After a number of utter failures I have mustered up the courage to plant indigo again – two types of Japanese indigo and two types of woad. This will be the summer of blue dreams.
Green leaf freshly picked Imprinted on cloth, softly turned blue overnight
A few years ago I tried growing both woad and Japanese indigo. The Japanese indigo didn’t germinate at all. I told the seller and I got new seeds. They didn’t grow either and I gave it up. The woad did germinate, but bite by bite the flea beetle ate every single plant. I gave that up too. I am quite fascinated, though, by the fact that I managed to kill an invasive plant like woad.
A sprouting yearning for blue
Despite these failures I haven’t given up my blue dreams. In early January I got inspiration again and looked around for courses. I found one quite far away from me and asked the teacher, Sofia, if she would consider teaching in Stockholm sometime soon. She wasn’t planning on it, but she kindly offered to send me indigo and woad seeds and planting instructions. I got the sweet seeds and they are now snugly tucked in pots in my kitchen window.
Just a couple of weeks ago my friend Cecilia found a course in growing, harvesting and extracting indigo from woad and Japanese Indigo, just a couple of kilometers from my home. We registered immediately.
The course has three lessons – one in April to plant, one in July to play and one in August to extract the indigo. I knew from the beginning that I couldn’t make the July lesson, but it was still worth it.
We had the first lesson a week ago at a nearby community garden. The teacher Katja told us about the plants and gave us an overview of growing and creating the best circumstances possible for the indican. Each of us got a tiny pot of Japanese indigo Kojoko seedlings and seeds for Japanese Indigo Maruba and European and Chinese woad. I have planted all my seeds and I can’t wait to tend to my new blue babies.
While waiting for the seeds to germinate I dive into YouTube videos on how to use fresh indigo leaves with different methods. There is so much to play with! I was particularly fascinated with the salt rub method. So fascinated that I have started spinning a silk yarn to dye with the salt rub method and weave into a shawl. Perhaps Japanese indigo in different shades for the warp, and woad (that will probably be lighter than the Japanese indigo) for the weft.
I may be mad to think I can weave a silk shawl in a singles yarn with my very basic weaving skills, but I need to try it to find out.
If you are a patron (or want to become one) you can see how I spin silk yarn for my indigo experiment in the April 2023 video postcard.
Baby leaf eco print
I also stole a leaf from one of my Kojoko plants and made a single leaf eco print. I knew there was a risk that there wouldn’t be enough indican in the young leaf, but it doesn’t hurt to try, does it? Since the Indcan reacts with oxygen I also knew that the print needed time to find its blue colour. So I let it be overnight. Although I have to confess that I checked it every ten minutes or so in the evening.
The next morning the leaf was still chlorophyll green. Perhaps a tiny hint of blue around the edges. I had read that the chlorophyll could be washed away, so I wanted to try that. Just a drop of dish soap and water. I was astounded to find the green disappear and leave room for the indigo colour I had dreamed of. It was really there, on my patch of vintage cotton sheet. My heart tingled and I have come back to the blue leaf time and time again during the day to see if it’s still there.
There is so much potential in the tiny plants and pots I have. I will do my very best to tend to them with love and affection. Whenever I feel like an obstacle I will turn to my eco print.
One of the best fertilizers for the garden in general and for the Japanese indigo in particular is diluted urine. In fact, most of the commercial fertilizers copy the nitrogen/phosphorus/kalium ratio of urine. In Sweden we call it guldvatten, gold water. I will happily and lovingly pee on my plants and keep up my blue dream.
As I am a total beginner of growing indigo plants, please don’t ask me about how to do things related to indigo. There are many people who are experts on the subjekts. Below are some links and accounts I have found and been recommended:
- Margaret Byrd has a lot of videos about dyeing with indigo in various shapes and forms. Here is one of her videos, on the salt rub method with fresh indigo leaves.
- BillyNou had a lovely video too on the salt rub method. She, in turn, recommended the following two Instagram accounts
- I followed Make with Mandi’s video on eco printing with indigo leaves.
- The dogwood dyer, who has lovely photos and videos with various techniques with indigo. She also offers online courses.
- Seaspell fiber also has photos, videos and online courses on indigo techniques.
If you have suggestions of additional resources, please let me know.
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