Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Insipid Aqua

Knitting and fiber arts are another passion of mine, and when I can combine them with gardening, I'm a happy woman. This year, the Japanese Indigo made a nice showing in the garden.

With a little research, I found a way to use them to dye fiber. Cut them above these nodes, and they'll resprout like basil.

4 ounces of indigo, ready for the dyepot. Unlike indigo powder, this has to be used asap.

Stuffed into a half gallon of water, I bring the mixture to 160 F.

It's an uninspiring brown at this point.

After straining out the leaves, adding non-sudsing ammonia to alter the pH level, I pour the liquid back and forth to aerate the mixture. It changes color!

Now you can see the yarn stuffed in there. Before I did that, I added some Rit dye remover. That deoxygenates the mixture, and it turns a classic indigo dyebath color -- clear green.

If the jar hadn't broken, dumping the dyebath into the double boiler, it might have turned a bluer color. But the real magic of dyeing with indigo is that as you raise the fiber out of the dyepot, it's green (or in this case, only greenish). As the fiber interacts with the air, the color changes to blue! You can see in this picture that it's moving down the skein as the water is draining out.

Unfortunately for me, it did end up sort of an insipid aqua color. Not my (or Denise's) real favorite, a bummer since it was intended as a surprise birthday present for her. Fortunately we know a knitter who will actually like the color. I'm going to give it to her tomorrow. It's never a total waste!

I'm hoping to try the experiment again with fiber, not yarn, and an unbroken dye jar. To that end, I'm watering the indigo carefully.


kitsapFG said...

Well that is a nifty little undertaking. I had absolutely no idea about indigo and how the dye itself was extracted/activated. Learned something new! Thanks. Not that I am likely to tackle this - but it is interesting to understand the chemistry and plant aspects of this process.

Carolyn @ My Backyard Eden said...

That is fascinating! I remember back eons ago when I was a Girl Scout, we worked on a badge where dyed yarn with dyes we made out of natural products. I loved it. Never did indigo though. Thanks for the informative post!

allisonmariecat said...

Ooh, that's so cool! Not the jar broken, unfortunate color part, but the whole process where it changes colors back and forth.

Stefaneener said...

kitsapFG, it is actually much easier than you'd think -- getting the seeds to germinate was a bit of a trick. "Real" indigo dyeing is much more like magic than this, even. There's a rich history around it. I get the feeling this is the "lite" version!

Carolyn, did you all end up with somewhat yellow colors all 'round? In my limited experience so far (eucalyptus, sunflowers), yellow-brown is the dominant natural color! I keep waiting for Denise to come up with some dye mushrooms, and I have some Osage Orange to use when I manage to powder the wood.

Allison, it was cool. Just a dumb ending, but a very fun process. Maybe I'll try again after it regrows.

Bay Area Tendrils said...

Love learning about this plant and its uses. Welcome to Blotanical too, glad to have found you there, Alice

Susan said...

That was incredibly fascinating to read about. And that blue is Evelyn's favorite color. She will be oh so excited to try that experiment. We'll have to plant some Japanese Indigo in our garden.

Stefani said...

Welcome, Alice. I have GOT to get on the stick at Blotanical!

Susan, I guess I shouldn't have said anything negative about the color. Is she ready to try lace or socks? She can have it if so.

Toni said...

That is sooo interesting!

I'm so happy to have found your blog... and get to read about your experiences! Neat!!!

k dilley said...

I love this, and of course am wondering what part of the yard to immediately start digging up to facilitate my soon to be monochromatic lifestyle;).

Do you know if the indigo is invasive, it kind of has that look about it in the picture!

Just Jenn said...

That is so cool!

Jan said...

You are very clever and it is so fascinating to read through your post and learn something completely new! In fact, it's not something I would have thought of had I not read it on your blog. I don't knit...but I am inspired by your - huge(to me)- undertaking!

patricia said...

Amazing. I can't believe that a non-blue plant can turn something blue like that.

What next: growing your own wheat and milling it?

lynn'sgarden said...

Very cool process! And I'm sure you save tons of $$! It's June and I'm still knitting wool socks (for xmas gifts)...need a new

Jackie said...

How interesting! Good on ya for trying something new! -Jackie

Kristin said...

Indigo or cobalt is my absolute favorite color. They used to hang tapestries to dry off of the towers in San Gimignano, Italy. I would love to have seen that. Thanks for showing your process. It was fascinating.