Focus on Indigo

I have been printing, painting and dyeing cloth and fiber for over 20 years.  For half of those years I have been enriching cloth for wearable work, using a variety of substances available to the small studio.  This year I am dedicating more attention to cloth enrichment with natural colorants.  One of those colorants is indigo.  My pieces are generally sewn first and then immersed.  I work from white (or white cloth which I have printed with other natural dyes).  There numerous resources on-line and in book form about Indigo but here is a synopsis of the process:

Indigo  is a curious dye in that oxygen must be reduced from the liquor before the color can be rendered on the cloth.  I work with an organic indigo vat, meaning that oxygen reduction is facilitated through plant material only (in this case henna).  The indigo color will not “develop” on the cloth without re-oxygenation of the immersed cloth. Put another way, the dye liquor is yellowish in hue; when the cloth is removed, it immediately begins to turn blue.  The vat is a living complex which changes character with the fluctuation of temperature, pH, sugars present, and the amount of indigo itself in reduction.  The depth of blue will vary depending on indigo present in the vat and the nature of the cloth or fiber being immersed.  It is a pretty magical substance, derived from the leaves of a number of different plant species which all have these particular characteristics!  In addition to the gallery images elsewhere on this site, here are some more images to help flesh out the process: left to right/top to bottom – liquified indigo before being added to the vat,  henna (“food” for the vat); stirring the vat; the “flower”; lovely Paris, a past intern reviving the vat; the yellow-ish dye liquor, various blues, including pieces made so far this year.

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