Home PageDyeingThe Alchemy of Indigo

Sep 07

The Alchemy of Indigo

The smell wafts up from the handwoven, indigo-dyed cotton cloth as I’m ironing it. It’s an unmistakable odor—a little sweet, a little pungent. If you’ve dyed with indigo, you know this smell and you understand the magical, transformative process of this dye.

Many people have been taken in by indigo’s magic. You don’t have to be a dyer to experience it. I witnessed it last year, sitting in a packed Santa Fe theater for the release of Mary Lance’s captivating documentary, “Blue Alchemy: Stories of Indigo”. This film weaves together stories of indigo’s cultural traditions and people who are reviving it. The collective “ohs and ahs” from the viewers confirmed indigo’s magical powers taking hold. (Click here to view trailer.)

Here’s a simplified version of the dye process: Once the dyebath is prepared, it’s a deep, rich blue with scum on top.

Stirring the indigo bath; scum forming on top

The first dipping in the indigo vat; the cloth is light teal green.

After dipping the cloth into the bath and removing it, the cloth is a pale teal green. But once the air starts to oxygenate the cloth, it turns blue.

As the air oxygenates the cloth, it starts to turn from green to blue.

The more dips into the bath, the darker the cloth becomes.

After repeated dippings in the indigo bath, the cloth gets darker and darker.

So are you now intrigued to try it yourself?

And if you’re on the east coast next Friday, Sept.14, you can join botanist, chemist, and world-recognized natural dye expert Michel Garcia for an inspiring guided tour through Winterthur’s museum and grounds in Delaware (www.winterthur.org). He’ll also be conducting a workshop “Provençal Prints & Organic Indigo on Cotton” Sept. 11-13.

 *Thank you to Dagmar Klos, natural dye teacher and author of Dyer’s Companion, for providing images for this post. 

Tags: , , , ,