Callishibori Blue Leaf Studio - 01986 788644
enabling you to create shibori and experience the magic of indigo
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 Getting Started
 Jane Callender

Known to man in ancient times and harvested from plants flourishing in tropical and temperate climates, indigo became the world’s most important dye stuff by the end of the 17th century. This was due, in part, to it's ability to dye natural fibres without a mordent. It also yeilded a remarkable tonal range from deepest blues to palest hues with excellent permanence. Because it could be stored after harvest and conversion and used at a later date it became a valuable commodity.

The invention in 1856 by William Perkins of the first coal tar dyestuff heralded the manufacture of synthetic indigo some years later. Astonishingly the process of dyeing with either has, essentially, remained the same. That is the repeated dipping of fabric to gather up the indigo and the periods of oxidization between each dip which allow it to 'blue'.

Indigo is synonymous with shibori not only because they both belong to ancient times but because of the fascinating way indigo behaves as a dye. This is wonderfully evident during the unique and seemingly magical process, which, in itself, is captivating.

The indigo dyeing process

The animation starts automatically. Simply click and drag the bar back to the start position to begin again.

Oxygen is the key to understanding the process.

Indigo vats can be made in different ways and they differ because of the choice and availability of ingredients. The animation illustrates the essence of the indigo dyeing process. This process is the same whether natural or synthetic indigo is used, or woad. The aim is to dye the fabric - the white oblong - indigo blue.

Microscopic indigo particles are insoluble in water. Certain conditions need to be met before they can become useful as a dye, not merely a pigment in suspension.

The alkaline adjusts the ph balance of the liquid and the reducing agent 'digests' the oxygen in the water.

When indigo is added to the prepared solution, it is changed into the derivative, indigo white. (Misleading as the liquid is in fact a greenish gold). In this dissolved and reduced state indigo can now act effectively as a dye.

On a sunny day ...

The 'indigo flower' or 'bloom' needs to be removed carefully from the surface or pushed to the side.

The fabric is lowered carefully into the vat and the indigo connects with the fibres with which it bonds. 

The fabric appears greenly gold when removed from the vat, but as indigo is re-introduced to oxygen in the air it is restored to its blue insoluble self. As the indigo continues to oxidize while the fabric drains, the 'magic of indigo' happens in front of our very eyes.

The process is repeated many times to build up depth of shade, permanence and evenness of dyed ground.

Recommended reading:-

Jenny Balfour-Paul
British Museum Press
Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans ISBN: 978-0-7141-5-96-3
Medina Publishing
Deeper than Indigo;
tracing Thomas Machell, forgotten explorer
ISBN: 978-1-909339-53-8





Large vats are set in goats dung with only the tops visible.

National Institute for Rural Development, Hyderabad

One of the fifteen 3 metre deep vats in the

Hungarian Blue Dyers' Museum, Papa, Hungary.