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Indigo on my mind

Posted on Aug 7, 2012 by in indigo, natural dyes | 7 comments

Tomorrow I will be heading up to the town of Covelo, to attend a workshop taught by John Marshall on traditional Japanese methods of working with indigo, including rice-paste resist, clamp resist and string resist. Finally some time to get my hands in the dye vat!

My indigo crop has been flourishing this year, and I have completed the first harvest and dried the leaves to compost into sukumo this fall.

Japanese indigo growing alongside dyer’s coreopsis.

Drying Japanese indigo in preparation for composting the leaves in the traditional Japanese way. The composted leaves (called sukumo) with the addition of wood ash and water, will be used to created a dye vat without the use of chemicals.

I have been learning how to compost the indigo from Rebecca Burgess, founder of fibershed and educator extraordinaire. Earlier this year we were fortunate enough to have Rowland Ricketts come to our area to teach us how to make a traditional Japanese composting floor for the indigo, and now Rebecca’s crop from last year is being composted on that floor.

Rebecca Burgess turns and moistens the pile of composting Japanese indigo leaves weekly, and then covers it with tatami mats to hold in the heat. Notice the white mold that has formed during the composting. The bacteria plays an important role in making the fermentation vat work once the leaves are composted. The process takes 100 days.

In other indigo news, Rowland has been in Japan developing an indigo-related public art project and installation, called I am Ai, We are Aiwhich is part of the 2012 National Cultural Festival in Japan.

If you want to learn more about Rowland and Chinami Ricketts, and the work they are doing with indigo, here are two interesting blog posts Studio Kotokoto’s blog:

IndiGrowing Blue: Public Engagement as Art and Capturing the Brilliant Hues of Indigo: The Artistry of Rowland and Chinami Ricketts.

Even though I haven’t had time to make any dye baths, I have continued to grow and harvest and dry dye materials for future use. My dyer’s coreopsis is especially abundant this year, and I look forward to using it in a special project at some point.

Dyer’s coreopsis produces a strong orange dye on alum-mordanted wool or silk. The flowers can be used fresh or dry.

Also looking forward to another Seaside Day of Dyes (Register Here), sponsored by fibershed and taught by Rebecca Burgess this September 22nd at Drakes Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. If you are in the area, I highly recommend it! Below are some samples from the last Seaside Day of Dyes in 2011.

samples of wool and silk dyed with Toyon leaves hang to dry on a driftwood structure built by participants


  1. Hey Dustin, It was fun finding your indigo growing so vigorously in the garden – think I might have seen some drying last time I was there too. Beautiful…

    I have my humble harvest of dried indigo and would like to contribute it to the composting shed as well. Is there going to be a time and place Rebecca will be gathering the dried indigo?

    Have a great time at the workshop!!!

    • Hi Janis! I’m not sure what Rebecca’s plans are for the next round of composting, but I’ll let her know you inquired. And I’ll let you know how John Marshall’s workshop goes. Hope you are getting settled in your new place.


  2. Great post, Dustin! Really enjoyed the pics and the story. Hope you will show some of the results of the workshops. Wish I could be there…


    • Hi Liann! Yes, I’ll be sure to post some photos from the workshop. Hope you are happily settled in your new home.

  3. Hi Dustin! I don’t know if you saw my reply to your comment, but yes, I would love to combine our indigo. Though I probably have nothing compared to your harvest – I grew mine in containers and so the plants did not thrive as well as yours – but I do have some to contribute!

    Also – I saw some Fibershed events coming up that look interesting… though I can’t recall which ones at the moment.

    Happy rainy days! Let me know when you’re ready for an indigo exchange, it would be nice to see you again! :^)

    • Hi Janis, Sounds good. I’ll email you about getting together for indigo composting. On December 1st Rebecca is giving a presentation about indigo in Berkeley: Not sure if I’ll be able to make it, but it should be an interesting event.

  4. Loooove your blog! Thansk for sharing your thoughts!