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Natural Dye Indigo Kit Instructions Guide

There are several species of Indigo and in our kits we are using Indigoferra Tinctoria.


Our Indigo dye kit is designed to allow you to experience the joy of indigo on a small scale so you learn to understand the process of creating a 100% natural Indigo vat using the 1-2-3 method, originally developed by botanist and chemist Michel Garcia.


This kit will dye several projects and depending on how many will determine how deep your blues will continue to be. 


Indigo is an exhaustive vat so the more you use it the softer the blue becomes.If you want a deep blue make this the first project from your vat and be conscious this is a small sample kit vat so a T shirt is appropriate but not a queen size bed sheet! If you are aiming for solid colours this will use more pigment but if you want a tie dye effect this will use less pigment per project so you may get more items coloured. 


Indigo is the only natural dye that will give lightfast blues from the softest baby blue through to the deepest of blues.There are many variations and methods to work with Indigo but this 1 2 3 fructose vat is very simple and straight forward and perfect for beginners. 


Natural vats are a living organism and require care and attention to be healthy. The vat needs to be of a high alkalinity of 10 - 11 on the pH scale and must have the oxygen reduced from its environment. 


Fibres and Fabrics 

Natural fibres are the best to choose from for Indigo. Cellulose fibres are any fibre that comes from plants - cotton, linen, hemp, jute, ramie or Protein fibres are any fibre that comes from an animal - silk, cashmere, angora, wool, alpaca. Wool in Indigo needs to be treated with care due to the high alkalinity of an Indigo vat. If you really want to try wool a quick tip is after dyeing you will need to give the item a quick rinse in a bath of water and vinegar to balance out the alkalinity. You may find the soft handle of the wool can become a bit harsh but not always.

You will need : 

- A vessel to make vat in such as ; a plastic container, a bucket, a stainless steel pot, an enamel pot that’s not chipped.

The size of this vessel needs to be large enough to hold 20 litres of water comfortably and if plastic durable enough to contain water heated to approx 70 - 80 degrees.

- An old clean plastic water bottle or plastic container with a lid that seals well, with the top big enough to insert the glass marbles

- Rubber gloves

- A stick for stirring 

- piece of dowel, a straight stick from branch, broken broom handle.This stick must be clean!

- An old towel as Indigo dyeing is messy!

- Either a drop cloth for under vat or use outside on grass where mess doesn’t matter.

- A bucket of clean water to oxidise in

- Kitchen thermometer - very handy!

- An immersive heating element/rod optional for consecutive dyeing days

- Wire net or basket 

( See 2 Tips before you begin )


Re heating your vat.

This can be done with an immersive heating element/rod or by sitting your vat/bucket in a laundry trough with really hot water. Some people wrap their vat overnight with a thermal blanket to retain as much heat as possible. As this vat is not very big re heating is not so much an issue.

Step 1 - PREPARING YOUR FIBRE

In natural dyeing the most important step is the preparation of your fibres/fabric. This is referred to as scouring. If your item to dye is old or new this simple technique should be completed. 


As this is a small dye kit project the following process will be easy for everyone to achieve without extra products but we have a comprehensive guide to scouring on our website in the instructions section if you want to be thorough.


Wash your items in the washing machine on the hottest cycle with a mild detergent. This obviously cleans and will be sufficient for small projects but completing the scouring process also rids the fibre of any waxes, pectins ( for cellulose fibre ) or industrial sizing and relaxes the fibres ready for dye penetration. If your fibre/fabric is a heavy or thick cellulose fibre you may want to do this wash twice to really open up the fibres ready to absorb as much colour as possible.


Highly recommended not to jump past this process!

Step 2 - PREPARING YOUR VAT

We highly recommend making the vat the day before you want to use it as Indigo takes time to saturate, dissolve and the vat to balance and mature - for the want of a better word. You can use it the same day if desperate but regardless you are going to have to wait for the temperature to drop as it is made at ultimate temperature of 80 degrees. The prime vat working temperature when dyeing is 35 degrees. 


The ultimate temperature to make this vat is 80 degrees ( water too hot to put your hand in )and as its not a huge vat this will be relatively easy to achieve. Use the hottest tap water and then add one or two boiled kettles of water. If you have a kitchen thermometer check your temp but of you don’t have a thermometer you want water too hot to put your hand in comfortably. Fill your vessel to almost full. Consider that you will be adding ingredients, fabric and your hands and comparing a body getting into a bath the water level will rise in your vessel so don’t overfill!

Step 3 - WETTING OUT YOUR VAT & STIRRING

Wetting out

Indigo powder is not soluble so to make it soluble you need to wet it out. By doing this it allows the Indigo to activate efficiently in your vat. In your kit we have provided 5 glass marbles that are the secret ingredient to wetting out your Indigo! Another option is a mortar and pestle so you can grind the indigo for a period of time. For this kit as its more an introduction to Indigo we will use the marble technique. Indigo powder is VERY light and easily split so take care with this stage.


- Put your marbles into your plastic water bottle ( we suggest plastic as glass marbles shaken inside a glass jar could cause jar to shatter )

- Carefully tip the contents of the Indigo bag into your plastic water bottle on top of marbles then add cold water, enough to cover indigo to start with, more can be added later if required.

- Place lid firmly on bottle and start shaking! The shaking with marbles, indigo and water allows the indigo to be thoroughly wetted out/hydrated ready for use, if this process isn’t done you would find it may take longer - or maybe not at all - for your vat to balance efficiently. Keep shaking for at least 5 - 10 minutes. If you notice the mixture isn’t moving freely in bottle you may add a bit more water. Be careful when opening the lid as it does tend to burst out a bit! When completed you are ready to add all ingredients to your vat.

- First add the Indigo, try not to let the marbles fall in but if they do its not a problem, they will just hang around the bottom of the vat until its finished with. Keep adding water to your bottle, give it a swish to make sure you get all the indigo. Swish and tip into vat and repeat until all indigo is out of bottle. Once all Indigo is in your vat give it a good stir. 


Stirring

The one thing we don’t want to add to this vat is oxygen so when stirring try and keep the stick grounded to the bottom of the vessel and stir in circular motion from the middle of the vessel, creating a kind of whirlpool effect. Don’t slash around and lift stick up and down too much, we are trying to avoid bubbles which contain oxygen!

- Next add full sachet of Fructose sugar and again give a good stir

- Lastly add full sachet of Lime and stir for 2 - 3 minutes until all ingredients are dissolved. You will probably notice a metallic shimmer appear on top of vat after the lime has been stirred in and this is a good sign. You may also have created a cluster of bubbles on top of the vat, even when trying to avoid bubbles, this is called the Indigo flower and is a good thing.

- After your 2 - 3 minute stir allow the vat to settle. We recommend covering the vessel and let it rest overnight. It will take at least 3 hours if not more for the temperature to drop to a workable 35 degrees. We make our vat at the end of the day so it is ready to go first thing the next morning. When leaving it for the night we store it in a warm place, wrap an old blanket/towel/doona around it to retain heat - even doing this it will reduce dramatically from the 80 degrees and be a more user friendly temp by morning. One thing you can notice a short time after stirring is that the liquid in your vat is a golden colour, this is also a good sign. Leave your vat in the same vessel it was made in. If you tip it into another container/vessel you will fill it with oxygen and that may be the end of your vat! In preparation for tomorrows day of dyeing you can place your items to be dyed in a bowl/bucket of the hottest tap water to soak overnight. This will guarantee they are thoroughly saturated in the morning making it easier for even dye penetration.

Step 4 - DYEING 

After your vat has sat overnight check the temperature of your vat, 35 degrees is the optimum temperature so if it is under 30 degrees it will most likely need warming up a bit. If you have a subversive heating rod/element that is perfect otherwise fill the laundry trough with the hottest tap water, even a few kettles of boiling water - this should raise the temp fairly well. It is always advisable after first day of dyeing to store vat in a warm position in your house. Summer is great as you can leave it in the sunny spot in your garden or balcony or that perfect sunny window. Wrapped up in a blanket it helps to retain heat.


- Once your vat is at 35-40 degrees give it a good stir for 2 - 3 minutes and then let it settle for 20mins. This mostly lets the lime settle to the bottom of vat.

- Gather all your items to be dyed, wring out as much water as possible, give them a shake to free them up and leave them in an empty clean bucket close to your vat for when you are ready.

- Have your bucket of clean water for oxidising ready next to your work area

- Rubber gloves ready if you don’t want blue hands!

- Remove the lid from your vessel

- If you have an indigo flower on top of your vat gently scoop it out with you hands and place it in a bowl to return to vat after dyeing is finished for the day.

- Indigo works by building up the depth of colour. So one dip then oxidise then re dip then oxidise and so on. If you want a fairly soft blue you may want only one or two dips, if you are after the deepest blue you can get you may do as many as 10 - 20 dips! The deepest blues in a new vat are achieved at the start of its life so aim to do you darkest blues right at the start and keep your soft blues for the end of the vats life.

- Never stir your vat immediately prior to dyeing as the lime will mark your textile. If you need to stir it allow it to sit for at least 320 minutes as this will give time for the lime to settle at the bottom of the vat.


Two important tips before you begin.

1. A very important factor in the dyeing process is to NOT let the textile breach the surface of the vat/liquid! By doing this you are automatically starting the oxidation process therefore creating uneven oxidation as the remainder of the textile is still submerged.

2. Try very hard not to let the textile touch or lay on the sediment at the bottom of the vat. This sediment is mostly the undissolved lime and it can mark you textile. Depending on the size of your vessel we put a wire net or basket to sit above this sediment so the textile can’t come into contact with it. It needs only to be centimetres above the sediment.


- Let the blues begin! Note this process is gentle and peaceful so no rushing or fast vigorous movements in your vat.

- With your first textile slowly submerge it completely into the vat and gently open any folds or creases so the entire textile is as evenly exposed to the Indigo as much as possible. It’s important to be gentle and slow in movement so as not to stir up the lime sediment that lies at the bottom of the vat. If dyeing a garment open arms or legs, lift collars etc to allow coverage to every nook and cranny. Gently and slowly move the textile in the vat and after one or two minutes squeeze it into a ball to start removing excess indigo and slowly lift it out of the vat. Once clear of the liquid again squeeze as much indigo our as possible back into the vat - not from a great height, keep as close to the water line as possible as still you don’t want to introduce bubbles/oxygen into the vat. Once excess liquid is out of your textile you can wring it our harder to eliminate as much liquid as possible.

- Now open your textile thoroughly and give it a shake and expose it completely to the air to oxidise. Straight out of the vat the textile should be a greenish yellow and once it hits the air oxidise. Straight out of the vat the textile should be a greenish yellow and once it hits the air you will see it slowly turn to blue as it oxidises. Allow it to turn completely blue before you return it to the vat for consecutive dips.

- Some people like to oxidise their textile in water so that is a choice for you to make. If you want to do that you give the textile a shake to open any folds or creases then allow it to soak in the bucket of clean cold water for a few minutes. When removed wring out excess water and check to see the textile has fully oxidised before re dipping in the vat.

- At least 2 dips is advisable to even out the uptake of indigo to give you a nice coverage.

- You can leave your textile submerged for longer than one or two minutes but to get the best most even results building up you depth of shade with multiple dips is more thorough than leaving the textile for longer with just one dip. To gain an even pale blue an exhausted vat with at least two to three dips gives a more consistent lightfast soft blue than one quick dip.

- If you are creating a tie dye effect when your textile is in the vat be sure to open all the little folds, created by knotting your textile, to allow the indigo as close as possible to the resist points.

Step 5 - WASHING following Dye Process

Before you start your final washing make sure your textile is fully oxidised, that is there are no green or yellowish areas and the textile is completely blue.


- Rinse textile until water runs clear, you may use a mild pH neutral soap in one of the cycles. Hand washing is best but some people choose to wash in the machine.If you have wool fibres handle with great care, for the final rinse of wool its good to use 1 cap of household vinegar in a bucket of water and soak for 20 mins, this returns the textile to a more neutral pH after the alkalinity of an Indigo vat. 

- Then gently rinse in cold water.

- Hang to dry out of direct sunlight.


Please visit our Care guide for advice on ongoing care of your natural dye cloth.

Health and Safety

It is advised to wear a mask when weighing out and mixing dyes, fine to remove once dye is in liquid form. 

Yes these are natural dyes but for lung health any dust/powder is best kept on the outside of the body!

Rubber gloves are recommended when hands go into water with minerals such as Alum, Alum acetate, Iron, Calcium carbonate, Soda Ash. 

In regard to the disposal of what you will be using it will be safe to empty onto your garden as there will be an exhausted quantity of alum left in the water. All mordant and tannin baths can be reused with a minimal top up so no need to dispose of after each use, exhaust your baths as much as possible. If uncertain when disposing test the PH level, you are aiming for the neutral zone close to 7.