Venturing Into the World of Indigo

This time last year we were honored to welcome Graham Keegan (@yesgraham) and his crew to our farm as they made their way from Los Angeles to Vermont, educating communities along their route about the magic of the indigo plant. As the DC area stop on the 2019 Indigo Tour, the event at our farm began with a free indigo seedling give-away, followed by a workshop during which participants received expert instruction and hands-on experience in indigo dyeing techniques. 

Indigo has a long history as a plant textile dye dating back to the ancient world. The rich and vibrant blue color has been highly valued for its beauty for thousands of years. There is evidence of indigo used in Egyptian linen mummy cloths from around 2400 BC. Although the ancient techniques in the art of indigo dyeing have largely given way to synthetics and mass production in the textile industry, fiber artists such as Graham are committed to keeping the art and knowledge alive.

At Lady Farmer, we are especially interested in the role of such techniques in creating beautiful, sustainable garments and home goods. It took me almost a year, but during this time of quarantine I finally got around to setting up my own indigo vat, and have had great fun playing with this unique art form.  A favorite white shirt, some linen napkins, and my Demeter Tunic from our Lady Farmer Essential Collection (which I wear constantly!)  have all been renewed with a beautiful, deep blue stain. The results have been delightful! Other pieces are going into the vat this week, adding to our small collection of hand-dyed, organic items.

If you’re interested in giving indigo dyeing a try yourself,  here’s an overview of the process, with a few links added for more information. 

First, you have to set up your indigo vat, which requires a few specific supplies and tools.  There are several ways to do this, all of which can work equally well. I began with this all-inclusive kit that Graham Keegan created and has made available on his website.  This kit has everything you need for a quick, simple start. Once you’ve got it, all you need is two five gallon buckets, a stirring stick and some hot water at the ready and you’re good to go.

Another great resource is this recipe from Botanical Colors. I have now used both methods and can say they were both simple to do and worked equally well. 

Once you have your vat set up and it’s ready to go, you can start dipping!

Both of the websites listed above are loaded with instructions and tips on how to do this, as well as techniques such as shibori, block printing and resist. We have linked a few of our favorites below – the possibilities are endless! The more you dip, the darker the shade of blue on your fabric. As long as you keep your vat well maintained (by keeping the ph balanced) it can last for months and through several dyeing projects. 

We’re having such fun with it here, and can’t wait to show you what we’ve been up to. So be on the lookout for some lovely indigo dyed goods to be coming up in the Lady Farmer Marketplace on May 30th, or try it yourself! Either way, welcome to the delightful magic of indigo!