We had a gloriously sunny day on Saturday 1st September for the Introduction to Indigo Dyeing. As the indigo vats are kept outside, this made for a much more enjoyable day.
Indigo is one of the oldest dyes known. It has been used for millennia, across the world. The blue dye is extracted from several different plants, depending on where you are. In the UK woad was the favoured source for blue, which is not as strong as indigo and cannot produce deep blues on its own. Indigo remains a dominant dye even today and is most commonly known as the colour for jeans. These days there are both synthetic and natural forms of indigo available to home dyers.
On Saturday we began the day making a natural indigo dye bath. Starting from an indigo powder, this is a protracted process of mixing and waiting. The students for the day followed the preparation through themselves, so that they got a feel for the whole of the process. The dye vat which was begun at 10.30 was ready for use at 3pm.
Fortunately, another dye vat, this time of synthetic indigo, had been prepared in advance and was ready for use by the group from when they arrived. Having both a synthetic and natural dye baths available allowed the group to compare and contrast the two preparations.
The group were given a brief introduction to tie dye and simple shibori techniques. Shibori is the Japanese art of tie dye and, as with most things Japanese, is both precise and aesthetically pleasing. More informal tie dye and shibori both rely on creating areas of resist, which allow dye to only penetrate certain areas of the cloth being processed. Both are particularly suitable for use with indigo, which is a quick, cold water dye.
During the morning session, between progressing the making of the indigo dye bath, the group experimented with various techniques of tying, mostly using cotton cloth. They then introduced their experiments to the dye bath, which is done by gently immersing the pieces. The dye bath itself is oxygen free and is green. Great effort must be taken to keep the bath as oxygen free as possible. The blue colour only emerges as the piece is withdrawn from the bath, then green, and oxidizes with exposure to the air, as a result of which the green turns to blue in a magical transformation.
After the lunch break, when we had lunch outside on the terrace, the group returned to their tying. Each had a silk scarf as part of the day’s package, which they were free to either dye during the day or to take home with them to dye themselves after they made up their own dye baths using the kits provided. All of this group’s members decided to dye their scarves during the afternoon and they all produces spectacular and beautiful results.
All in all it was a very successful and enjoyable day. Each group member took away her own synthetic indigo dye kit, a beautiful silk scarf and the other samples they had produced.