Natural indigo is a plant based dye that is one of the oldest dying methods known in the world today. Many Asian countries, such as India, Japan and Southeast Asian nations have used indigo as a dye (particularly to dye silk) for centuries. The dye begins as a seed from a variety of dye-bearing plants. The leaves from these plants are dried and separated from the stems. These dry indigo leaves are mixed with water and composted for one hundred days to make the traditional indigo dye-stuff known as sukumo. A large percentage of indigo dye produced today - several thousand tons each year - is synthetic.
There are many ways to use indigo dyes. In our workshops, we use three traditional methods; shibori, resist dyeing and pole dyeing. Shibori is the art of binding, stitching, folding or compressing the cloth before it is dyed. The dye will not penetrate deep into the fibers when it is manipulated with these techniques. The results are a variety of waves, geometric shapes and unpredictable designs. Resist dyeing is the technique of applying a substance (like synthetic liquids, melted wax, natural clays or flour pastes) onto the fabric. When the fabric is dipped into the indigo, the dye will resist the areas where the substance has been applied to. Stencils, painting with a brush or stamping can all be used to apply the resist to the fabric. Pole dyeing incorporates wrapping the fabric around a pole, then binding and compressing it. Depending on the circumference, the end results create a series of zebra-like stripes.
The best part about dyeing with indigo, is the dyeing itself! in order for the rich depths of blues to appear, the fabric is submerged into the dye and must then oxidize with the air for the color to transform. For the first few minutes that the fabric has been removed from the dye pot, the fabric will change from greens, to aquas and then the rich cerulean colors. This process is mesmerizing. The longer the fabric is submerged, coupled with the number of dips the fabric takes into the dye pot, can create subtle hues to rich, deep tones.