Natural Dyeing – Indigo Is Magic!! – And Oh So Cool!!

Okay, can you tell that I am excited about Indigo?

Lets admit it – I am an old hippie who grew up in and stayed ensconced in the blue jean era.  I live in blue jeans when I am not in court wearing my lawyer costume or at Faire wearing garb.  It just is who I am.  So I have been really really excited about indigo dyeing.

So what took me so long?  Well, of course I wanted to do it the traditional natural way by creating a natural fermentation vat to remove the oxygen naturally over a long period of time – because you have to remove the oxygen from the indigo vat to create the dye process which is created through the re-oxygenation of your wool when you remove it from the vat.  But with my work schedule and the boys, it finally hit me that my dream of a natural fermentation vat was going to have to wait and that if I wanted to dye with indigo I had to accept the fact that I was going to have to go the chemical assist route.  So, with a grimace and a sigh, I placed an order with Dharma Trading Company for some Spectralite (a natural dye remover which removes the oxygen from the dyebath) and for some pH testing paper, and then let myself giggle a little in anticipation.

Last weekend I finally was able to add indigo to my dyeing repetoire.  I started with 2 ounces of indigo powder that I had purchased at Rhinebeck from Earthhues.

I was already giggly.

Then I put the powder into a quart size canning jar.

Smokey particles will get in the air so you might want to be careful here.

Next I added 1/4 cup of warm water to that to make a paste.

Then I added 3 more cups of water, 2 tablespoons of lye to dissolve the indigo and then 2 tablespoons of the Spectralite – stirring the indigo after each addition until blended.  Then I let it all sit for 15 minutes  – and look!!

It turned green!!!  Well, yellowish green – which is what I wanted!

I had created indigo dye stock!!

Next was to actually create a dye pot of indigo.  This was harder than it looked because I used a large pot of water to one cup of dye stock and did not realized how much this affected the pH of the dye bath.  I lost my yellow green color and knew that I could not dye until that color was achieved.  I spent alot of time thinking it was the oxygen level in the pot before I realized that I was not getting the chemical reaction I needed because I had lost my alkalinity in the water.  The pH of the pot has to be between 10-11 using the pH strips.  I grabbed my soda ash and once I got the alkalinity correct, it all started working.

So here is what I learned that is really important when creating your indigo dye pot.  Your water temperature has to be around 125 degrees.  Your pH has to be between 10-11 using your pH strips.  You can adjust your pH in your dyebath by adding washing soda or soda ash to the pot for more alkaline or lemon juice for more acidity.  Use lye, however, for your dye stock.  Your color has to be yellow green – which is created by adding your Spectralite.  Note – if you added too much Spectralite your pot will look yellow.  In that case you have to ADD oxygen by paddling the water.  If you have all three things set, you are ready to dye your wool.

Dyeing wool with indigo is also a more hands-on process.  The yarn goes into the dye pot for “dips” which can be as little as 2 minutes long or as long as 10 minutes – depending on the color you want to achieve.  I like dark so the skeins went in for 10 minute dips.  While in the “dip” you have to keep your yarn continuously moving – and the movement is important because I tried not moving some skeins that I was just adding a section of blue to and there was minimal dyeing.  As a result, I am keeping my indigo dyeing for my superwash yarns as I am worried that a regular wool will felt during the processing.

In between each dip you let the yarn hang in the air in a shaded area for 20 minutes to oxygenate it.  Make sure you watch the first one or two.  This is where the magic happens.

So let me show you what I can of the magic.

In the dye pot your yarn is going to look a beautiful shade of yellow.  (The foam is from the washing soda I used to get my pH correct).

After stirring my yarn for 10 minutes in the dyebath I took it out of the pot and hung it on the drying rack to oxygenate – let it drip dry – don’t squeeze it at all.

It’s yellow.

Or is it . . . . .

sea green . . .

or aqua . . .

or turquoise . . .

or blue?

The yarn on the left was on its second dip where the one you watched change colors was obviously on its first dip.  This was so amazing and fun to watch.  After 20 minutes, your yarn is ready for its next dip.

Important to know – check your dye bath after EVERY dip.  I added about a half a cup of dyestock to most new dips – then checked pH and temperature and color before I started another skein.

Finally, after dyeing with indigo you have to neutralize the high alkalinity of the dyebath by soaking your yarn in a diluted vinegar bath until you have a neutral pH level.  I am pretty careful about this when working with a varigated yarn as the vinegar may affect your other colors so you need to consider this at the beginning of your dyeing to save yourself alot of fist raising at the heavens.

Also you have to wash it for about 45 minutes in a HOT water bath – like 185 degrees – then rinse it clean before curing it.  I have not started the final rinses on this yarn yet so I can’t tell you how much run you will get.  I can say that I saw ALOT more dye rinse out of my unmordanted yarn than I did from my alum mordanted yarn.  I will let you know more next week.

Okay, that is all I will do focusing on the indigo.  Now I will show you some of the neat varigated yarns I dyed this week – noting that these have not yet been rinsed so the final product may look very different.

I did a blue/green mix by adding fustic to a freshly dyed indigo yarn.

Then there is my madder, fustic, indigo, cochineal rainbow.

Here are the two indigos

Next is a marigold, cochineal, indigo blend.

Then next two are madder, cochineal and indigo.

And finally a madder, cochineal, indigo, marigold, logwood combination.

Having blue – which also gives me a great green – is making my much happier with my color combinations.

I am rinsing some other colors now which I will hopefully be able to post in their finished form next week.  I also got a new display rack which I hope to show you after the next show – which is the end of this month.

Tomorrow is Chip’s new fringed bag.  Ooooooooooooo.

Onward and Upward.

About Shelly R.

I am a Mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, an attorney, a crafter and the granddaughter of an amazing woman - my Polish Grandmother. My Grandmother gave me so much, through her love and her patience, her sayings and her time teaching me how to craft and to give to others, that it seemed fitting to share some of that wisdom, to tell some of her story, and to chat about life and crafts in a way that would be a testament to what she gave me.
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8 Responses to Natural Dyeing – Indigo Is Magic!! – And Oh So Cool!!

  1. Ashling says:

    Love that sea green!

  2. Danielle says:

    WOW!!! It really is like magic! And GREAT job with the mixed colors! I can’t wait to see them wound into skeins.

    • Shelly R. says:

      Glad you like them Sis. I don’t have the “artist’s eye” that you have, so mine is alot more hit and miss. Like the last one. I had a beautiful soft coral/pink/light blue with a big bold brash marigold gold at the end. I tried to lighten the gold with no success. So I just stuck both ends into my pot of Logwood Grey and ta da~!! I got something that at least was useable. But it was touch and go for awhile. I have that “experimental eye” that says “I wonder what will happen if I do this?”. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

  3. Kunchok Namgyal says:

    Hi there,
    We are manufacturing a hand woven Tibetan Carpet using all Natural dyes ( overhere in Nepal, we call Vegetable dyes). We are facing a lots of problem almost on all the colors. Especially the indigo blue color which we used frequently. I dont know how the dyeing factory dyes them. But after we weaves them and once the carpet are off from Loom and we wash them in cold water, the color bleeds and look very faded carpet. We used sheep wool from Tibet.

    If you could advice on the colors dyeing issue, it would be very much helpful.

    You can email me on my personal email address:

    Hope to hear from you soon.

  4. Alexis says:

    So beautiful! I’m always wondering if yarn dyers have any tips for keeping your yarn untangled while dyeing or methods of untangling after?

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