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day of indigo

Posted on Nov 1, 2010 by in indigo, natural dyes | 6 comments

October 30th was a wonderful day of learning about the many ways to work with indigo at Rebecca Burgess‘s class at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas. We started the day in the yurt classroom with a talk and slideshow describing a number of ways to work with indigo, and then we moved into the greenhouse for the hands-on learning. As Rebecca pointed out, when we grow and use natural indigo, we are returning to the ways that our ancestors dyed fabrics for hundreds of years, instead of depending on the highly toxic petroleum and heavy-metal based blue dyes that have been used for just over 100 years.

A few of the student samples from the class. From left to right, batik, batik, stitched shibori, clamped shibori.

Traditional Fermentation Vat

Rebecca talked first about creating a fermented indigo vat, which takes a few weeks to prepare, but can be used indefinitely by adding the ingredients again as needed and allowing the fermentation to continue. In some cultures the indigo vats that were started over 100 years ago are still in use. Rebecca brought two vats that she has been using for several years to the class.

So far I have only worked with fresh leaves to create a vat that only lasts for a day (see my previous post about that), but this recipe uses a ground indigo precipitate, which I look forward to trying. Here’s a good tutorial using the method that Rebecca discussed:

Michel Garcia’s Fruit Vat Method

We also learned about creating an “instant” indigo vat using the ground indigo. The indigo is fed by a syrup made from a fresh fruit that contains flavinoids, such as pears. Rebecca learned this method from Michel Garcia when she visited his studio in France (her post about that visit). This recipe is available in this video of Michel teaching about natural dyes.

Rebecca demonstrates the “instant” indigo vat in two half-gallon jars. The sweater she is wearing is one of the garments from the Fibershed Project. It is hand made with fibers and dyes from within our local fibershed of 150 miles.

Decorative Techniques

We used a number of decorative techniques on our fabrics before immersing them in the vats. Rebecca demonstrated batik and some simple shibori techniques using tongue depressors, stones and rubber bands. (Who knew?) I demonstrated arashi (pole wrapping) and stitched shibori methods that I learned in Ana Lisa Hedstrom’s class during the summer.

In batik, students use melted wax to create a design before dying the fabric. A finished sample is shown at right.

a student sample combining shibori and batik techniques

Indigo Fabric Paint

Another fun recipe we experimented with is an indigo paint developed by Michel Garcia to use on natural fabrics. This information is also on the Michel Garcia video mentioned above.

my experiment with clamped shibori (center) and indigo “paint” on fabric (far right)

Click here to read Rebecca’s post about this class and see additional photos on her blog.

In my next post I will describe seed saving for next year’s crop. And soon I will write about the method we learned for composting indigo leaves to create sukomo, or indigo balls.


  1. Very interesting, thanks for this! I also look forward to learning about saving the seeds as I’m collecting them right now and it’s my firts year growing indigo.

    • Hi, Eva. It’s my first year growing indigo too, and so far the seed saving is going well. I’ll write a post on it soon, but in the meantime, here’s some general seed saving information from an organization that a friend of mine started:


  2. Dustin

    Thankyou for this beautiful and inspireing websites and photos.
    I have been trying to cATCh up on have to’s and get to want tos.
    So exciting to see colors and plants. USed to collect,grow (gave some maddr plants to Mendo project and traded some to Cheryl) and dye yarns. Have no more maddr plants or most dye seeds now. Met Miriam Rice about 25 years ago and again ~15, she was so amazing. Just found some fungus to try and will check on some “weeds” to dye with also. The photo of black walnut on yarn looked bluish, how does that work?
    Lynn D

    • Hi Lynn,

      Thanks for the compliment! It sounds like you are getting back into natural dyes again. I never met Miriam, but have heard many good things about her. I love her recent book and have been studying with Dorothy Beebee, one of Miriam’s students.

      As for the yarn dyed with black walnut, it is actually shades of brown (not bluish). Unfortunately, it’s difficult to convey the true color of something over the internet, since monitor colors vary so greatly.

      Best regards,

  3. Very interesting Blog….I’a also still productions Batik hand written with Natural dyes and also Making Indigoferra tinctoria pasta for Colouring Cloth ( Batik ) in Semarang,Indonesia.
    My Blog is

    Best Regards,
    Eko BS./+628562664389

    • Hi Eko, Thanks for commenting! I looked at your blog, and although I can’t read it I enjoyed seeing the photos. I find Indonesian batik very beautiful.

      Best regards,