Sewing Seeds: Japanese Indigo
As Isa mentioned last week, the Japanese indigo seeds were the first to sprout and we are now looking forward to a patch of garden that looks like this.
To achieve the darker blues involves a much longer process. The leaves must be harvested, separated from the stems, and dried before they are composted for several months. As the leaves dry, they turn blue as they oxidize. The composting concentrates the dye further.
It is after this process that one can start to prepare the indigo vat. Because indigo is not water soluble, this involves creating a strong alkali solution. While there are now a number of ways this can be achieved, in a natural fermentation vat the indigo is often dissolved in a solution of wood ash lye and limestone, left to ferment for about a week. For a more detailed description of this farming and dye-producing process, see the website of Rowland and Chimani Rickett’s, two farmers/dyers who spent several years working with indigo in Japan before bringing their expertise back to the US.
(photo courtesy Susan Fennell)
It seems strangely fitting that it was our Japanese indigo seeds that sprouted first, in the wake of the heartbreaking and tragic news to come out of Japan over these last few weeks. The textile arts and the art of indigo production and dyeing that come out of Japan have had a world wide influence, and spring and planting invoke thoughts of hope and new life. As a reminder, we hope you’ll join TAC this Thursday, March 31st for a shibori workshop and fundraiser to support the relief efforts while learning more about this age-old art form.