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DYEING WITH INDIGO
Before you buy Indigo, make sure it's what you want. It doesn't work like other natural dyes; the procedure may be more complicated than you expect. A blue chemical dye might better suit your needs. Before this sounds too negative, be assured that the blue obtained from Indigo is extraordinarily lovely and rewards you well for your effort.
Why is Indigo different? It is not water-soluble. It is a substantive dye, needing no mordant, yet the color achieved is extremely fast to washing and to light. Indigo is one of the most ancient and revered of all dyestuffs. The three recipes here all tell you how to dissolve Indigo, and how to dye with it. Deeper history and chemistry may be found in any good dye book.
Recipe #1 and Recipe #2 are quick, reliable, and very colorfast. Recipe #3, the fermentation method, is slower and less certain—but it's the easiest method to start with.
Recipe #1: INDIGO HYDROSULFITE VAT
First a note about the chemicals. They should be treated with care and common sense, but without panic. Keep them dry, out of children's reach, away from food and use clean dry utensils for measuring. Always measure the water first, into in a clean container; then add the chemicals to the water, so that you start with a weak solution and gradually get stronger.
Solution One: Sodium Hydroxide (LYE)
Put the water in a glass jar that has a close-fitting lid. Slowly add the Sodium Hydroxide while stirring. The Solution may get quite hot. This is a strong alkali and should be handled very carefully. Close and label the jar. This can be kept indefinitely, but should be clearly marked. If any gets on your skin, wash with lots of water.
Solution Two: Sodium Hydrosulfite
Put the water in a quart jar. Add the Hydrosulfite (or Thio-Urea. Stir gently to dissolve. Hydrosulfite will generate an unpleasant odor, and will keep for a few days only; the Thio-Urea should be good for several weeks. Close up and label jar.
Solution Three: Indigo Stock Solution
In a glass or enamel pan, stir one ounce Indigo Powder into ½ cup water, until thoroughly moistened. Stir in ½ cup of Solution 1. Dilute to one quart with water (add about three cups of water); and heat to 120°-130° F (never above 140° F). Add ½ cup Solution 2, and let stand 30 minutes. At this point you should see a yellowish solution beneath the blue surface (Indigo on the surface will oxidize back to the blue insoluble form). A drop of this solution running down a glass surface should turn blue in 20-30 seconds.
PREPARE THE DYE VAT:
In your large enamel dyepot, heat 2-3 gallon water to
120° F. Add 2 ounce (about 4 tablespoons) of Solution 2. Let stand
10 minutes. Then add 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of Indigo Stock Solution.
Let stand 30 minutes.
RINSING YOUR WORK:
Recipe #2: DARK BLUES WITH THE INDIGO HYDROSULFITE VAT
If you want a dark navy, use the increased-strength Stock
Solution given below. Prepare Solution 1 and Solution 2 as in Recipe #1.
Concentrated Stock Solution:
Stir Indigo into 2 tablespoons of water; stir in 2 tablespoons of Solution 1; dilute to one cup with water; heat to 120°-130° F; add 2 tablespoons of Solution 2.
To dye dark blue: prepare vat as before; add 3-4 tablespoons of Stock Solution; dip about ½ pound of fiber. After every other dipping, add 3-4 tablespoons of fresh Stock Solution. You'll have a moderately dark blue after the third dip, a very dark blue after the fourth.
Our thanks for the above Recipe to Devin McQueen, Susan Emmons, USDA Bulletin #230, Rita Adrosko's and Violetta Thurstan's books.
Recipe #3: INDIGO
-YEAST-AMMONIA FERMENTATION METHOD
Combine the above ingredients and let stand in a warm
place for about 2 hours. At the same time, dissolve 2 level teaspoons
Natural Indigo in ½ cup non-sudsing Ammonia (let sit for about
The not-very-pleasant smell will disappear from your dyed goods with the final rinse (see Rinsing, Recipe #1). With thanks to the Boston Area Spinners and Dyers, and to Fred and Willi Gerber.
Don't be surprised with any of these Recipes if your work fails to pick up color in the dyebath. It's not supposed to. The Indigo color doesn't bloom until air (atmospheric oxygen) has worked on the Indigo infused fiber. Magical, truly it is.
© Earth Guild (You may reproduce this if it is unaltered and our name stays on it.)