An Adventure with Fresh Leaf Indigo Dyeing

28 September 2022

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Where do I, an eager-yet-amateur gardener, start my dye garden? During my first season, which plant can I depend on to survive as I learn through trial and error. Which one will grow in a small space and produce a high yield of dye pigment? Are there dye techniques that work only with fresh plants? Hapa zome and salt rub dyeing are fresh leaf dyeing methods that I can use with indigo. Thankfully, indigo is a weed that will endure mild neglect, provided it receives lots of water, and Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria, also known as Polygonum tinctorium) has a hardiness suited to most of Canada’s biomes.

Eight weeks before the last frost, I fill a cheap plastic container (I use a kitty litter pan), 30 cm (12 inches) wide × 40 cm (16 inches) long × 10 cm (4 inches) deep, with 7.5 cm (3 inches) of potting soil. I use a chopstick to carefully poke pairs of Japanese indigo seeds 2.5 cm (one inch) down into damp potting soil, spacing the pairs 5 cm (2 inches) apart. The pan holds 48 pairs of seeds.

image description: a blue plastic tub, half full with potting soil; a rule shows the spacing of a few indigo seedlings

Once the seeds are safe in the soil, I water them to wash away abscisic acid (ABA). ABA is a plant growth hormone that keeps seeds dormant. When it is dissolved by water and washed away, mature seeds can begin to germinate and grow. In about a week, two delicate green leaves peek out, shyly growing upwards toward the light.

All photos by Magan Wilson.


About Magan Wilson

Magan Wilson is a potter turned fibre artist with a love of plants, experimentation, cats, and the hidden beauty of the natural world. Her love of glaze chemistry and form transformed into a love of dyes, fibre, felt, and knitwear. Her work catches the wholeness of existing in the present. The wild nature of the world that flourishes on the fringes of awareness. Chasing the idea of a 'wild night' you can find her work via her alias of Oíche Rua (EE-ha RU-ah), an Irish phrase capturing the chaos and wild beauty of the night sky.

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