Recently Pam Reynolds and myself visited Cheryl Cook's studio, ArtyBird Australia for a day exploring the wonders of indigo dyeing techniques and came away full of enthusiasm.
Cheryl has so much knowledge which she freely shared with us and guided us through the various steps from start to finish. She has since sent me details of the process we followed which you can download here should you wish to have a go yourself.
However prior to visiting Cheryl's studio I decided to do some research for myself into different methods of indigo dyeing using the actual plant as opposed to the powder, as I have indigofera australis growing in my garden. It's a slender shrub of the pea family found in all States of Australia. I read that you could strip the leaves from the plant, sprinkle with salt and masticate with your hands until liquid emerged, following which you scrunched up your material in the leaves working it around rather like mixing pastry. I tried this process, very difficult and messy, as the leaves of the plant are quite small as you can see from the photo.
Finally it was necessary to rinse out all the leaves and hang the cloth out to dry. My material did turn out a very pale blue.
Further research lead me to YouTube where I found the following tutorial where the leaves used are completely different being from Japanese Indigo, persicaria tinctorial. I became very excited and ordered two of these plants from Mudbrick Herb Cottage in Queensland. When they arrived I was dismayed to find that they are annuals whereas the plant in my garden is a shrub happily growing away and getting larger each season. Of course we are now into autumn so too late to get a crop from my purchase. Having consulted with the experts at Mudbrick Herb Cottage I was advised I need to harvest the seeds and store them ready to plant next Spring so watch this space.
There is so much to explore about the fascinating process of indigo dyeing and how it has been used in the past for example in the 1700 and 1800s, Japanese farm wives in rural regions couldn’t afford to purchase commercially made fabrics like their city dwelling sisters. These women had to make do by working at home spinning cotton and hemp strands into threads and yarn, and then hand loomed the fibers into fabric. Their woven cloth was used to fashion clothing (and household textiles) for themselves and their families. The Japanese named homemade, hand-stitched were the most common types of noragi garments. This home based sewing tradition would be passed down from mother to daughter, from each generation to the next, and was part of the basic homemaking repertoire of every Japanese farm wife.
Pam Reynolds sent me the link to this article quoted; great reading with examples of the work.
I hope all this information has made you itch to get started on the process and exploration of indigo dyeing.