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Sierra de San Borja, National Geographic, October 1972


I’ve been working on our latest fixer-upper project which is a small waterfront cabin on Vashon Island.  While it has an amazing view it needs a lot of help. When we purchased it in foreclosure it had been abandoned and the moisture and local vermin had had their way with the structure so we have been tearing off walls, floors, and re-doing faulty electrical wiring along with a laundry list of other items that had gone to disrepair. But just last week we finished the upstairs and I had a moment to consider what was going to be my inspiration for this new home. I looked out at the grey Seattle sky and the deep indigo water and decided that I would bring inside what was so beautiful outside. Indigo and all the variations of that color.

Shades of blue Britt brown


Indigo has a long history of use and is one of the more unusual dyes in that it starts out blue turns yellow and then green and then oxidizes on the fabric to turn the dark blue that most associate with indigo. The scientific name of the indigo plant is Indigofera tinctoria.

Indigo is the only natural blue dye used by many cultures in unrelated places on every continent. The jeans company, Levi Strauss, has based its entire business since 1873 on one color, indigo blue.

wild indigo plant

Indigo cultivation is good for the soil and the farmer. At least two crops can be grown and harvested per year in combination with wheat, corn and other staples. The nitrogen that indigo releases back into the soil further promotes the growing of food crops. There are over 275 varieties of plants that have usable amounts of indigo in their leaves. Indigo is easy to grow and it has naturalized in diverse climates all over the world. Regardless of the plant used, there is only one method for converting the leaves into dye.  The indigo color is slowly drawn out of the leaves by composting them in alkaline water.  Over 12-18 hours the water turns blue; it is then drained from the leaves and reserved.  The resultant blue water is vigorously beaten or paddled to add as much air as possible to the solution.  After hours of this beating, the indigo dye settles to the bottom of the vessel.  The water above the sediment is drained.  The remaining blue sludge is dried and sold as chunks of indigo in the market.

Indigo vat




Making your own indigo dye can as you see be quite cumbersome but luckily we have people like Michele Wipplinger who is the founder of Seattle based Earthues. She is a natural dye expert. The range of subtle and sophisticated colors she produces in her workshop in Ballard is extraordinary. She is a master of her craft and has frequent classes that can demonstrate how to achieve the dark rich blues we normally associate with indigo or even the more subtle blue greens like you see in this indigo antique dress from Uzbekistan. http://www.earthues.com

indigo antique dress from Uzbekistan

The Los Angeles based artist Britt Browne details on her blog site how to use the indigo dyes she purchases from Earthues.http://growingindigo.blogspot.com/2012/02/recipe-making-indigo-vat-here-is-indigo.html  Her blog site is an inspiration for all things indigo.

I’m anxious to get the drywall back in place, the new floors in and the walls painted so that I can begin bringing that indigo sea inside.

indigo textiles

Indigo room

Images courtesy growingindigo.blogspot.com, national geographic, kahina-givingbeauty.com, naturalmedicinesofnc.com