Friday, October 16, 2009


Teresa Kobayashi has her own indigo dye studio in Kurashiki, Okayama, Japan. It is called Dye House Tereya.

Teresa loves indigo as much as I do, as much as we all do!

Teresa Kobayashi explains her process in the following photos:

In order to get blue from indigo, which is a plant, you need a high alkaline, oxygen free atmosphere. These photos show one way of doing that; natural fermentation.
This is the ash used to make the alkaline solution.

This shows the indigo pot and alkiline solutions #1 and #2.
I put the ash into buckets and stir everyday for a few days. I make 4-5 solutions that range from ph30 to ph13 and are numbered, with #1 being the highest.

After stirring up the ash and water it gets real foamy.

Alkaline solution #1, with the highest ph level. The ash has all settled to the bottom and the liquid is pretty clear.

Here are my buckets of alkaline solution.

The beautifully, clear ash water.
When the ash water is ready I start by filling the pot to about 1/3 full with the medium ph level of ash water and stir in the composted indigo leaves. I gradually add more ash water until the pot is full and the indigo is ready to use. I keep it maintained throughout its period of use (up to 6 months) by adding more of the higher or lower ph level ash water as needed to keep it at it's ideal level.

Even though I have this really nice 100 year old, traditional 'Ohtani Yaki' woodfired indigo pot, I have to cover it with an old electric blanket......

and then insulate it with foam. I have to do this because I need to maintain a warm atmosphere for the fermentation. Traditionallly these pots were buried part way and then a platform was built around them that came level to it's lip. Coal, was used between the earth and the top of the platform. I don't do it that way for several reasons.

I dressed my pot in a burlap bag and creatively wrapped hemp cord around it. This is purely to hide that ugly insulation sheet.

Since the bottom is so narrow, it is very unstable, so we rigged up a nice tri-pod and tied it securely.

This is the composted indigo leaves. I buy this compost from an indigo grower who harvests the leaves and then composts them, for people like me to buy. It is filled with wonderful indigo bacteria.

Now, in order for me to be able to make use of that bacteria, which makes the blue color, I need to create an oxygen free vat. Here we go. First I sprinkle a little lime on to the composted leaves.

I also sprinkle lime on the inside of my pot. This helps to get rid of any weird germs or other bacteria that could be harmful to the indigo. This was the first time I used this particular pot and I had bought it at an antique store. Although it is a traditional pot made for indigo the last owners could have been using it as a goldfish bowl. It is over 100 years old. Did I say that all ready? I like this pot. It's kind of small, as they go. I have another, almost twice as big, now in the new studio.

Then, I start stomping on it. I was standing in those boots before I took the picture. I don't know why I chose such a small container....I normally use one that is easier to move around in. Pretty silly now that I'm looking at it. HA!

So then I mix the composted leaves with a little alkali solution and put it in my heated pot. I keep adding more solution everyday. In this shot the pot isn't even all the way filled up and it has already started to ferment. The iridescent film on the surface is oxidized bacteria

I filled the pot up to the top and the indigo got quiet. That color is just the tanin from the leaves, and the foam from the ash water. After a day it will be iridescent again.

The pot is fermenting nicely and I have started to stir it daily. In the early stages the color of the bubbles that surface are a pretty turqoise blue. That color and that greyish foam means that it is still not ready for dyeing.

Here, there is a good 'indigo flower' (the name of that cluster of bubbles), but the surrounding area is kind of cloudy, with some greyish bits of foamy bubbles floating around. Not ready yet.

It is not ready to be used properly yet, but it is fermenting well, so I want to test the color with a small fabric swatch.

When I first take it out is is a green color (you can only see it on the one edge where my finger was, I was slow with the shot) until it oxidizes and then it turns blue.


Velma said...

great! so many ideas already--the electric blanket is so perfect! very helpful, thank you.

neki desu said...

this summer i tried some dried indigo balls from Mali and had iffy results.
have 250 gr of sukumo and after reading this perhaps next summer...
thanks for the great post!

a.k.t. klinik said...

Thanks for putting this up. It looks great. I had been trying to figure a way to share this with people who would be interested and this is just perfect.

The electric blanket works great. It's the safest, most economical way I could figure to keep a steady temperature.

Good luck with you skumo. 250g is not very much so you will need a small pot.

I am about to start another one and am thinking to take pictures again, in my new studio with a bigger pot. I could probably include weights and things if I've got an interested audience.


Anonymous said...

always interested in more indigo- i just bought an old electric blanket at the second hand store just for my indigo- even though i live in a warm climate i found i really need it during the winter to keep the vat sound. am looking forward to starting a new vat soon.thanks for posting this-


I thought that I would give another suggestion for keeping a consistent temperature for a natural indigo vat. If the pot is small enough, an aquarium heater might do the trick, They come in many sizes and do keep consistent temperatures.

a.k.t. klinik said...

But be careful not to let it get down into the muck (sukumo) at the bottom or it will explode.(experience speaking)

Helen said...

Thank you very much for posting. It is fabulous to see. I do a lot if indigo dyeing and use fermentation vats but have never used sukumo although I have used woad balls.
I like the way you make ash water and think I will try it and also have ones of different pH. How do you know how to make a specific pH? I just put wood ash in a bucket and top it up with water -do you measure your wood ash?
I use a heater made to make wine. It is a warm plate that keep my small vat at between 35degreesC and 45 degrees C depending on how cold the night time temperature.