For centuries, humans have unlocked the dye from the pinnate leaves of indigo plants to produce a rich, contemplative blue that echoes the brilliance of moonlit gold. It’s the color of personality - slowly revealing movement and experience through faded striations. It was the eyeliner for Roman nobles and the war paint of the Celts that kept them back. Its recipe was written down for prosperity on cuneiform tablets in ancient Mesopotamia. It dyed the robes of desert nomads and the Peruvians who first cultivated potatoes. It was the color of Japanese farmers and, of course, became the color of western overalls and blue jeans that were put hard to work conquering the western frontier.
In Japan, a resist dyeing technique, called shibori, developed into a cultural artform with worldwide renown. We used some shibori techniques for this tutorial, but we kept it pretty simple compared to the artisans that produce authentic shibori garments in Japan and beyond. (If you’re interested in shibori, click here for more information.) Japan has continued and expanded this traditional craft of producing indigo dyes as evidenced through the work of brands like Kapital and Pure Blue Japan.
For our project, we used a 10 gram dye kit from one of the longest running indigo dye makers in Japan: Yamato Indigo.
A Bit About Yamato Indigo
Developed by Aikuma Senryo, a company founded in 1818 in Tokyo, the company was originally an herbal apothecary and later began supplying dyeing supplies. In the 1870s, when indigo was exceptionally valuable, Aikuma Senryo developed a method for extracting the indigo pigments from old indigo-dyed fabric by boiling the fabric in water and creating a clay-like dye called “airou” (indigo wax). Based on this method of making airou, Aikuma Senoryo created Yamato Indigo, a powder dye consisting of extracts from indigo plants (natural indigo), chemical indigo, an alkaline agent, and a reducing agent. Easy to use, the blend has been formulated to mix with only water. It richly dyes all natural materials into that vibrant indigo that we all know and love.
Let’s get started...
How to dye Cotton
YOU WILL NEED:
- 2 to 3 Buckets
- A stick to mix the dye
- Scrap Paper
- White Vinegar
- Latex Gloves
- If using, apply shibori tie-dye resists (eg. twists, bindings, rubberbands, stitching, etc.) to your dry fabric or garment.
- Put on rubber gloves. Mix 3 to 5 grams of Yamato Indigo per 1 liter of water. Stir well for 1 to 2 minutes. The indigo vat will be ready to use instantly.
- Skim off any bubbles from the surface of the vat.
- Rinse the fabric or clothing item you wish to dye in water, squeeze well, then dip it in the indigo vat for 5 to 10 minutes. Make sure to submerge the entire fabric in the vat. Massage the fabric in the vat for a darker, more even result.
- Take the fabric out of the vat, squeeze out the dye liquid well, and expose for 10 minutes to the air in order for the dye to oxidize. The fabric may appear green at first, but it will soon turn blue as it oxidizes. Make sure the entire surface of the fabric is exposed to the air in order for it to fully oxidize.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 if you wish to dye your fabric an even darker blue color.
- Rinse the fabric in water until the water runs clear.
- Mix 50ml of regular white vinegar (or 20ml of 30% pure vinegar) per 1 liter of water. Dip the fabric into the vinegar water for 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse in water again and dry naturally.
- Enjoy your beautiful work. *Remember, do not wash with other colors for at least 3 washes, or until dye stops running.
Available in packages of 10 grams. 10 grams is good to dye the equivalent of up to three t-shirts or 6 bandanas (depending on desired hue darkness/depth). 50 grams is perfect for a pair of pants.
While this tutorial focuses on dyeing cotton, Yamato Indigo dye can also be used for linen, silk, leather, wood, paper, and any other natural material.
To get a better idea of how it's done and how easy it is, click here to see a video of the process on our YouTube channel.
Got an indigo project to show us? #Tag us with your blue hand creation on Instagram and show us your work.