Things You Should Know about Indigo Dye

Indigo is one of the oldest dyes to be used for textiles and its bold blue color has been captivating people for centuries. Currently, indigo dye becomes so trendy among DIY lovers. They can dye their fabric in any patterns they want using Indigo dye. Meanwhile, varies questions have been asked on this. Hope this blog would be of little help to you.

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If this is your first time using dye, start small and purchase an indigo dye kit that contains directions and all the items you need for your first project. Folding your cloth and securing it with rubber bands is what creates the patterns in your fabric. You can wrap and re-wrap your article many times to get various shades of blue. In fact there can be up to 40 shades available in one vat! You can also use small balls or wooden blocks to create interesting patterns.


If you are a more advanced crafter and looking to expand, Batik is a popular and fun project. Indigo adheres well in low temperatures and is excellent for creating batik. Because it adheres in lower temperatures. The wax for the batik is less likely to melt thus creating great contrast between the blues and whites. For the same reason it also works well with tie dye projects because it has less time to seep under the bands and smear colors. 


If you are a gardening lover, Indigo is a fun plant to grow. Indigo grows best outside in a warm, humid environment such as zones 6 – 12. In zones 10 – 12 it will over winter outside and is a beautiful evergreen specimen. If you are not in a southern zone you can also grow it in a greenhouse or enclosed patio. Indigo needs plenty of sunshine. Growing indigo is great for the hobbyist who wants to make their own natural dye.


When it comes to making your dye remember to practice safety and wear old clothes and rubber gloves. You may want to wear a face mask so you do not inhale the fumes. To make your own indigo dye, begin by stripping the leaves from the plant. Tear the leaves apart and place them in the top section of a double broiler. Place water in both the top and bottom of your double broiler . In the top section add enough water to cover the leaves. Bring to a simmer and allow it to simmer gently for 60 minutes. Turn the burner off and allow the leaves to cool for at least three hours. After they are done cooling stain out the leaves using cheesecloth or a mesh strainer. Your dye will be a brownish blue color. Indigo needs to be reduced so that it is soluble in water. This means you need to reduce the amount of oxygen in the water. You can do this by adding sodium hydrosulfite. To achieve a rich blue color you need to raise the PH by adding soda ash or ammonia. You can purchase PH testing strips online or from a local pharmacy. Add small amounts, stir and test until you reach your desired color. When stirring you can use electric beaters or a stainless steel whisk. Stir vigorously to create a froth. Now you are ready to add the fabric. 

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You must have to note that Indigo does not work well with synthetic fabrics because it does not bind with them. With natural fibers the indigo dye can seep in between the fibers. Synthetic fabrics do not have these fiber structures. It is too dense.


Cotton readily absorbs indigo dye. Cotton fabric is very permeable and holds many times it weight in water so it absorbs the indigo well through the layers. Use 100% natural cotton . Other fabrics that work well with indigo are silk and wool. Silk has a lot of texture and takes the indigo dye well and is fun to work with as the dyed silk is reflective giving it a shiny appearance. 


You also need to remember that it is not water soluble. Indigo needs to undergo a chemical change before it can be used effectively as a dye. This chemical change is called reduction and means the removal of oxygen from the water.  The chemical formula for indigo is C16, H10, N2, O2 and it is a resistant and very stable composition. Indigo is resistant to fading but like all fabrics will fade slowly when exposed to sunlight i.e.: drying your clothes outside on a clothes line and to repetitive washes. Indigo does not need to be mordanted before you dye it making it easier to work with. Mordanting helps to bond the dye and the fabric together.


Because of the oxidation process during dyeing, indigo can fade when rubbed and will fade with continuous washing (think indigo dyed blue jeans). Blue jeans tend to fade where there is pressure on the fabric. For example the lines around your wallet in your back pocket. Or at the knees if you bend a lot doing your job. Indigo has formed a breakable bond on top of the fabric used for our jeans. The continuous friction of your moving , or taking your wallet in and out of your pocket, causes those bonds to break down.


Indigo powder is often combined with henna to create a hair dye. This mixture creates a rich black color. The exact color will depend on your natural color – or the color you start with. When choosing a hair dye it is important to look for one with real henna and real indigo. Natural indigo is a safe product to use on your hair. Some kits contain synthetic chemicals that can be harmful to your skin. PPD, para-phenylenediamine, is a harmful chemical that is sometimes used instead of indigo. When dyeing hair you first use the henna and then complete the process by dyeing with indigo.

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Indigo has also been a controversial subject with environmentalists. It is used excessively in the blue jean industry. When indigo from the clothing factories enters the local rivers and ponds in turns the water blue. The blue toned water prevents sunlight from reaching plants and causes them to die eliminating a food source for animals living in the water. The decaying plants produce excessive amounts of bacteria further causing unbalance in the ecosystem. Sometimes the pollution in the water is so severe it actually produces noxious smells that create air pollution. In Savar, Bangladesh the pollution is so bad that people faint or throw up from the odors. Savar is home to numerous textile mills that dump their water waste in a local canal. The water pollution has effected local farmers and caused rice fields to become less productive.


China has many beautiful rivers like the Pearl River in Xintang. Unfortunately many textile companies that use indigo have built factories along the river and were dumping their water waste in the Pearl River. Officials estimate that some 200 million pairs of jeans are produced their annually. 5 million dollars has been invested by Guangzhou Water Resources Bureau to add filtration systems in the factories.


Originated in history, indigo dye has never faded from people’s attention. Let’s explore more of the color that grows out of the soil !



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