Master dyers, like Aboubakar Fofana, grind the indigo leaves into a paste and add them to a vat for fermentation.
“It’s a living organism,” Fofana says. “You have to taste your vat; you smell it to know if the fermentation is too strong. Your eyes will see how thick the foam is.” That foam—also known as the “indigo flower”—signals the ripeness of the dye; vats are fed—bran porridge, honey, figs—to support the fermentation process. “You have to know every day how healthy your bacteria is,” Fofana says. “If they’re tired, you’ll kill them. It’s like making food, trying to find the right recipe. If you care for them—if you respect them and give them what they need, they will give you their beauty, these different blues.”
The dye itself appears green and the fabric you are dying doesn't turn blue until you take it out and it meets the air. The more times you submerge your fabric in the dying vat, the deeper and darker the blue, the fewer, the lighter the hue.
Indigo dye kits are available online but they are typically not the real thing and are made with synthetic ingredients. You can still achieve the same result, even with the indigo flower but be sure you read the directions about how to dispose of the excess liquid when you are done. I have taken two different classes where we used a kit and now I understand why.
Once fabric is dyed it is hung or spread on the ground in the sun to dry.
Our Etta Short Caftan is a great example of hand dyed indigo fabric as well as block printing.
This is a dress I designed and made with indigo block printed fabric I ordered from India.
Clothing made with indigo fabric usually comes with some care instructions. The dye is so intense that it can still rub off on other clothing. It is usually stable after a few washes.
Be sure to follow me on Pinterest and visit my indigo board for more inspiration.
Pick up a copy of this book if you want to learn more about your favorite colors.