Questions and answers about INDIGO DYEING.

Q: What is your recommended amount of indigo for a five gallon vat if I wanted a pale blue, not a dark blue?

A:  The kit comes with a bottle containing 50g of indigo extract. This is plenty to make a very saturated blue dye achievable with only a half dozen dips or so. If you would like a paler blue, it is best to get there with the same number of dips, though each dip will only be a baby step toward deep indigo as opposed to using the full strength of the vat. So, you can mix up the vat as normal (same amount of water, all the iron, all the lime) and simply add 1/4 of the indigo. This will produce a weak vat. When you layer many dips in this vat, you'll get some wondrously rich pale blues. You can save the indigo for later addition or for another vat.


Q: I have had great results working in a 5 gallon container but want to be able to dye yardage and large pieces. I've never dyed in a larger container. Can I use a large trash can (32 gallons)? Do the proportions simply need to be multiplied by 6 to account for the size?

A:  Essentially, yes! To work in larger dye vats, you must scale up the amount of each of the vat ingredients to get it to behave similarly on the larger scale. You're leaving the realm of working with kits when you start using containers larger than 10 gallons. Take a peek at the page on my website that goes more in depth on creating your own indigo vat from scratch : Indigo Vat Basics


Q: My Indigo vat no longer has a flower and is no longer yellow-greenish. When I dye, the cotton reacts blueish and not greenish. How do I keep the vat healthy? Do I need to warm it up?

A:  Take a look at the photos below. One shows the surface of a spent vat, the other is a healthy vat that was just mixed up complete with a flower and yellow-green sediment that needs to be allowed to settle out before dyeing. Eventually all vats will become exhausted and will need disposing.

When your vat begins to look opaque green/blue or blue/grey, you need to stop dyeing or rehabilitate your vat via a process called 'sharpening'. If your vat is dark and opaque, no more pigment will transfer onto your piece, no matter how long, or how many times you dip. That said, you probably still have some residual pigment left in the vat, it is just not in proper shape to transfer onto the fabric.


Q: Will sun fade the indigo? I noticed my indigo was a lot darker when I first placed it on the line to dry.

A:  Yes, sun will naturally fade indigo. However, it takes days, weeks and months of UV exposure to appreciably remove any color. It sounds like you're describing the process of lightening that naturally happens when the piece dries out. Wet indigo always appears darker than dry indigo, the way wet stones do when taken out of water.


Q: How do I dispose of my indigo vat?

A:  Your natural dye kit indigo vat contains these three ingredients : Indigo Pigment (an organic molecule), Ferrous Sulfate (100g) and Hydrated Lime (150g). Both of these compounds are traditional soil amendments for trees and lawns.

There are two recommended methods for disposal, both start with this step :

When your vat is exhausted (you've pulled all the pigment out that you can) whisk air into the vat (a huge no-no when you're trying to dye). This will introduce Carbonic Acid (dissolved Carbon Dioxide) into the solution, neutralizing the pH and converting most of the Lime to Gypsum.

1) If you are on a septic system : Do not dispose of any liquid down your drain, instead, dilute your vat to 1/4 strength and disperse evenly on a lawn or the ground at the base of trees and shrubs. If you have iron deficient soils, this can help green your plants (http://homeguides.sfgate.com/add-iron-garden-soil-95549.html)

2) If you do not have available green space, or are on a municipal sewage system : Allow your whisked vat to settle out. Pour the opaque blue liquid down the toilet being careful not to allow sediment to flow out. Dispose of the remaining chalky sediment in the trash.


Q: Is cotton a good type of cloth to dye?

A: Yes, cotton would be great! In fact, the bandana that's included in the kit is 100% cotton.

The indigo vat style provided in this natural dye kit is know as the iron vat and contains ferrous sulfate and lime, both of which can be damaging to finer protein fibers like wool and silk. However, all plant based fibers work exceptionally well in this vat style, that includes cotton, hemp, linen, ramie, rayon, etc. And as you'll see when using the clamps included with the kit, even wood dyes very well!

Synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon do not dye well.


Q: What's that smell?

A: A natural indigo vat has a unique smell somewhere between earthy, musty, smoky with a hint of grass and manure!

The indigo pigment that comes in your bottle is actually a fermented extract from a plant. As a result, different seasons and batches of indigo, as well as indigo from other locations will have varying smells. Different vat preparations also create different smells and believe it or not, this vat style, known as the iron vat, has the least smell!

After your dyed goods are rinsed in the citric acid solution and washed, the smell fades.


Q: Do I need to use hot water to prepare my vat?

A: No. You can use cold, warm or hot water. The warmer the water, the quicker the reaction between the lime, iron and indigo will occur. I've had vats ready to dye in as little as an hour with very hot water, but a cold water preparation works exactly the same, just takes longer to develop at around 24 hours.


Q: How do I set the indigo dye?

A: Quick answer : Air and something acidic.

Long answer : Indigo is a vat dye. The pigment molecules adhere to the fabric when they are in an elevated pH and chemically reduced (devoid of oxygen molecules in this case). When the fabric is reintroduced to the chemicals in our atmosphere (namely the oxygen in air) it oxidizes, turning from leuco-indigo to indigotin by incorporating oxygen. The when entirely blue, the piece then needs to be rinsed of all excess pigment and submerged in an acidic bath. The Indigo & Shibori Natural Dye Kit includes a packet of citric acid which can be used to create a rinsing bath for your work. Citric acid in water is historically called a "Sour Bath." This sour bath will bring the pH of your goods down from the pH11+ conditions of the indigo vat. Many other acids can be used including vinegar, lemon juice (essentially liquid citric acid), or strongly steeped black tea.


Q: How many times do I have to dip to get a super dark indigo?!

A: This dip-o-meter was produced using the Indigo & Shibori Kit. As you can see, each dip adds a bit more pigment to the piece. The earlier dips were as short as 20 seconds, while the later dips lasted as long as 10 minutes.

Q: I purchased a Indigo dye From Dharma Trading which is supplied by Jacquard company and the dye flower did not form very well and I found that the pieces that I dyed faded out almost to white which was very strange, after creating beautiful pieces, this was heartbreaking! So don't know if that was inferior dye or ash or what it could be?! Since I already have a vat going do you think I should just add the items in your kit to my present vat or start over!

A: The three ingredients that Jacquard uses for their vat are synthetic pre-reduced Indigo (blue bottle), Soda Ash (Granular white powder) and Thiourea Dioxide (Thiox, finer white powder). I have to assume, because your flower didn't form well and your pigment washed out, that your problem was with the Thiox, which is the reducing agent in the vat. Its job is to modify the indigo molecule so that it will elect to bond with your fabric. If this chemical is compromised, your pigment will never be fully reduced and your vat will not turn yellow/green. The strength of thiox will degrade when it is exposed to air. Perhaps your baggie of it was old, a bad batch, or wasn't tightly sealed.

The Indigo & Shibori natural dye kit can certainly be added to this vat and the two should work in concert and give nice rich dark shades! The Natural dye kit kit uses different ingredients (Natural Indigo from Plants, Slaked Lime and Ferrous Sulfate). It is great for plant fibers, but its strength can damage animal fibers like silk and wool. So consider that before dyeing


Your dye kit comes complete with a load of supplies and materials that you can use to make designs on fabrics. Some parts of the process are complex and we may not have had room in the printed instructions included to go in depth.

If you have a question that has not yet been answered to your satisfaction, ask away!

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