I had a lot of people questioning it’s ‘Naturalness’ because you’re using lye. yes lye is a chemical, but it still does come from nature. anyway…this led me to learn about the Organic Fruit Vats…and I must say, I’m in Love.
Now I am using this vat at home, and teaching it. One reason I love it, I make it with Banana’s and it smells SO GOOD! not so farty and fermented as the ‘chemical vat’.
Here is the recipe I am using.
Find 2 packs of over ripe bananas at the grocery store, or ripen them at your house. Weight them out of the peel, you want 1kg of banana’s (you can also use pear, dates, figs) Squeeze up the banana’s and put them in a pot with 6-8 litres of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain the liquid to add to the Vat.. Fill up a 20 litre pot about 3/4 full with warm water. Add your strained banana water to this pot. Save your cooked and mashed banana’s for the future. In a jar that seals well, add some soft rock or marbles, some water and 50g of Indigo powder. Shake this up for 1 minute. Strain off into your pot of water with banana water. Now add 30g of calcium hydroxide and stir in a circular motion until you have a bit of a whirlpool affect. Now stop, put a lid on the pot, turn the burner on high and let it heat up to about 120, or when you notice steam. Turn it off. Put a towel over it and let sit for 12-24 hours.
Once 12-24 hours has passed add 1 tbsp. calx and some heat. Once it gets to about 120F or a steam, take it off the heat and you’re ready to use it for dyeing.
When you are dipping your fabric in the Organic Fruit Vats you want to dip for 10-15 minutes, and oxidize for 10-20 minutes.
The part that I love about this vat, besides it’s smell, is that you can keep it alive, like sourdough, by feeding it. So basically you want to keep it’s PH levels above 8. When you have used it for dyeing for a few hours it will at some point need a rest, you want to add 3 cups of banana water (that’s why you save the banana’s- make more water) and then heat it up to 120F and let it rest a bit. When you want to wake it up to use it for dyeing again, add 1 tbsp calcium hydroxide to get the PH up to 11-12. It seems like you can keep this Vat alive a very long time, by not letting it’s PH get low, feeding it alkaline and sugar. I love this ZERO WASTE Indigo Vat. We’ll see how I do keeping this alive in the winter.