fresh leaf indigo dyeing

I have quite a variety of natural dye plants growing in my Brooklyn tree guard planters, so only a portion of the space was reserved for indigo growing, resulting in a few indigo plants altogether.

A Brooklyn Tree Guard planter with many dye plants including hollyhock, coreopsis, black eyed susan, purple basil and indigo.

A Brooklyn Tree Guard planter with many dye plants including hollyhock, coreopsis, black eyed susan, purple basil and indigo.

Learn more about the Brooklyn Tree Guard here

With such a small amount of indigo to work with, fresh leaf dyeing is the perfect technique to easily reap the pigment rewards from my few precious plants. The resulting colors range from a light sky blue to sea foam aquas and jades. Fresh leaf dyeing has the advantage of no required additives or auxiliaries as well as the benefit of not requiring reduction (a process in vat indigo dyeing where the oxygen is removed from the solution in order to impart the blue pigment onto the fiber), so all around I highly recommend this method!

With a small amount of dyeing power, I have decided to breathe new life into a loved yet small staple of my wardrobe that has recently fallen victim to a few stubborn coffee stains: my pretty little wool tank top.

My wool tank top and those stubborn coffee stains

My wool tank top and those stubborn coffee stains

I scored this vintage, lightweight, 100% wool tank top at a thrift shop in upstate New York last year and have worn it through all four seasons continually. Wool really is amazing, and at the right weight, a garment made from wool can be the perfect temperature regulating, all season piece. Fresh leaf indigo dyeing is best done with animal fibers including silk and all types of wools and fleece. Cotton and other plant fibers won’t absorb the color as readily.
First I wetted out the wool top with water and let it soak for a good half hour to make sure it’s thoroughly wet. While it was soaking I gathered my tools and such to have everything ready for the dyeing.

All the necessary tools and my top soaking in water before dyeing.

All the necessary tools and my top soaking in water before dyeing.

It’s important to work quickly from harvest of the indigo to the dyeing as the leaves really must be quite fresh. No picking one day and waiting till the next to dye.

Then I went outside to my planters and cut the indigo stalks from one of my plants.

My japanese Indigo plant and the stalks after harvesting.

My japanese Indigo plant and the stalks after harvesting.

The leaves hold all the color potential so they must be separated from the stalks before dyeing.

The leaves after separating them from the stalks.

The leaves after separating them from the stalks.

After picking all the leaves from the stalks I placed them in a blender half full with very cold water. I emptied a full ice cube tray into the blender and let it melt, adding a bit more cold water after most had melted.

¾ worth of the indigo leaves in the blender with very cold water

¾ worth of the indigo leaves in the blender with very cold water

Before starting to blend I only added ¾ of the indigo leaves and set the blender on low for 1 minute, and then added the rest of the indigo leaves as it blended.

The indigo solution after blending well for 1minute and adding the remainder of the leaves.

The indigo solution after blending well for 1minute and adding the remainder of the leaves.

Then I quickly strained the indigo leaves out and set them aside to use for a reduced indigo process later.

Strained indigo leaf bits are saved to use for a later dye process after the fresh leaf dyeing

Strained indigo leaf bits are saved to use for a later dye process after the fresh leaf dyeing

With the solution strained and free of leafy bits that might have gotten caught in my fabric or yarn, I added the wool top and stirred it in the solution continually for 5 minutes to ensure that the color would be as even as possible.

Stirring the top in the strained indigo water solution for 3-5 minutes

Stirring the top in the strained indigo water solution for 3-5 minutes

Then came the magical moment where I pulled the top from the solution and exposed it to oxygen. This is when the color turns from yellowish green to aqua blue right before your eyes. I rinsed the top in cool water and hung it to dry.

The finished result of the vintage wool top (right) and some other pieces I dyed with the fresh indigo leaves. The aqua blue pieces of fabric in the middle are silk.

The finished result of the vintage wool top (right) and some other pieces I dyed with the fresh indigo leaves. The aqua blue pieces of fabric in the middle are silk.

And there you have it, fresh leaf indigo dyeing really is that easy! I’m excited to transition this favorite garment of mine renewed and fresh into a new season with the aid of my own locally grown natural dye plants.