I've been growing Japanese indigo plants in my garden this year. This is the first time and I've been very nervous about it. We've had drought conditions here, like much of the U.S., and these plants like to be kept moist. I ordered my seeds here, and started them indoors about six weeks before planting them outside in the spring. They've been doing relatively well and it was finally time for my first leaf harvest.
I have about fourteen plants. You can harvest about 1/3 of the leaves from a plant every couple of weeks once they're ready (around midsummer). My husband helped me and between us we gathered right around 16 ounces of leaves.
I rinsed them and put them in my smaller dye pot:
I covered them with hot tap water and them placed the smaller pot inside my larger pot, which had water in it, so that the smaller pot was in a water bath. I slowly heated the leaf/water mix up to around 160 degrees F and kept it there for about two hours:
After straining the leaves out, I added about 1 1/2 tbs. baking soda and then poured the dye bath back and forth for about five minutes. It turned a nice, deep blue color:
But it wasn't ready to dye with yet! Now I added a reducing agent, which takes the oxygen out of the dyebath. I had one ounce of thiourea dioxide on hand for the occasion. I added about 1 1/2 tbs to the dyebath and waited for about 15 minutes. The deep blue is supposed to become light yellowish, but nothing happened. I added the rest of my reducing agent (about the same amount as before), waited, and still nothing happened. I remembered that I had a package of color run remover with my laundry stuff. That's also a reducing agent, so I added about half to my dyebath and presto! It began to change color!
While this was happening, I had been soaking my handspun yarn in hot water, waiting for the dyebath to be ready to take it. The yarn needs no mordant for indigo, but it should be wet. Here are some of the skeins I had on hand to dye. On the left is polwarth wool, the middle is superwash Bluefaced Leicester, and on the right is a BFL/silk blend. The roving at the top is babydoll southdown, but it didn't go into the dyepot this time:
I forgot to take a picture of the dyebath after the reducing agent was added, but you can see the color of the dyebath in the liquid at the bottom of the bowl in the picture below. These are the three skeins from the picture above right after being plucked out of the dyebath after a 20 minute soak. They are light, yellowish-green at first, but when they hit the air, they start to turn blue right before your eyes:
I squeezed the excess liquid out and laid them out to air and watched them turn darker blue. I ended up dyeing a few more skeins and some roving before the dye started to become exhausted. In all I dyed 8 ounces of polwarth yarn, 8 ounces of superwash BFL yarn, 4 ounces of BFL/silk yarn along with 4 ounces of BFL/silk roving, and one 4-ounce ball of baby alpaca yarn - all with my 16 ounces of Japanese indigo leaves:
I'm so happy that my Japanese indigo was a success! And I can repeat the whole process every two weeks until the growing season is over!
Now I have my fingers crossed that my flax experiment will also meet with similar success- more on that at a later date...