Story and photos by Panorama resident, Charlie Keck. August 2016
From cowpokes to sequined models on the catwalk, everyone loves the color blue. Levi Strauss certainly knew a great color when he saw it.
Indigo has a checkered past. In some cultures only royalty was allowed to wear cloth dyed blue. Later there was so much demand for the color from wealthy Europeans that indigo became a major American cash crop. Slaves did the difficult work including stomping large vats of the plants. Cakes of dried indigo were then shipped to Europe. Indigo was a highly desired dye all around the world including Japan, China and Africa.
At Panorama five skilled fiber artists and a couple of groupies gave a try at indigo dyeing using two methods. The indigo was grown in the pea patch and three members harvested when it was still blessed with the morning dew. The dyers then met in an “art studio” garage and stripped the leaves from the stems.
The “cold” method is a slam-dunk if you have expendable blenders (The Barn-$5). After blending packed leaves and ice cubes, the macerated leaves were strained out in cheese cloth and the resulting liquid poured into a dyeing container with the fabric to be dyed. Silk, linen and wool worked best. After an hour or two, the cloth was withdrawn and dried. It tended to have a greenish or aqua color.
The “hot” method is a bit trickier. A suspension of leaves and water was placed in a non-reactive double boiler and very slowly (one hour) headed to the magic 160 degrees. Then the leaves were taken out and a mystery powder called Thiox was added and, finally, the cloth to be dyed was gently slid into the dye. Some of the artists created designs using rubber bands or pre-stitching.
It was fun to watch the dye-soaked cloth merge from the pot and develop lovely shades of blue and blue-green when it was exposed to the air. Then, as the cloth dried in the sun, the color lightened a bit. Re-dyeing to obtain a darker color was saved for another day.
Our leader Nancy has many indigo plants in the garden and might be willing to barter for zucchini.