Behind an indigo dyed fabric, there is the state of the indigo vat. Unlike other dyes, this one is alive and time and environment have an effect on it. In essence, it could be the success or the biggest flaw in a piece of textile. Personally I think it’s a real shame to see elaborated techniques that take weeks to make gone to waste due to ‘under-dyeing’.
I had to spend sometime getting to know my vat, so the studio turned temporarily into a chemistry lab! Litmus paper, chemicals, weighting scale, thermometer, notepad and pens… Somehow it didn’t feel too technical, but rather fun to discover the mysteries that the indigo Masters won’t reveal that easily.
We made four different new little vats. Maintaining an equal alkali base (same ph), we added different amounts of indigo and oxygen reducing agent to each of vat. We knew they would all dye the fabric, but our aim was to discover the recipe to achieve the deepest blue with the minimum amount of waste.
This is all based on a very personal taste: if I wan’t to be able to achieve the darkest, richest blue then I don’t want to be limited by the quality of the vat. Just the opposite, I want to control the color depth by the number of dips I do.
Like a plant, or a pet, no indigo vat is exact to any other. Or at least not for long; we are all dyeing in different parts of the world, throughout the seasons. Many recipes have been written in the past (Dorothy Miller, Susan Bosence, dye suppliers and many others), with variations of ingredients, timings and quantities. But following them by heart won’t necessarily mean success.
To my surprise, the greatest discovery after our experiment was that greater indigo amounts doesn’t necessarily imply a darker colour! But the relationship between the amount of indigo and the reducing agent does. The best result was the one that had the less amount of indigo in it! This is great news because I use natural Japanese indigo, that is exceptional but expensive.
We figured out four different recipes based on previous observations. We dyed small pieces of fabric on each vat, and made swatches of 2 and 4 dips each. Then compared. All this was worth our time and effort. Everything is on paper now – we ended up with written observations just like the reports I used to write years ago for Dianita, our 10th grade teacher. Who would have though I would be making this again, just for fun.
But this is not over yet, there is still the challenge of keeping the vat alive and healthy. Trial and error approach is still my safest bet but hopefully one day I’ll be able to know what the vat needs just by looking at it, like the parent-to-child relationship the Masters have with their own vats.
*All this was possible thanks to my husband’s help, support and structured thinking process. Thanks for making so much fun one of the nerdiest days of our lives together. Our baby might be born like a little smurf with blue hands just like us.