Indigo Dyeing

Indigo Dyeing
I am always wanting to learn something new. Even if it is really something old. That is the case with indigo dyeing. Indigo was once so essential to daily life and was also a huge cash crop to the American colonies. However, with the advent of synthetic dyes and the increased use of synthetic fabrics, which can only use synthetic dyes, indigo and many other plant based dyes were nearly lost. Thanks to those cottage artisans for keeping the knowledge alive so that I can pass it on to you my readers, as well as my own children.

I began my indigo experience with a kit from Pro Chemical and Dye. It contained the indigo along with most of the other ingredients needed to create my own indigo vat for dyeing protein fibers. I did have to add buckets and tubs, along with ammonia, unflavored gelatin, vinegar, and Ivory soap. The directions that were sent in the kit were designed for use with plant fibers, but I was able to print out the wool instructions from the help section of the Pro-Chem website.

The indigo in the kit was already pre-reduced, which allows it to dissolve more readily than its raw counterpart. The dye bath was prepared in a stainless steel pot, that could be heated on the stove to maintain the 120 degrees F that is required for the vat. Once I mixed the vat, I poured it into a plastic bucket.

To dye wool in the indigo vat, the temperature must be at the 120 mark. This can be easily achieved by immersing the bucket into a large enamel canner (that I only use for dyeing) that is partially filled with boiling water. Once the temperature comes up, the vat can be skimmed and used repeatedly. You do need to save the skimmings, also called the bloom, as they contain large amounts of concentrated indigo. The lid from a plastic ice cream bucket that has had half of the rim removed makes an ideal tool to remove and hold the bloom until you are finished with the vat.

A properly maintained vat can last for weeks or even months.

The most important step to remember is to thoroughly wet out your wool before it goes into the vat. Any air that is in the fiber will oxidize the vat and ruin it.

Once the fiber has been dyed, it must be rinsed in a preparation of Ivory soap and water. I feel like a kid again when I let the bar of Ivory get slimy in a jar of water, then use my thumbs to push the slime from the bar and into the wash tub. The next step isn’t mentioned in the directions, but I thought it was necessary to rinse in clear water before moving the dyed fiber to a rinse that contains white vinegar to neutralize the ph.

To continue on this endeavor, I ordered an ounce of organically grown indigo which I look forward to trying soon!

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