FEEDBACK FRIDAY: This Week in Natural Dye Questions

image courtesy of John Marshall

This week: Info to make a dried indigo leaf vat and wait, can you use indigo for hair and soaps??

Every week, we are emailed with questions from our natural dye community asking simple and complex questions that we thought might be worth sharing. Of course, all of your burning questions are answered by natural dyer in chief, Kathy Hattori, Founder of Botanical Colors.

I am a shepherd and natural dyer located in Bellingham, WA, and wanted to inquire about how to make a 1-2-3 vat using dried indigo leaves. I have searched the internet high and low and cannot find any specific information, details, or a recipe. Could you provide some guidance, assistance, or links to recipes that I may have missed?

The reason you cannot find information is that it is not the “normal” way of using Persicaria that is commonly employed here, and the information that is available is in out-of-print texts that are mostly in Japanese. We are carrying a book (in English) that covers this type of indigo extensively and includes:
-How to use fresh leaves
-How to use fresh and dried leaves, combined
-How to use dried leaves in several ways (sukumo, traditional vat, cooked vat)
-Cultivation and harvest and seed saving
-Using the indigo pigment for painting
The book is called Singing the Blues and is by John Marshall. John has actually translated information from Japanese dye books as well as used all of the techniques he details in the book. It has tons of illustrations and clear instructions. You can purchase it here.

I hope this helps and that it’s a resource you can use as an indigo grower.

Also of note, the Polygonum tinctorium indigo he talks about in his book is a type we sell here from Stony Creek Colors.

Can one use your indigo and other botanicals in soap making? I’m looking for a dark rich blue color in soaps and may be interested in other botanicals you offer to color soap.

Other soapmakers have used our indigo to create blue soap. Since it is a pigment, it seems to hold up in the high alkalinity of soap making.  I would recommend the organic indigo as it is the strongest version of the different indigo varieties that we carry.

I have used natural indigo to dye hair many times, however, can the 1-2-3 vat indigo likewise be used to dye hair? Also, in the absence of fructose, can sucrose or glucose be used?

We do not recommend using an indigo vat for hair or body as it is very alkaline and could damage skin with prolonged contact. It is specific for textile type dyeing. Sucrose or glucose are not useful in a vat as their chemistry works differently and they are not effective.

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