I just dropped the price of
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uses include:
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Indigo blue - growing, harvesting, processing and marketing indigo dye plants  RSS feed

 
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Hej Hej!
In our woad project we tried a number of different techniques, some much more successful than others: I thought I'd start with the simplest modern one, and then, in another post describe a more complicated extraction process, and then  I can get into some of the more oldy-timey techniques .
The most common technique used today is actually basically the same as one commonly used with indigo, except that it starts off with extracting the dye chemicals from the plant matter rather than just buying powdered dyestuff. You harvest your leaves, wash them in cold water, shred them into 4-5cm (about 2 inches)pieces, and then cover them with 80 degree Celsius water for 10 min. After the 10 minutes, cool the liquid down to 50-55C as quickly as possible (we used a cold water bath with running water in), and then take out the leaves, squeezing them to get out as much of the liquid as possible. Then add enough lye (we used homemade wood-ash lye, which was about pH13)  bring the pH of the dyebath up to at least 9. I've read that calcium carbonate can also be used, but I've never tried it myself, so I can't say for sure- I have to say, I have some doubts, as its pH is much lower than lye, and I'm not so sure that it would raise the pH of the bath enough...
anyway, after the dyebath's ph is raised, it needs to be aerated. We did this a couple of ways.  If it was early in the day, and I was feeling all muscular-like, I'd just pour it back and forth between two kettles. This had the advantage of being the faster method, but as we were doing 15-18 liter batches, it was a little tiring. Later in the day, or if I hadn't had much coffee, we'd use an electric hand mixer, and a ladle to introduce as much air as possible into the liquid.
Either way, what we were looking for was for the dyebath to turn from tea-coloured to a yellowish-green, then blue, and then back to a darker green. This colour change is easiest to see in the foam that forms on top during the aerating process Once we had the green foam, we added sodium hydrosulphite, let it sit, covered, for 20-40 minutes, till the dyebath turned a light yellow, and we were ready to go. To dye, you simply put thoroughly wetted wool, yarn, or fabric into the bath as gently as possible, so as to introduce as little air as possible into the dyebath, let the stuff sit there for about 15-20 min, stirring it gently every 5 min or so, and then take it out slowly, with as little splashing as possible. Let the stuff hang and air for about 20 min to let the colour fully develop and set, and then if you want a deeper shade, dip it again, this time for only 5 min, and then air for another 20 min. With wool fibers, yarn, or fabric, I don't like to dip more than 3 or 4 times total, as wool doesn't like high pHs- I also give wools a final rinse of white vinegar after the after-dyeing wash. Linens and cottons do just fine with high pHs, so you can redip them till your dybath is exhausted if you want. Once you're satisfied with the colour, let the stuff hang overnight, then the next day, rinse it thoroughly in a few changes of water, and as I mentioned,  a final rinse with some vinegar in the water for wool.

So this got relatively long, so I'll do the more advanced extraction process, and the older techniques in different posts

Thanks to Judith for telling me how to put in these photos
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aerating the dyebath
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Adding the hydrosulphite
 
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can anyone tell me if it's possible to include pictures from my computer in posts, and if it is, how I do it?


When you are replying...at the bottom of the 'message box' click on 'attachments'.  This will let you add three pictures (per post) from your computer that will appear at the bottom of your post.  Depending on where your pics are stored you might also be able to use the 'Img' that is above the message box...first right click on the image you want to post and choose 'copy image location', next click on the 'img' above the message box and paste the location there.   This option will allow you to insert pictures where ever you like within the text of the post.
  I use images from my computer stored in 'pictures' so can only use the 'attachments' option.

Great post on the dye process...looking forward to the pics and more posts to follow...
 
Daniel Schneider
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So, here's a few more pictures of woad harvesting and processing.
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shredded leaves ready for simmering
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the magic moment
 
Daniel Schneider
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The simple extraction method I talked about in the previous post works perfectly well for dyeing things, but one of the things we were trying to do was to work out a way to extract the active dyestuff from the plants, so it could be stored and used when there were no plants growing (drying or freezing the leaves destroys the dye). After we got the dyebath aerated, we'd let it settle overnight, and then pour off the clearIish) liquid from the top, saving the coloured stuff at the bottom. We'd then top off the jars with tap water, and leave it to settle aagain. over the course of several days of this, we had a fairly thick blue sludge in the bottomour  container, which we'd then set open in a warm place till the water evaporated, and we had a powder. That method gave a rediculously low return for the amount of work we put into it-maybe a gram of dyestuff per kilo of leaves, so we tried another developed by a young woman from Canada. First off, she suggested we speed up ouur processing time. We'd been picking the leaves, taking them into a workspace with running water, and relaxedly washing them before taking them to our main workroom where we heated the water and got on with things, often taking 20min-half an hour before we got the leaves in the simmering pot. She recommended that we try to go from plant to pot in as close to 5 min as we could, so we took to getting the water up to boiling before we went out to pick, and also taking a bucket of cold water with us so we could quickly rinse off the leaves as soon as we picked them. the next change she talked about was that she put the leaves in actively boiling water boiling water, a handfull at a time, letting the water return to a boil between handsfull.Normally, that much heat would destroy the dye, but she had discovered that if she added acid to the water, it stopped that from happening, and actually boosted the yield significantly, so we tried it, using citric acidto get the pH down to around 3, and boiling the leaves for a minute after putting in the last handfull. After this, we cooled the dyebath and continued on as in the simpler process. We did a fewruns this way and got yields of 2.5-3 grams per kilo of leaves, which, I admit, is is still not a lot, but considering that the times we used this method were right at the end of the growing season, after there had been several frosts and the plants were starting to go dormant for the winter, the yields were promising enough that I'll be trying the process again during the high season at some point- even if it turns out to still not be practical to try to make the concentrated woad dye powder, I suspect the better extraction would let me dye more fiber per harvest, and/or let me get darker colours.

I just got a couple of days' teaching worl early next week, and need to do some class prep till then, so the next installment won't be till the later half of next week, but then I can get back into some more actuall dyeing techniques.
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jars of woad dye settling out-the clear yellow liquid is our lye
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washing woad leaves in the tannery
 
Judith Browning
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A nice article about the 'ai-zome' ...dyeing with indigo in Japan.

http://www.kyotoguide.com/ver2/thismonth/aizome.html

The history of indigo dyeing in Japan
The word "indigo" originally refers to a dye from India. Indigo can be obtained from a variety of plants including indigofera, storobilanthes and polygonum. In Japan polygonum or tade, is used in the natural indigo dye process. The oldest evidence of indigo dyeing in Japan dates back to the 10th century. In Japanese, indigo dyeing is known as ai-zome.



 
master steward
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Neat link.  Thanks for that.

My woad is growing well and ready to be potted on.  I have enough woad seed to try some direct seeding later.  I was thinking of planting it about easter in one of my semi-perennial dye beds I have planned.  However, my indigo still hasn't germinated.  I'll try again and I've ordered some new seed in case that was the problem. 

In the meantime, I'm trying to find some Japanese Indigo seed.  Any thoughts where one can get this in Canada?
 
Daniel Schneider
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Hej hej!

The chemical dye vat I wrote about in my last post is very effective, and fairly easy to use, but it has things I'm not really happy about, pretty much all concerning the hydrosulphite: I don't really know how toxic it is, and what, if any special things I should do when disposing of the dyebath when I'm finished. Also, I can't make it myself, and I don't really know where the jar I bought came from, which doesn't go well with my wanting to be as self-sufficient and localvore as possible. So, I started looking into other methods which might be a bit more homemade-friendly. Before the chemical method was developed, woad dyers used fermentation to prepare the dye vats.  All of them had some sort of high pH material to actually dissolve the indigotin (the active dye chemical in woad and indigo) and and control the rate of fermentation, and some sort of plant material to be fermented. The process of fermentation uses up the oxygen in the dyebath which makes the indigotin water soluble, so it will go into the material to be dyed- this is what the hydrosulphite does in the chemical vat. 

The first method we tried was a variant of a vat in Jill Goodwin's book "A Dyer's Manual". We picked, washed and shredded fresh woad leaves, put them in a lidded plastic bucket, and covered them with 80-85°water which had had 1 dl (just under a half cup) wood-ash lye mixed into it (the original recipe called for washing soda, Na₂CO₃, but, again, the lye was homemade, and the washing soda wouldn't be),letting them steep, covered, overnight in the warmbox at about 30-45°C.The warmbox we used was an old, broken chest freezer that we put a 60-watt incandecent light inas a heat source)  The next morning  we strained out the leaves, added 3 dl(about 1 1/4 cups) ofwheat bran to the vat; then added clean, wet wool (both unspun and yarn)and returned the bucket to the warmbox. Once a day, we would take out the wool and air it for 10 minutes or so, then return it to the vat, which would then go back into the warmbox. We tried this recipe twice, and never got  a good result. In the first vat we got a very light blue on some of the unspun wool, and a quite nice light *brown* on the spun-not what we were looking for! With the second try,things were more consistent; *everything* came out brown. After reading more about the chemistry of woad and indigo, I think what happened was that the fermentation process lowered the pH of the vat to the point that it became quite acidic, and that combined with the warmth of the box, converted the indigotin to a related compound called indirubin, which gives reds, pinks, and browns (on a related note, just boiling woad leaves and dipping material which has been soaked in an alum solution into the resulting liquid will give you a dusty rose colour). At the time, all we knew was that it wasn't working, and we had other recipes we wanted to try, so we moved on to the next type of fermentation vat.

One of the commonest types of woad vats throughout history has  used urine as its solvent, so I thought " it doesn't get more locally produced than that:I can do this". Then, I read in an old dyer's manual that the best urine came from beer drinkers, and thought " I can *definitely* do this"; so I saved 5 or 6 liters in a tightly lidded plastic bucket, and we set to work. We prepared the woad as we would for a hydrosulphite vat, up to the aeration process, then after aerating, 2 liters of the woad solution was put in a bucket long with 2l of urine, and 2½dl of wheat bran.  100g of wool yarn was set in the bucket, the lid was secured, and it was put in the warmbox. The dyebath was checked daily, and when evidence of fermentation began (after only 1 day in this case), the yarn was taken out and aired for ten minutes: the ph was checked at the same time, and amended with wood-ash lye. This vat was much more successful, in that we got blue yarn, rather than brown, but the dye was very uneven, ranging from pretty much completely undyed  to a medium blue. I think this was probably due to not scouring the yarn carefully enough before dyeing. I prefer to spin wool with as much lanolin still in as possible, and probably should have been a bit more aggressive with my pre-dye washing.That, and possibly letting the yarn soak in water overnight before dyeing day, so that it was absolutely wet all the way through might have helped. On the whole, this vat seemed quite promising as something to try again later. It was fairly simple to do, and gave a good (if a bit uneven) colour. It basically had only one downside, which was the smell. Imagine someone eating enough parmesan cheese to make themselves sick, and then throwing up on the floor of a car on a hot summer day. the first one we did was, quite seriously, the worst thing I've ever smelled. The second try was much, better,(we let the urine age for about 3 months, and rinsed the bran with water before putting it in the vat, which helped a *lot*), but it was still something I wouldn't recommend doing if you have close neighbours.

The final experiment actually used indigo powder, which makes this -finally- on-topic for the thread!    It's an old German technique written about by John Liles in "The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing".  A 15 liter bucket was filled with unwashed wool, and warm (ca 40°) water was added. The wool was allowed to soak for 24 hours, then it was removed and scoured. 3 tablespoons of indigo powder were stirred into the dirty water, and 500g  (ca 135g dry weight) of the wet scoured wool was returned to it, and the bucket was put in the warmbox at ca 42-45°. Each day the bucket was stirred gently so as to not introduce more air, and once signs of fermentation started (bubbles on the surface of the dyebath) samples were taken to check the colour. After 6 days, the colour didn’t seem to be getting any deeper, so about ¾ of the wool was taken out, aired for about ½hour, and rinsed in plain water before being washed with dish soap.  The remaining wool was left in for 3 more days. at which point it was taken out and washed too. the colour wasn't terribly deep, but it was a pleasant blue, and the process couldn't get much easier, and probably, if we'd used more indigo, we could have gotten something darker.

And lastly, I tried sprouting some of my old woad seeds, pretty much just so I wouldn't feel guilty for throwing them away, and some of them actually germinated! Granted, it was only 3 out of 10, but for four year old seeds which could only have been stored in a worse place if I'd put them *in* the furnace, I'm dead pleased! I think I'll be doing some more experiments this summer...
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some of the failed fermentation vat wool
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German indigo process wool
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various woad-dyed skeins (+1 madder-dyed)
 
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Phycocyanin is the main pigment in spirulina microalgae.

It can be even 20% of the weight.

With quick search, I failed to find any home remedies for extraction of the blue pigment from spirulina.

Just by adding spirulina in water and let it sit for couple days, will change the water blue - so it not must be very hard to make extract of the color, phycocyanin is water soluble and I just witnessed this myself.

Here is picture of the powder of phycocyanin from internet.

 
r ranson
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Is the blue that spirulina makes a kind of substance that can cling to the individual fibres?  Is it a dye in the sense that once it bonds with the cloth it's water and light fast?

Even better, would you be interested in doing an experiment and showing us how it's done? 
 
r ranson
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Here are my woad seedlings!  I'm so excited I might actually grow my own blue!



And in this next picture, can you see?  First sign of indigo.  Pretty please grow for me!
first-indigo-maybe.JPG
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Henri Lentonen
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R Ranson wrote:Is the blue that spirulina makes a kind of substance that can cling to the individual fibres?  Is it a dye in the sense that once it bonds with the cloth it's water and light fast?

Even better, would you be interested in doing an experiment and showing us how it's done? 


I havent ever made own dye and clothing, so as I checked: no info from google about this! It is widely used in foods etc. but it is good question, that does it work with fabrics.

When I get enough algae grown, I will most def try some experiments and see if it can be done. But I am sure, it can be also done with powder sold in markets: but it will cost a lot, so no point for buying it but just for little test.

Growing it can be almost free, if you use compost tea or manure for nutrients and have enough sunlight, so dont need to use artificial lights.
 
r ranson
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I'm still learning about this, but it's really neat.

There's a difference between colour substance and dye substances.  Lots of things produce colour, but very few of these can bind with the fibres to produce a dye.  Of those dye substances, very few are 'fast' - meaning that they don't wash out with water or fade easily when exposed to light.

So, for example, Tumeric contains a yellow dye, however, it doesn't affix well to the fibres and is easy to wash out or hold up to light exposure. 


I wonder if the blue that spirulina makes would affix to fibre.  Please do experiment and report back to us.  If you need ideas on how we test dye fastness, just ask.  There are some pretty easy tests once you have the colour on the fibre.
 
Henri Lentonen
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OK R Ranson, I will do that but it would maybe be faster and better, if someone with experience how to extract colours from plants: would try this and buy spirulina powder near him.

It is easy to start, since the pigment is water soluble: as I remember, when you leave spirulina in water for couple days, it will turn blue. So maybe heating will make it faster and then you just get rid of the biomass and start to make it stronger.

Or maybe you can test already with the blue water, if it works on fabrics? It would be a cool test, since I couldnt find any results on using spirulina blue pigment on fabrics. I am afraid I am so poor I dont have spirulina to eat myself - and my aquarium contains very little of the algae and it is hard to grow since I am testing methods to grow it without chemicals, so I feel lucky that it even is alive.

Also came to mind, that can we bond the phytocyanin into something, that sticks into fabrics with some alchemy? If it does not stick to fabrics by itself, is this kind of method used in colouring fabrics: that you can bond the colour into some other substance, in order to get it "sticky"?
 
pollinator
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Does anyone have experience growing indigo?  I have read that it was a major crop in South Carolina prior to the cotton and rice crops so I am assuming it should grow well here.

Just looking for some variety to add.  I have only an acre+ but I still like to tuck in more plants where I can.
 
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There are two types:  Indigofera sp. (True Indigo), and Baptisia sp. (Blue Wild Indigo).
They are both legumes, so should be a welcome addition to most soils.  The "True" variety is probably what was grown commercially, as it can produce 500 pounds of dye paste per acre.  The "Wild" variety also produces dye, but not of the same quality/quantity.  The wild variety is reported to produce edible shoots.

Either one would provide some beautiful color to your land.
True Indigo:
true indigo plant
true indigo fixes nitrogen in the soil


Wild Blue Indigo:
wild blue indigo


EDITed to add photos.
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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Well maybe I need to start taking pictures of my 'weeds'; I have something that looks very similar to that growing already. 

On my next day off I believe I will take pics of a number of things that I have been discarding - I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a lot of cool things growing wild in my back yard.

The only reason that I was initially interested in indigo is because it was historically a cash crop in South Carolina so I figured it might be an easy addition.
 
John Polk
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Sounds like a good business model:
"Not only will we sell you the cotton, but we'll also sell you the dye to go with it."

If it was once a major cash crop, there is little doubt that seeds must have scattered.  Surely those flowers were attractive to some birds.
 
Judith Browning
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INDIGO SUTRA celebrates Indigo, the world's oldest, most widely used and unique dyestuff, and the only natural blue dye. It takes its very name from 'India'.

Indigo, grown and used for millennia in the Subcontinent, was also a major export. It almost died out in the later 19th and early 20th century, due to peasant revolts against forced cultivation and the discovery of synthetic indigo in Germany. One aspect of Indigo's fascinating story is its role in Gandhi's road to Independence.

There is a widespread upsurge of interest in indigo, both in India and worldwide. The time is ripe to revive its cultivation and manufacture in Northern India and elsewhere. A soil enriching plant, it also has medicinal and insect repellent properties along with a host of other environmental benefits.

INDIGO SUTRA will be held in Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Kolkata from 9th - 11th November, 2017.
 
r ranson
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I think my woad is just about ready to harvest. 

Now what?

When to harvest Woad? http://www.wearingwoad.com/woad-part-1-when-to-harvest/
Woad can be harvested, for the first time, after the leaves reach about six inches in length, or the rosette is over eight inches in diameter. The first harvest frequently contains the highest concentration of possible indigo.  


 
Daniel Schneider
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Hej hej!
How neat to see this page online again!  Sarah's the 'young woman from Canada' that I learned the more effective extraction method I described up above from, and she really knows her stuff. Oh dear, now I'm going to read her newer pieces instead of packing , like I should be doing...
 
r ranson
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Daniel Schneider wrote:Hej hej!
How neat to see this page online again!  Sarah's the 'young woman from Canada' that I learned the more effective extraction method I described up above from, and she really knows her stuff. Oh dear, now I'm going to read her newer pieces instead of packing , like I should be doing...


I knew I had seen it somewhere, I just forgot it was in this thread.  Must get my head checked.

Thanks so much for posting about it.  It's sunny and hot today, my first day off in weeks.  Can't wait to see if my woad survived the heatwave so I can harvest some. 
 
r ranson
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Daniel Schneider wrote:Hej Hej!
In our woad project we tried a number of different techniques, some much more successful than others: I thought I'd start with the simplest modern one, and then, in another post describe a more complicated extraction process, and then  I can get into some of the more oldy-timey techniques .
The most common technique used today is actually basically the same as one commonly used with indigo, except that it starts off with extracting the dye chemicals from the plant matter rather than just buying powdered dyestuff. You harvest your leaves, wash them in cold water, shred them into 4-5cm (about 2 inches)pieces, and then cover them with 80 degree Celsius water for 10 min. After the 10 minutes, cool the liquid down to 50-55C as quickly as possible (we used a cold water bath with running water in), and then take out the leaves, squeezing them to get out as much of the liquid as possible. Then add enough lye (we used homemade wood-ash lye, which was about pH13)  bring the pH of the dyebath up to at least 9. I've read that calcium carbonate can also be used, but I've never tried it myself, so I can't say for sure- I have to say, I have some doubts, as its pH is much lower than lye, and I'm not so sure that it would raise the pH of the bath enough...
anyway, after the dyebath's ph is raised, it needs to be aerated. We did this a couple of ways.  If it was early in the day, and I was feeling all muscular-like, I'd just pour it back and forth between two kettles. ...

Either way, what we were looking for was for the dyebath to turn from tea-coloured to a yellowish-green, then blue, and then back to a darker green.


I got here pretty easily.  I used washing soda and got the PH of my vat to dark blue on my litnes paper (between 9 and 10, I think).  I poured the vat back and forth for about 10 minutes until the foam changed blue then deep green again.  The liquid is a deep black/green at this stage.

Since I don't have the internet where I'm dyeing, I followed this print out someone made me: http://www.woad.org.uk/html/extraction.html?redirect=false

Daniel Schneider wrote:This colour change is easiest to see in the foam that forms on top during the aerating process Once we had the green foam, we added sodium hydrosulphite, let it sit, covered, for 20-40 minutes, till the dyebath turned a light yellow, and we were ready to go.


Um, mine is still deep green after 7 hours.  I think I've done something wrong.

And I see now that it's the sodium hydrosulphite I'm missing.  The instructions I was following didn't have anything like that.  Possibly because your post talks about dyeing right away and the other instructions were for making a woad dye powder?

I don't know what's wrong with my brain but dyeing isn't sinking in.  I can get the theory, but the practice makes my brain go flat.  I guess I need to try it more to build up my confidence. 
 
Daniel Schneider
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Hej, hej!
r ranson wrote:

Um, mine is still deep green after 7 hours.  I think I've done something wrong.

And I see now that it's the sodium hydrosulphite I'm missing.  The instructions I was following didn't have anything like that.  Possibly because your post talks about dyeing right away and the other instructions were for making a woad dye powder?

I don't know what's wrong with my brain but dyeing isn't sinking in.  I can get the theory, but the practice makes my brain go flat.  I guess I need to try it more to build up my confidence. 


Yes, for making dye powder, you'd leave things at the step before the hydrosulphite, and start the settling/ washing process. For dyeing, the solutiong needs to be "reduced", which means taking the oxygen out of the solution, which makes the indigoferin (the active dyestuff in indigo, woad, and  Japanese knotweed) water soluble, so it can enter the fibers of the fabric/yarn/unspun fibers. That's what the hydros is for: it somehow pulls the oxygen out of the dyebath and lets the dye penetrate the fibers, then when the stuff being dyed it taken out and aired, the dye molecules oxidise, and become non water soluble again.

And don't feel bad about having trouble getting your head around this stuff; dyeing with the indigoferin dyes from the plant state is arguably the most complicated plant-based dyeing there is. Back in the days before chemical dyes were invented, good woad and indigo dyers were considered the elite of the dyeing trade.
 
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I bought an indigo kit from Maiwa recently and despite the sales person stressing how natural it is, it turns out there are some pretty scary chemicals in it.  I think she was trying to say that the indigo was natural and not synthetic, but it came across as the whole kit was. 

It has Lye and thiourea dioxide in the kit, which makes me nervous.

1. am I right in thinking this isn't going to be something I can stick my hands in?  When my friends dyed with indigo, their hands came back blue.  I don't have any rubber gloves as something in them gives my hands blisters. 
2. how do I dispose of the spent dye vat?  It doesn't look like something I'm putting down my septic system.  Is there somewhere on the garden that likes these chemicals?
 
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My woad powder is dry and scrapes off the dish pretty easily.  I think it was a good dish as it dried quite a bit faster than I expected.



The second harvest of woad was macerated and formed into woad balls. 



I followed these instructions for woad balls, but now I'm thinking I could have fermented the mashed up woad first, then made them into balls.  Yes, my hands turned an interesting teal colour that is still persistent in the cracks and around the nails.  The smell of garlic and overcooked kale only lasted about 24 hours. 
 
Judith Browning
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Your update on woad processing is inspiring as always R.   

I'm looking forward to some fresh seed and another attempt at woad going rampant here....of all the so called invasives I would love it if this plant reseeded everywhere...

thanks for all the first hand information

 
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Daniel Schneider wrote:Hej, hej!
r ranson wrote:

Um, mine is still deep green after 7 hours.  I think I've done something wrong.

And I see now that it's the sodium hydrosulphite I'm missing.  The instructions I was following didn't have anything like that.  Possibly because your post talks about dyeing right away and the other instructions were for making a woad dye powder?

I don't know what's wrong with my brain but dyeing isn't sinking in.  I can get the theory, but the practice makes my brain go flat.  I guess I need to try it more to build up my confidence. 


Yes, for making dye powder, you'd leave things at the step before the hydrosulphite, and start the settling/ washing process. For dyeing, the solutiong needs to be "reduced", which means taking the oxygen out of the solution, which makes the indigoferin (the active dyestuff in indigo, woad, and  Japanese knotweed) water soluble, so it can enter the fibers of the fabric/yarn/unspun fibers. That's what the hydros is for: it somehow pulls the oxygen out of the dyebath and lets the dye penetrate the fibers, then when the stuff being dyed it taken out and aired, the dye molecules oxidise, and become non water soluble again.

And don't feel bad about having trouble getting your head around this stuff; dyeing with the indigoferin dyes from the plant state is arguably the most complicated plant-based dyeing there is. Back in the days before chemical dyes were invented, good woad and indigo dyers were considered the elite of the dyeing trade.


Daniel, yours is the first explanation about what's going on in an indigo vat that clicked with my brain...thanks for all you've posted here...looking forward to more...
 
Daniel Schneider
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Hej!
Raven, it looks like you got a *great* yield of woad powder! How much leaf matter did you start with, and what was your final powder weight?

I'm glad that my posts have been helpful. Unfortunately, the next one may be some time in coming: we move onto our farm next Tuesday, and between cleaning out our current place and getting it sold, and bringing the farm back to working order I'm not going to have much time or energy for much in the way of significant posts. The last owner hadn't done much more than keep the house weather-tight and cut random trees for firewood for about the last 10 years. Fortunately he hired out the fields to a semi-local dairy  farmer who's been taking hay off of them and spreading manure afterwards, so they're at least still open, if pretty compacted, but there's a fair bit to be done around the place before it's a working steading.

But more on-topic, woad balls: My woad noteooks and the hard drive with all of the photos are already packed, so this is all going to have to be off the top of my head, but this is what I can remember of what we did: as such, any numbers I give ye should be thought of as a *very* rough, ballpark figure.

We made some using a variation of Teresinha's process, using a hand cranked meat grinder instead of crushing it between stones. I imagine this gave us a coarser pulp than she got, but I'm not sure if it makes any difference in the end, and it was a *lot* easier to do. When we first formed them, they were about the size of oranges, but when they dried they were closer to lemon-sized. After making them, I had the same idea as you R, that maybe we should have fermented them first, but as they were already dry, I decided to try doing it after. What I did was to break up and finely crush several of the balls in a mortar and pestle (I wrapped the top with a tea towel while pounding to try to keep in as much of the dust as possible) and then put it in a bowl and added water till it was the consistency of a slightly dry cornmeal mush- or what you get when you that frozen chopped spinach, and squeeze out just enough juice that it doesn't drip. Anyway, I then put it into a warmbox (we used an old chest freezer that didn't, with a 60 watt light bulb as a heat source),and tried to keep the temperature up around 45-50C for, I want to say a week or so? I checked on it once a day and make sure that the temp was where we wanted it, and that the paste wasn't drying out too much, but as the warmbox we were using was a *hmm, what do we have lying around that might work* kind of thing, it didn't go exactly to plan: we kept blowing the light bulbs, so the temps were all over the place, and the wetness of the paste ranged from really wet to almost completely dried out ( it dried out first, then we overcompensated and overwatered with cold water, which chilled everything down, and then by the time it had warmed up, it had also dried out again). Eventually, we took to keeping a large wide-mouthed jar of water in the box with the paste, which both raised the ambient humidity, so that the paste didn't dry as uickly, and also gave us a source of water that was the same temp as the paste, so that it didn't cool things down when we added it.  All in all, that warmbox wasn't a very satisfactory solution, but in the end, it actually did what we were hoping for. We did a test dyeing with the fermented pulp , and a parallel dyeing wit  h the same weight of balls that we just crushed and used straight, and there was a definite difference in the results- the woad we'd just crushed and used gave us almost no colour at all, while the couched (fermented) balls gave a nice, if somewhat light, blue.  We also did a urine dyeing with the last of the dried balls (aso crushed before dyeng), but I'd really need to look at my notes to describe what exactly we did with that one, and how things came out.

At some point further down the road, I'd like to try to do the experiment again with a better heating set-up, and also try couching the woad *before* making the balls, and see what kind of result that gives... I've currently got 3 woad plants off to one side in the garden ( the farm's current owner let us come in before move-in day and get a small kitchen garden set up, so we can get at least *some* homegrown produce this year). I'm not going to be able to do anything with them this year (maybe make some balls if i can steal an hour or so at some point?) but at least next year I'll be able to get some fresh seed for future playing.
 
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Sounds like quite the adventure.  I really appreciate all your advice and help with this.

I started with 1 kilo of leaves for each experiment.  I'm surprised how much the woad balls shrank as they dried.  I probably should have made two, not three.  Only a tiny touch of white mould when I failed to turn them enough.  Three times a day seems about right, or I could dry them on a wire mesh instead of a board.  It was pretty easy to mash them up with a brick, but I'm thinking of dedicating an old food chopper or grinder to the task if I was to do this more often. 

For the powder, it looks like I got 4 grams of powder for one kilo of leaves.  I used my digital kitchen scale that measures to the half gram, but I don't know exactly how accurate it is.  The glass jar weighed 74.5g and the glass jar with powder weighed 78.5g. 

For my own use, making powder isn't that much effort, but I am curious about growing woad on a larger scale and preserving it for sale. 

A few more weeks and I'll have another kilo of leaves to play with.  This time pre-fermented woad mush balls.

Then I have to learn to dye with it. 


As for growing woad, I'm impressed with how well it does without water.  No water or rain since it was transplanted into the ground and still it's growing well.  This is definitely a plant I want to get to know better.
 
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According to these instructions, it looks like I did well.


Yield
... 1 kilo of leaves will produce between 1 gram to 4  grams of pigment. The yield depends on the soil, how well the plants were fed, and how warm the summer was. 1 gram of woad will dye about 20 grams of fibre. ...

 
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Working with the indigo kit from Maiwa has produced beautiful results, but I'm less than pleased with the method.  The sales person was a bit ... hmm,  not really a nice way to put this... about how natural their indigo kits are.  Not like those chemical kits.  Only, it is a chemical kit, only the indigo was natural.  But that's okay.  I got to start somewhere and this seems like a good way to build up my courage.

Except...

Lye solution dripping inside my rubber gloves hurts.  A LOT!

Not sure I like chemical burns but having vinegar on hand saved me a trip to the hospital. 

Took several washes to make the fabric not bother my skin, but the colour stayed fast and now I have some beautiful blue clothing.

Next up, I'm going to try and refresh the vat and dye some linen yardage which should be enough for two skirts. 


I'm looking forward to trying a fermentation vat.  I do like how fast this chemical method is.  Just not enjoying the chemical part. 
 
Judith Browning
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I've joined a facebook group that is studying fermented natural dyes, all dyes not just woad and indigo.

Here is a link to information about a woad and madder ferment and one using urine instead of the madder and a couple pictures from the site.

Someday I may grow woad again and dye with it...or maybe I'll just be happy hearing others experiences 

http://www.woad.org.uk/html/fermenting.html#urine





 
Judith Browning
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I had a serious interest in 'fashion design' in high school...that is what led me to weaving in college (and for another thirty years) and then natural dyes, etc. later on.  Nothing left of the design urge although I really appreciate the fact that some clothing designers are being mindful in their choices.

Kilomet109 Designer Thảo Vũ Blends Fashion With Artisan Craft Nic Shonfeld / Kilomet109
Now working as a teacher, Vũ was asked to put together a fashion curriculum which would give students some sense of social issues. Her research into ethical fashion pointed to an emerging global trend: Using artisan and handmade elements in contemporary product designs. The more she saw, she says, the more she came to believe that Vietnam should be leading the world in artisan-focused design. “In the middle of Hanoi capital, in the Old Quarter, you see people making things: Making stamps, weaving, handmade paper-makers: We were already doing it—but without knowing it.”


 
Judith Browning
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I just watched this...it's short and sweet. 
It stirred my fascination with indigo once again.

R Ranson, if you watch it, at 8:17 or so and 12:29, is an interesting wheel of some sort...I'm going to guess that you will recognize.

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