How to start indigo dying

How I set up my indigo dye vat with images and videos

I have been in love with dyeing fabrics for as long as I can remember. My first was very rustic and really cool. It was with Girl Scouts at one of our local campsites, we built a fire and tied up our tee shirts and dyed in a good old Rit hot water bath method. I don’t have a crystal clear memory of that day but the outdoors and fire stuck with me.

Silk scarves from Dharma Trading get the first dip in the vat (dipped this three times).
Safety first, this mask is really not ideal for particulate matter but was better than nothing

Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love having my indigo vat under the tree in my back yard. I don’t know if it’s an ideal location for everyone, but it keeps me from staining the patio floor or garage which makes for a happy family. Nostalgia and practicality aside this is one of my favorite creative endeavors.

It’s like magic and chemistry at my fingertips – @Laurendurrdesig

Dye vat under the tree, removing the indigo flower before dipping in.

I purchased all my supplies I  from Dharma Trading Co. online. I had been lurking at the indigo options for some time and after a failed attempt at getting the powdered plant I kept for hair dying I felt it was time to go to the professionals. [youtube]

They have a few options but I went with the pre-reduced crystals and followed their recipe on the website. I was ready to dye in about 30 minutes! I had a 5 gal paint bucket and a dollar store drip bucket ready to go, but I had to wait on my fabrics to be washed and ready.


Three week old dye vat ready for a reduction

There are other recipes of indigo vats but they all contain:

  • Indigo

  • A Reducing Agent

  • A Base

I haven’t tried the fermentation method found here at Aurora Silks and here a complete list of types, recipes and techniques from the botanist and dye chemist Michel Garcia with Maiwa Handprints Ltd. a very useful reference.

When the dye vat looks dark blue like that it needs to be reduced with a little thiourea dioxide this can take a few minutes out of your dye time but not days like the fermentation vats. I keep a quart mason jar to mix the thiourea dioxide with hot water before adding to the vat. Using the pre reduced indigo made the first foray into indigo dying go quickly and smoothly. I was able to dye vintage linen handkerchiefs, swatches of linen, silk scarves and a pair of shorts before needing to reduce the vat and wait.


My process went as follows:

  1. Scour your fabric: you can hot water wash your fabric with a free and clear detergent or boil it on the stove with a detergent like the blue Dawn.
  2. Tie, wrap, fold and bind the fabric as you like (I used marbles, rubber bands, wood shapes and cloths pins to create white areas).
  3. Wet out (soak the fabric in water) and gently wring out excess.
  4. Remove the indigo flower with a small bowl (it could cause unwanted spotting) and set aside.
  5. Gently add your fibers/fabrics (no splashing, dropping or swishing all these things could add air/oxygen and we don’t want that) you can weight down your items or gently massage them under the surface for 1-2minutes.
  6. Gently remove your items, you can lightly squeeze out the excess dye near the surface or wring out into a drip bucket that you pour back into your vat.
  7. Let the item oxidize for 20-30 minutes, keep it bound if you plan for a darker color.
  8. For darker blues repeat steps 5 thru 7 till the item is two to three times darker than what you would like your finished project to look.
  9. Once your color is where you like unwrap your items and rinse in water
  10. I have practiced two methods at this point with little difference:
    1. Heat set in the cloths dryer or with iron
    2. Wash with free and clear (or Synthrapol) cloths detergent and dry according to fiber needs.

I have really enjoyed using the pre reduced indigo but want to try a fermentation vat in the future. I hope you find as much join in turning things blue as I have!


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