Dyeing with Fresh Indigo Plants

Japanese indigoplants in my garden closeup

Japanese indigo (Polygonum tinctorium) growing in my garden

I grew indigo in my garden this year. It has been a long time since I first tried dyeing with fresh plants.  My small patch will yield enough leaves to try a few different dyeing methods.

Stripping leaves from indigo plants

Stripping leaves from indigo plants

The leaves contain the indigo dye, so they are removed from the stems. Here I have thinned out whole plants but you can also pick leaves off the living plants and let them grow back.

"Indigo smoothie"-fresh leaves blended and strained

“Indigo smoothie”-fresh leaves blended and strained

The leaves go into the blender that’s 1/3 full of cold water and a few ice cubes.  Unlike the way I usually dye with indigo, this is a cold method.  After blending I add more leaves and blend again.  The “indigo smoothie” is a beautiful green color. It is strained through a cloth and the juice is the dyebath.

Silk in fresh indigo dyebath

Silk in fresh indigo dyebath

The fiber is put into the cold dyebath. I am dyeing 30/2 silk and some wool/mohair yarn samples. There are different ways to do this, leaving the fiber in for longer or shorter or removing it periodically to oxidize.  I am following John Marshall‘s method of rotating the skein slowly for one hour. As I work I can see the color changing.

Silk skein hung to drip  and oxidize

Silk skein hung to drip and oxidize

Oxidizing, which means exposing the indigo dyed fiber to oxygen, deepens the color. I love the dark wet colors of the silk, but I know they will dry much lighter. This method yields pastel shades of blues and greens.

I have mordanted some of my fiber in alum to see what happens. I anticipate that it will be more greenish, picking up the yellow tones in the dyebath.

Silk with no  mordant, alum mordant, and mordanted silk soaked in leftover bath.

Silk with no mordant, alum mordant, and mordanted silk soaked in leftover bath.

Here are the silk skeins I dyed.  The unmordanted skein is a light blue/blue green.  With an alum mordant I got a pale mint/sage green.  Putting a mordanted skein in the leftover bath and letting it sit  for a couple days I got a light yellow green color, which doesn’t really show in this photo. These light and even colors are beautiful as is but would also be nice for overdyeing.

Fresh indigo dyeing colors on wool croppedI got more dramatic results on my wool/mohair samples.  A nice light blue on unmordanted wool and a sage green on the wool with alum mordant. I put a mordanted and unmordanted sample in the leftover bath for a few days and got this nice spring green, very similar on both samples.

So what is next?  I still have my leftover dye bath which is fermenting in a pot.  Leftover dye bath can be heated to produce yellows, or alkalized to make blue.  And I also have plants still growing in my garden.  So more dye experiments are sure to follow.

Happy dyeing!                                                                                                                         ♥ Linda


27 thoughts on “Dyeing with Fresh Indigo Plants

    • Yes, it is really easy. Start early in the morning and keep everything cold. I rotated the skein slowly so one part was always in the air and the other part was down in the dye.

    • Yes, I am using some dye terminology but everything is fairly simple. I’d be happy to explain anything you don’t understand. Thanks for checking it out!

  1. Thank you Linda. I am going to try this method with my indigo I planted. It seems easier than the method in Rita Buchanan’s book Dyers Garden.

  2. Any estimate of the leaf weight:weight of goods ratio? I don’t have many leaves, and don’t want to lose the color through dilution!

    • I dyed a 3 1/2 oz. skien in each bath I did. The leaves filled up that very large bowl that was pictured, I didn’t weigh them. I filled the blender with leaves, blended, and added more leaves until it was full. My bath was 2 blender loads of indigo juice. It doesn’t make a big dyebath, I added a little water so I had enough to work with. I would hesitate to put much more yarn in because of dilution, like you say.

    • Yes, I will let you know. I am doing a light fastness test now. In general indigo fades more in the lighter shades. I also like to put indigo dyed fibers away out of the light for a while after dyeing them.

    • I did a lightfastness test on the wool yarns, I left them on a very sunny windowsill for three weeks with half of the yarn covered. The most noticeable fading was on the fresh indigo with alum mordant, the pale green one. Fading on the fresh indigo with no mordant (blue) and the mordanted yarn that was sooked in the leftover bath (spring green) was negligible.

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