Watching the first article of cotton emerge from the deep, dank, and stinky tank of bluish black indigo dye and go through its color changes was like watching a magic trick. Everything was there, right in front of our eyes, but it seemed unfathomable, impossible, for it to be real. Tiny organisms are responsible for the life of the Indigo Vat – a frothy, deeply dark tub of warm liquid, smelling strongly of the fermented urine ingredient with which it is mixed. Indigo reacts with the air, transforming in color from neon, vibrant green, to a bold and brilliant indigo blue. The process:
- soak an all natural fabric in water, then squeeze the excess water out of it, and keep this ringed out position held tight. This keeps the extra water and air from diluting the concentration of the indigo vat, or inserting air down into the vat, causing more of the indigo to instigate its process.
- create an opening in the froth and oily film covering the surface of the liquid (the film is created from the dye’s contact with the oxygen above it, it has already gone through its chemical reaction),
- slowly and carefully lower the fabric into the vat. Open it gently, keeping it all beneath the surface. Swish slowly…you can’t see anything at this point.
- When it feels like the pores of the fabric are saturated, gather the fabric under the surface, and twist it tight again. Then separate the surface again, and (usually with help from a partner) quickly pull it out and into a “birthing tub.” This avoids any drips falling from the object back into the vat, and contaminating the mix.
- Untwist and watch the magic.
- Hang the indigo object up to dry. Later, it can be thoroughly rinsed out with fresh water.
Towards the end of a day of dying, the tub would grow “tired.” But literally, you could feel the exhaustion of the vat; of the tiny lives needing a break.
A few of us browsed through Allison’s books on dying techniques, and tried a few ways of binding using wax thread to create interesting patterns. The one on this baby T is called a Cheveron. Plus some indigo dyed welding gloves, just for fun.