Mother Earth Gardener

Shades of Blue

Shades of blue are obtained from an indigo-dye pot by successively dipping, exposing to air, and re-dipping wool. The lightest of these skeins was barely in the dye pot – less than 30 seconds. You can also plan to do your darker blues first, when the dye pot is the fresh. Photo by Elizabeth Janoski

There is an element of magic present in the use of indigo dye. As author Catherine E. McKinley explains in her book Indigo: In Search of the Color that Seduced the World, this ancient, brilliantly blue dye-stuff connects weavers, artists, scientists and religious leaders across continents, cultures, and centuries. Produced by what McKinley describes as a “tiny leaves of small parasitic shrubs,” indigo continues to intrigue fiber artists and is readily available in an easy to use form from a number of mail-order suppliers.

While purists may be drawn to the lengthy and laborious process of raising their own indigo and processing their own dyestuff, the rest of us will be well be satisfied with purchasing a pre-reduced indigo powder which allows even the most inexperienced dyer to set up a dye pot immediately as a one-time dye bath needs nothing but water and indigo powder. There are also easy recipes for sustaining a dye-pot over several days, or longer.

For me, the indigo-dyeing is compulsive and the properties of indigo that allows it to bind with not only wool, but also all manner of natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, and silk only encourages my obsession to color my world in shades of blue. There is something so fascinating about dipping a pure white wool into a rather nauseous green vat that has the look of an oil slick floating on the surface and then pulling it out to watch it turn from yellowish green into a beautiful blue much like a Morpho butterfly spreading its wings.

As the wool comes out of the dye-pot, the blue color begins to emerge and continues to strengthen in the light. Unlike most other dyes, indigo requires exposure to oxygen to set so leaving it in the dye pot for longer than it takes to soak the fiber is not necessary. Shades of indigo are achieved by allowing the color from the first dip to mature, then re-dipping the fiber until the desired depth of shade is achieved. At home, it is quite impossible to exactly repeat your results as there are too many variables to control. For example, as the dye vat is used, the color gradually exhausts so to achieve a particular shade, the wool must be left in the vat for an increasingly longer time. My advice is to embrace this opportunity for diversity and plan your wool for a project that makes the most of the variety in depth of color. After all, has there ever been an unattractive shade of blue?

  • Published on Oct 3, 2016
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