Indigo Workshop

Following on from my semi-successful attempt to create a woad vat, I wanted to have a go with indigo. Instead of creating my own vat, I booked onto an evening workshop in Bristol where I could use an existing indigo vat and learn how to make my own. I also wanted to test how knitted fabric would react with indigo, and whether shibori resist would work well on stretchy fabric.

Flora Arbuthnott facilitated the workshop. She is a printmaker, forager and natural dyer, and says this about her dye practice:

"Being in nature is an important part of my practice. I go out foraging regularly, observing, and learning about the wild plants that grow around us. I use many of these plants for natural dyeing. Gathering meadowsweet and buddleia flowers, oak galls, and dock roots, or growing more exotic dye plants in my garden such as madder, woad, and coreopsis." (2017, online)

Her ethos is fantastic and very much aligned with mine - using locally foraged plants and growing her own.

Burns, R. (2017).  Indigo Workshop 1.  (Own Collection)

Burns, R. (2017). Indigo Workshop 1. (Own Collection)

Back to the workshop, Flora started by showing us how to make an indigo vat. I learnt that Flora uses Michel Garcia's organic 1-2-3 method to create her indigo vats, as described by Botanical Colors below:

"Michel’s technique, which is based on the traditional indigo vats of Morocco, India and Provence, relies on the chemical reactions between a mineral alkali and a natural reducing agent to remove excess oxygen (a chemical process called reduction), which liberates the indigo dye molecule, allowing it to attach to fibers and bond."  (Botanical Colors, 2017, online).

The recipe is as such:

  • 1 part powdered natural indigo
  • 2 parts calcium hydroxide, also known as lime 
  • 3 parts fructose crystals

She maintains her vat by adding more of this mixture every now and then, and also reclaims the used indigo powder by sifting the rinse water through a muslin so that it can be used again. This is not only great from a sustainability perspective, but also a financial one! Indigo does not require a mordant to fix to the fabric, which reduces preparation time and the need for more chemicals.

After learning some basic shibori techniques with wooden blocks, clamps and pegs, we set about to dipping our fabric in the vat. As with dyeing with woad, the fabric is dipped into the vat for a minute, then carefully removed, so that the fabric can oxidise and turn from green ton blue, before dipping any number of further times. The resist worked My knitted fabric worked much better than expected, and after a couple of dodgy attempts I began to get the hang of the technique.

Burns, R. (2017).  Indigo Workshop 2.  (Own Collection)

Burns, R. (2017). Indigo Workshop 2. (Own Collection)

My swatches are knitted in pure wool, and I was told that the alkaline dye vat would did make the wool a bit 'crispy', and so I was told to soak them overnight in vinegar to counteract this. After a wash with Ph neutral soap, the swatches had lost a bit of their softness, but not so much as to have ruined the textile. It's worth considering this if using indigo in the future.

I'm really please I booked onto the workshop as I learnt so much more through doing than I would have done by reading a book. It suits my learning style and just goes to show how valuable learning through doing and knowledge sharing is to learning a subject with such a rich history.