November 10, 2005

Mood Indigo-part 3

Note from Steph: No baby yet, though it is getting harder to remember that a watched uterus never contracts. The baby will come when it is finished and there is nothing we can do to rush it. Go on about your business. (Buy that? Oh. Teresa didn't either.)
We did get the cover of the book shot yesterday, though who knows what they will use or do. The suspense is killing me (but I didn't kill Adam.)
The That Laurie Guest Blog continues....

Mood Indigo
“The vat must be reduced (the air removed) and turned to "indigo white" which is actually a sort of chartreuse green. To do this, add Sodium Hydrosulfite (buy Rit Color Remover from the grocery store or a craft store -- it has a definite shelf life so look for the expiration date) at the rate of 1/2 teaspoon/gallon of dye liquid. Stir gently (remember not to get more air in the vat at this point). It might take another hour, you will see the vat change color.”
Well, we added the requisite amount of RIT dye remover and it took about 2 seconds for the vat to change color. I would not have called it chartreuse green, but then I have never been 100% sure what color “chartreuse” was. My guess is that the most important thing is that the color of the vat change. The first time, the change was dramatic and the liquid really did turn a much lighter green.
When I did my second indigo vat more recently with the leaves that had grown back from the first harvest, both the vat itself was much darker and the “transformed” vat, though definitely changed in color, was much darker.
In any case, we were very excited when we carefully put our pre-soaked yarn into the vat now perched permanently above the hot water in the dye pot because the heat must stay in the 110 to 130 range.


We also inverted another plastic tub on TOP of the indigo vat to keep the heat from escaping. After all it was getting a bit late in the evening by then, and Maine gets cool of an evening, even during the summer.

When we unveiled the pot, we had very positive indications that the process had worked:


See the blue tinting the top? We tried to dye too much wool, and some of it did NOT stay under the surface of the liquid. Supposedly, the yarn stays below, and you can swoosh it around. But, having spent all almost all day wrestling the vat into submission, we wanted to dye a LOT. In terms of the weight, we should have been fine – 28 ounces of leaves for 2 100-gram skeins of dye-your-own sock merino from KnitPicks. I am convinced it was volume of the liquid, not the vat itself that lead to somewhat mottled skeins.
Anyway, we got the Indigo magic!! Just watch:


See the color spread up the skein as it hits the air? And it gets darker! Like this:


Now one skein was considerably darker than the other. The one I kept was less dark then the skein above and had number white splotches, both where the ties on the yarn blocked the dye and the absorption of the vat was not as good. Mine was the skein on top, and I knew I could overdye it with the next indigo vat. Which is exactly what I did.
In the next vat, I also did a very small skein of bright white polwarth handspun all by itself first. It FULLY submerged and changed color even faster and more fully than the skeins above:


Tomorrow – results and lessons learned!

Posted by Stephanie at November 10, 2005 11:40 AM

So cool how it turns blue when it hits the air - great tutorial!

Posted by: Jackie at November 10, 2005 11:50 AM

That is so freakin' cool. Poor Teresa.

Posted by: Carole at November 10, 2005 11:58 AM

Whoa! I never knew how indigo dye worked. That "changing color as it hits the air" thing is really incredible. Thanks for letting us watch! :)

Posted by: Amanda at November 10, 2005 11:59 AM

Maybe Snowflake wants his MAMA to knit him something.

Laurie, that looks so awesome. I am highly impressed that you didn't give up half-way through and just go buy some blue yarn, but then, I'm always impressed with others are less lazy than I.

Posted by: Carrie at November 10, 2005 12:00 PM

Wow- I am going to have to plant this in my garden next year. It will be wonderful to bring my two loves, gardening and knitting, together!

Posted by: Jacque at November 10, 2005 12:06 PM

Gorgeous! And the color change and chemistry aspects still have an aura of magic. Very cool. Too bad I can't grow indigo in window boxes.

Posted by: Cassie at November 10, 2005 12:10 PM

This is all fascinating. Thanks for sharing the information.

Posted by: Jessica at November 10, 2005 12:12 PM

I think the baby is waiting for the first snowflakes to make its shawl that much more special (the snow should fly soon maybe tonight?)either that or all of us wishing for it to hold on for "just one more day" did the trick and the baby heard it so many times that thinks it should hold on for several days.
Laurie - beautiful colour, I am seriously thinking I need to do some dying any kind just to watch the magic.

Posted by: Teresa the Canadian at November 10, 2005 12:13 PM

wow, that is so cool!

Posted by: katie at November 10, 2005 12:14 PM

that is fan-flippin-tastic! better living through chemistry, indeed!

Posted by: natalie at November 10, 2005 12:19 PM

Thanks. Thanks a lot. Now I'm dieing (get it?? I know, done to death) to dye some yarn. Yet another thing to divert my attention from things I should be doing. Very, very cool!!

Posted by: cindi at November 10, 2005 12:20 PM

That is the coolest thing ever. I had no idea that is how indigo worked. Beautiful color, too.

Poor, poor Teresa. At least it is November, and not the hottest part of summer. It could be worse-I know. Still, I feel for her-it sucks to be overdue.

Posted by: Teresa at November 10, 2005 12:26 PM

Cooooooooool! I am SO planting indigo next year!

For Teresa:
I know how un-fun it is to go past your due date. My son finally made his appearance 16 days after he was due, in a very fast labor & birth. I hope that when the Snowflake decides it's time for him to come, it's a fast and easy labor as well. Good luck, and enjoy the last few days with only one child. :-)

Posted by: Jessikate at November 10, 2005 12:27 PM

I'm going to set my knitting aside for a little while so I can stitch "A watched uterus never contracts" onto a sampler for the living room.

I've never dyed anything before and I'm enjoying the heck out of the indigo saga.

Posted by: Franklin at November 10, 2005 12:27 PM

This is so cool!!! Thank you so much for sharing this!

Posted by: Crystal M at November 10, 2005 12:29 PM

This is SO exciting - I'm loving watching this process! Can you use dried indigo, or does it have to be fresh? I don't have much of a green thumb.

Posted by: Patti at November 10, 2005 12:29 PM

Very cool how the colour changed when the yarn hit the air. It must have been a neat thing to see live! Poor Teresa though. Ouch.

Posted by: Rachel H at November 10, 2005 12:30 PM

So will this winter's spinning be predicated on what you want to dye next summer? I read about women who would weave a nearly invisible pattern of white cotton and linen whose plaid was revealed as the cloth emerged from the indigo pot and hit the air -- will you be spinning different wools, different blends to see how they react?

Such a satisfactory blue...

Posted by: rams at November 10, 2005 12:44 PM

Awww... I so feel Theresa's pain. All of my babies were late, and it is so extremely frustrating.

The worst was my first, though... I had been given an initial due date of August 1st. At the ultrasound, they moved it back to August 12th, but he wasn't born until the 23rd.

It was made all the worse by the neighbor lady also due on the 12th who gave birth to her (very healthy) baby 4 weeks early.

And the fact that it was late summer in Utah. Utah, if you didn't know, is mostly desert. Lots of irrigation and hard work have given the area plenty of grass and trees and such, but it's still a desert... which means HOT in the summer. And we had no air conditioning in the car (with nasty vinyl seats), and just a little, extremely inefficient, window unit in the apartment. I also had a class on the extreme other side of campus, and I had to walk all the way home after class UPHILL.

So, at any rate, you can tell Theresa I can empathize with her. The last (fill in the blank... trimester, month, week, day) is the longest, so by the end, ANY additional waiting is excrutiating.

Posted by: Leisel at November 10, 2005 12:54 PM

That is probably the coolest thing that I have seen in a long time!

Posted by: Colleen at November 10, 2005 1:12 PM

Thanks for the lesson in dyeing (sp?), it looks like it would take more patience than I have but beautiful end result.

For Teresa - the snowflakes are flying now here and I'm about 100km north of Toronto - fingers crossed for delivery soon

Posted by: Maggie R at November 10, 2005 1:47 PM

Laurie, I have a question. I had read on a sock-knitting yahoo group that someone had trouble with their Knitpicks dye-your-own sock yarn felting after they had dyed, and knit their socks. Have you any trouble with that your after socks are knit? Thanks, Sue

Posted by: Sue at November 10, 2005 1:53 PM

I was watching "The worst jobs in history - medieval times" a while back with my husband. Not only did they talk about the job of a fuller who got to stomp around in urine and wool all day, bleck:

but then I got to watch them dye with woad, which produces greens and blues and is quite stinky but it had that same fabulous oxidation and I have been enthralled ever since. Thanks for the fun posts!

scroll down to House of Commons Green:

Posted by: Tiffany at November 10, 2005 2:00 PM

That is SO cool! I'm tempted to plant indigo now. I'm redoing my front flower beds in the spring. Will indogo grow in Kansas? Must look it up, now!

Poor Teresa. I'm sure being overdue probably makes her think people saying, "Poor Teresa" are just humoring her. In my late-pregnancy crankiness, I would have thought so. Come on out, snowflake!

Posted by: Lara at November 10, 2005 2:05 PM

Sue, I have a book on dyeing that says that some brands of superwash treatments on wool are damaged by boiling temperatures, so that could have happened in the dyeing process. The book is old, though, and I've never tested the accuracy of that information.

Posted by: AlisonH at November 10, 2005 2:06 PM

Tell the Snoflake its safe to come out now - the snow was flying in Aurora this morning...

How cool is it that the blue shows up when your remove it from the dye? I have GOT to try this...

Posted by: Sandra at November 10, 2005 2:10 PM

Oooh, look at that lovely blue! Reminds me of blue jeans...wonder why ;-)

Posted by: Kathy at November 10, 2005 2:17 PM

Quick FYI that it's ILLEGAL to plant woad in a lot of the U.S. -- invasive.

Posted by: rams at November 10, 2005 3:05 PM


And tell Rams: stop being a killjoy. Illegal, schmillegal. (KIDDING, FBI/CIA!)

Posted by: Norma at November 10, 2005 3:38 PM

I am so going to have to do this with my kids! They love koolaid dyeing, but this is way cooler! (off to look for indigo plants)

Posted by: aprilbrokena at November 10, 2005 3:38 PM

Stephanie! There are SNOWFLAKES flying through the air in Kensington Market as i type this...the baby can come now!

Posted by: megan at November 10, 2005 3:45 PM

That is about the coolest blog entry I've ever seen. And I'm now totally jealous of the dying, and even MORE impatient for next summer so I can give it a try.

The waiting for the baby can be excruciating, I know, but afterwards it seems like nothing, so hang in there Teresa!

Posted by: Maria in Mass. at November 10, 2005 4:12 PM

I love yarn magic!

Posted by: Ann at November 10, 2005 4:15 PM

Tell Teresa, "pizza and bowling". Or that you have to rip back 6 inches or so. One or the other should work. If not, the full moon is almost here, isn't it?

Posted by: k at November 10, 2005 4:25 PM

I just heard you being interviewed on the radio -KUOW in Seattle - unfortunately, only I only caught the very tail end. It was great to hear you. Are you ever going to come out this way again on book tour?

Posted by: Beth in Seattle at November 10, 2005 6:15 PM

a little off topic... but while doing my routine 'msf' searches i found your knitting without borders challenge. i'm actually heading off to train next week and should be an official msf-canada volunteer very very soon. so i added your button to my site and have gotten two more fundraisers! woo hoo!

if i get to meet ben on my way home i'll ask him how the socks are doing :)

Posted by: julia at November 10, 2005 7:29 PM

Suprise! Wow! I turned on the radio and heard YOU! Thanks for making my workday a bit shinier. :D

Posted by: artgeek at November 10, 2005 8:15 PM

Woad is not the same as polygonum Tinctorium, and as far as I could make out it is mostly invasive in warm dry places (but I oculd be wrong). Mine got et up before it could invade anything, by cabbage worm as far as we could make out.


kind of sweet, acquired taste (angelica), great for monthly cramps (you may still have cramps, but you are crocked). In my youth I told people 'I used to drink Benedictine, but then I reformed and now I only drink Chartreuse.'(If you think that's funny, you're probably over-educated.)

Thank you, Laurie, for the lovely essay.

Posted by: Laura J at November 10, 2005 8:16 PM

Laurie! This is wonderful! Just magic. Thank you so much.

Posted by: Wanda at November 10, 2005 9:01 PM

Oh my goodness. *Now* I know what happened to that sweater! (Sort of.)

About 10 years ago, I bought a cotton sweater in a light gray-blue. I spilled a bit of bleach on it, and decided to dye over it with royal blue RIT dye. We'll draw a veil of modesty over how badly I botched that in many different ways... The end result, though, was that the job had to be redone.

So I bought some RIT dye remover and set about making sweater soup. In no time at all, I could see that the sweater had bleached out to a creamy ivory. Lovely. In fact, it was pretty enough that I decided that dyeing over it was a silly idea anyway, and I would return the dye boxes to the store as soon as I got the sweater out and rinsed and washed and wearable.

As I pulled the sweater out... It turned sky blue. Dipped it back into the water, ivory. Pulled it back out, azure. Bizarre.

I was more than half-convinced I was hallucinating, but then I decided not to worry about it, because at least I'd had the sense to hallucinate a rather pretty color. So I rinsed and washed, and it became my favorite slouchy sweater until it died a natural death a few years ago.

I am *so* glad you shared those photos. I wasn't hallucinating. I was witnessing indigo magic!

And now I feel the need to play with dyes. Laurie, you may have corrupted me. (At the very least, you've brought me out of lurkdom!)

Posted by: Denise at November 10, 2005 9:08 PM

I already ordered my indigo seeds for next year.

Posted by: marie at November 11, 2005 5:28 AM

My DH had a suggestion for your SOS-KNIT. You say that we can save time on projects by cutting them down - socks becoming anklets, sweaters becoming vests. DH suggests that one can get two for the price of one by replacing two sweaters with one vest and a shrug. I was rather impressed with him.

Posted by: trekcelt at November 11, 2005 9:51 AM

That is one of the coolest things I have ever seen! I love how the color changes like magic (good thing--that "chartreuse" color was a bit knarly).

Posted by: Lee Ann at November 11, 2005 9:54 AM

Wow! I wonder if I can grow indigo here?

Posted by: sarah at November 11, 2005 1:14 PM

Answers to various questions:

Rams -- for the different wools an experimentation, you will have to wait for the next installment. Though it is a VERY tempting idea to spin for dyeing -- I would spin some nice grays...

The indigo leaves DO have to be fresh, but you can buy commercial indigo in chunks and pursue a similar process. Haven't tried that yet.

Since I have not yet knit anything with the dyed merino yarn -- and probably will not relegate it to socks -- I do not know about post-knitting felting. However, I DO know about fulling during dyeing -- also in next installment.

Thanks for all the kind words -- Kristen and I were NOT about to stop, given all we ahd put into the process, especially all our precious leaves...


Posted by: That Laurie at November 14, 2005 11:06 AM

I have been laughing out loud while getting ed-u-cated ... can't beat that!

I am supposed to be sewing for Christmas.

I had a vegetable garden last summer. Plants I don't do too well with - overwater them. Did have sun coleus and a succulent.

I already have a gallon class jar. Can you do this on an electric stove?

Leslie, Huntsville, Texas

Posted by: Leslie at November 19, 2005 9:50 PM


Posted by: fastsize at January 23, 2006 5:26 PM