Category Archives: Play

An Indigo Story

Some processes–like developing photos in a dark room, brewing beer from hops, or making your own clothes–require commitment, care, knowledge, and equipment to master. How often do you get an opportunity to play and experiment with a full process in a weekend? I was lucky enough to be able to dye my own fabric with natural materials during my recent trip to Austin. Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers put out a call for volunteers to help tame her overgrown garden of indigo plants, and I volunteered moreso for the break from computer work than anything else. Since I wasn’t going to be in Austin for very long, I hadn’t planned on taking any of the indigo plants she offered to us after our work in the garden. But as she explained that the process could take as little as a few hours, I couldn’t resist the urge to try my hand at something new. With a little borrowing and scrounging (of jars, sewing machines, thermometers, unused fabric, and a piece of backyard space), I got to play with indigo dye and experience some more chemistry magic. (A new trend, perhaps?)

DAY 1 Harvest

Harvesting indigo from Folk Fiber’s secret garden.

Maura (right) explains the dyeing process to Cheyenne and Melba near a pile of harvested indigo.
Maura shows Ruby how to strip the indigo plant.
My personal bag of indigo leaves.
Maura let me borrow a 1-gallon jar to soak the indigo leaves in the Texas sun.

DAY 2-3 Ferment

The summer heat meant that in just a day or two, the leaves started to decompose and the water starts turning blue.

The mixture looks pretty and smells funky.

DAY 4 Dye

I cross-referenced many recipes that Maura generously shared with us to make sure the directions were clear in my mind.

Strained out the liquid into a container large enough for my fabric.
Added baking soda and aerated with a whisk.
Left it to sit. Then added Rit Color Remover to remove the oxygen from the mixture, removing the bubbles and turning the dye greenish. Fabric is soaked in warm water before soaking in the dye bath for 10-15 minutes.
The fabric is yellowish when it comes out of the dye bath but slowly turns blue as it oxidizes.
The oxidization process. AKA magic.
The exhausted dye bath.
Dyed fabric drying.

DAY 5 Sew

Here’s Kathryn wearing one of the shirts we dyed. The pattern on the shirt must have been made using synthetic thread, it didn’t take to the dye—a lovely surprise.

The dyed linen was washed with liquid detergent and some vinegar to remove the smell–and became really soft in the process! I brushed up on my sewing machine knowledge–relearning how to thread a bobbin and the machine properly–to sew down the hems of my fabric.
The final fabric. (Lighter than I had expected since I had tried re-dipping them to create gradient patterns, but still a lovely shade of indigo blue!)
And now my cloth napkins have a story I’m proud to share! :)

If you’d like to try your hand, here are some books and resources:

Many thanks to Maura & Kathryn for inspiration, tips, and helping hands along the way!


Tone Matrix

Wow. I think this one (Tone Matrix by aM laboratory) is worth the time “wasted” playing with it. So are many of André Michelle’s other experiments. Check ’em all out here.

“Simple sinewave synthesizer triggered by an ordinary 16step sequencer. Each triggered step causes a force on the underlaying wave-map, which makes it more cute.”

Tone Matrix
Tone Matrix
Tone Matrix

[Via Angela’s GoogleReader…Angela who happens to have an updated portfolio!]