Blue play

This week it was time to pinch my Japanese indigo plants. This will hopefully result in bushier plants. It also paves the way for new plants and some blue play.

Please don’t ask me anything about the dyeing process as I have no idea what I am doing, I just follow instructions (and deviate from them) in the courses I am taking.

I am childishly smitten by my indigo plants. I have one rectangular container just outside the front door where I can keep an eye on them, plus a couple of pots in the pallet collar greenhouse. The other day I couldn’t help myself, and prepared to pinch the Maruba plants and use the leaves for dyeing.

Maruba salt rub

It’s generally best to pick fresh indigo in the morning, but this first time I did it in the afternoon, just because I couldn’t help myself. I got quite a lot from my little indigo garden. I decided to do this as simply as possible, to be able to focus on the process that was all new to me. This means that I didn’t weigh either leaves or textile, I took no photos during the process and I had no particular expectations.

I decided to to the salt rub method – a method where you use salt to extract the liquid and then massage the leaves with the textile for 5–20 minutes. It was lovely to watch the liquid and the textile – supported spindle spun silk yarn in this case – slowly change in colour and depth. This needs to be done fast! As soon as the leaves are broken and/or dried the blue colour comes out of the plants and is consumed.

In one of my vases of indigo stalks, one stalk doesn’t reach the water. The plant dries out and the blue colour emerges.

I cut the plants, placed the cuttings directly in cold water and removed the leaves from the stalks. When I had removed all the leaves I put them in an empty bowl together with a little salt and the hank and started massaging.

I massaged my mini silk hank for about 17 minutes and got a sweet mediterranean blue. The silk looks a bit tauseled from the massaging, but I don’t mind. I just love the colour and the fact that I got it from my very own plants. As I washed and rinsed the skein the water turned a bit yellow and the skein a little more blue.

Newly cut indigo Maruba plants. In the background vases of deleaved stalks waiting to grow roots.

I cut the plants to make them bushier – when I cut just above a node of the stalk, two new stalks will grow out. I saved the deleaved stalks and put them in water to grow roots. When the roots are long enough I will put these new plants in soil.


I put another skein in the leftover liquid and leaf mix and placed it in the greenhouse overnight. the skein turned into a lighter turquoise than the salt rubbed skein. I continued the process with the same bath on the stove at low heat together with a new skein and a little baking soda. After a while the skein turned into sort of an olive part of the spectrum. I added a simple thread that got some beige colour, perhaps learning slight towards pink.

Kojoko salt rub

This morning I pinched my Kojoko plants. There were only four plants to pinch, so I just put a simple thread in it. And some of my hair! I envisioned a blue curl, but all I achieved was a green forehead. And, in a certain light, if you squint, you can see a shape of blue. I was really hoping for my white strands to deliver here, but I guess I’ll have to wait for some more white before I can get that blue curl.

Yarn samples! The top yarn has swum for a short while in an afterbath from the leftover leaves and liquid of a salt rub (Maruba). The bottom yarn has been dyed in a later salt rub (Kojoko).

Even if the hair dye wasn’t successful I really love the colour I got on the silk yarn sample, a very crispy mediterranean blue. It felt different than the colour I got from the Maruba. It might have been the difference in species or difference in harvest time, I have no idea.

Oh, and I might have lost the turquoise sample thread down the drain as I rinsed. I might also have lifted out the drawers from the washstand and unscrew the pipes to get hold of the thread.

Eco print

I also tried some eco prints with a few stray leaves. These turned out way richer in colour than the baby leaf I printed a couple of months ago. I love how the colour is richer close to the nerves and the stalks than in the rims and the tips.

There is a lot more depth in this eco print than the one I did a couple of months ago with a baby leaf.

There is so much potential in this plant! I have just started playing with it and there is so much more to explore and discover.

Woad status

Meanwhile, in my fox violated hügelkultur, my woad plants are mostly alive. Some have died in the drought, but I still have around eight European woad plants left and a few less of the Chinese woad.

Chinese woad plants under the compost grids, reasonably safe from the fox. Note the baby oak in the foreground.

I think the fox has tried to dig its way in, there are traces outside the oak branch wall of the Hügelkultur, but so far the woad babies are all right.

Tomorrow I’m leaving for Sätergläntan where I will teach the five day course A spindle a day. I am very excited and hope to learn a lot!

Happy spinning!

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3 Replies to “Blue play”

  1. So exciting! I’ve tried a type of indigo, that was supposed t grow into bushes and stopped growing both times after it had tiny leaves.
    Are theannual? Perenial?

    1. Indigo is a substance that can be found in several different plants, but only a few of them contain enough indigo to extract. The one with the highest concentration seems to be the Indian perennial Indigo. I use Japanese indigo (annual) and woad (biennal).

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