Dying Your Jeans Indigo

How to use natural indigo to dye your jeans a beautiful shade of blue.

Indigo has been used to dye fabrics throughout history.The only natural blue dye of permanence, it is known and used around the world.Indigo was the original dye of the "Levi's" blue jeans.The color, a symbol of durability, is a rich dark blue.

The process of dyeing with indigo can be a little complicated.It takes time and patience to dye using a natural fermentation vat.In the living fermentation process, the indigo is reduced and dissolved in an alkaline solution.When you first set up your vat it will take about a week for the dye to ferment and be ready to use.After the initial set up, you will be able to renew your vat with more ingredients and less time is needed to re-ferment.In some cultures there are pots that have been used for more than one hundred years.

In order to start your vat you will need ground indigo, ground madder, wheat bran, and washing soda or soda ash.You need to decide the size of pot that you need.This will depend on the amount of material you will be dyeing at one time.It may be best to start out small until you are comfortable with the process.Using 4 ounces of indigo, 2 ounces each of madder and wheat bran, and 12 ounces of soda ash in a 3 gallon pot of warm water will give you a reasonable amount to start with.If you would like a larger batch, add these ingredient amounts in proportion by weight.


You will need to keep the vat warm to help with the fermentation process.It is necessary to make sure you do not overheat the mixture.It should be kept at around 100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.In warmer climates, added heat is not usually needed.If you do need a supplemental heat source you can use a light bulb in a reflector under the vat and cover the top with a blanket to keep the heat in.

The vat needs to be gently stirred once a day in order to incorporate any undissolved ingredients into the mix.You will need to do this very carefully to avoid incorporating any air into the dye.The mixture will not reduce properly if there is too much air in the pot.To this end, you will also need to keep the pot covered.There should be a minimum of air between the lid and the top of the mixture, no more than 2 inches is best.

The vat is ready for dyeing when you see a coppery film on top of the mixture and when a test piece of fabric dipped in the dye come out green and then turns blue once it is in the air.

In order to dye your jeans you will need to wet them very well in warm water.This is too remove any air in the material.If there is air left in the jeans when you dip them it will oxidize the indigo in your vat.Wearing rubber gloves, submerge the jeans carefully in the dye.With your hands gently work the solution through the fabric.Try not to break the surface very often as this will introduce more air into the vat.After a few minutes, carefully lift the jeans out of the solution squeezing out any excess dye.Do this as close to the surface as possible.The material should look green in color, but will start turning blue immediately in the air.Lay the jeans out on newspaper to air for about 20 minutes.You may repeat this process 4 to 5 times to obtain a darker indigo blue.For lighter shades you may only want to dip it once or twice.

When you have obtained the desired shade of blue, rinse out the jeans.Now you will need to let the jeans air out overnight.In the morning you should soak the jeans and give them a final rinse.Rinsing will not be able to remove all excess dye.Be prepared for some show on the first few washings.You may want to hand wash them.

After dyeing, you will want to let your indigo vat rest overnight to let it re-reduce.During the dyeing process a certain amount of the indigo will oxidize.If you do not let the vat rest it will not dye well.

If you feel this process is a bit too complicated or it takes too long, there is an alternative.Through modern technology, it is now possible to freeze dry a fully reduced natural indigo vat.To dye, just add warm water to the indigo crystals and stir gently.Once the crystals have dissolved, follow the same process as above to dye your jeans.

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