FEEDBACK FRIDAY: This Week in Natural Dye Questions

This week: Let’s talk indigo…

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 think I’m at the end of the blue in my indigo vat and wondering if I should start a whole new vat or add to the one I have. Pros and cons?

Aboubakar Fofana believes that an indigo vat has a lifespan, and he sets a vat and uses it until it has aged and is yielding shades that are just a whisper of blue, then ceremonially retires the vat without adding more indigo. Other dyers maintain an indigo vat for months or years, carefully feeding and observing their vat. The decision is based on the dyer and the types of work they do.

Do you sell a type of indigo that works best to get that real dark blue I see on vintage Japanese workwear?

Getting a dark blue is the result of skill and multiple dips in the vat. Most indigo varieties will produce a similar color and according to research, the very inky, blackened blue from Japan is often the product of many, many indigo dips over many days, careful aging and finishing. It was so precious that it was rarely used for work clothing but more from ceremonial and special occasion pieces.

I have a coppery sheen on the top of my indigo vat but no flower. Do you think it’s still going to give me color?

The best way to tell is to test a swatch of fabric in your vat and observe what happens. If the piece oxidizes and produces a color, then proceed with dipping. Sometimes the flower is huge and vigorous and sometimes it’s dispersed and tiny, but the presence of scum or a metallic “skin” on the top of the vat is a good thing.  The size of the flower and metallic skin is usually proportional to the amount of indigo in the vat. If your dip seems very light, add more indigo solution or stir the vat and let the sediment settle as the sediment holds quite a bit of indigo in it and you want to have it react with the rest of the vat.

Related links:

Michel Garcia’s 1-2-3 Vat

Hints & Tips for Natural Dyers: How to Minimize Indigo Crocking

Round-Up of Indigo Dyeing Questions