Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Indigo First Steps

This will be my 17th year growing my own indigo and processing it into indigo dye. I grew three varieties of Polygonum tinctorum last year. Round leaf. Pink flower and White flower. Pink flower has the longest growing season and the most pigment content. The round leaf flowers in mid-August making a third harvest impossible.

Ogata san Mari san and I separated the seeds from the chaff yesterday and today I planted 5 seeds in each compartment of these seed trays. The indigo field is a good 15 minutes away from the house by car. Being out of eyesight it never gets the love it deserves and it is easier for me to use the long black plastic sheets with small holes to grow the indigo. The set up is more work than directly planting but I don't need to worry as much about weeds and watering. It is a little easier to harvest as well. I bought a few huge industrial rolls ten years back and promise the 'natural guy' deep inside me that I'll go back to free planting style when it runs out.

Separating the chaff and the seeds:

Indigo seeds:

A few months later It will look like this:

Pictured below is the indigo grown in Laos and commonly known as Tree Indigo or Indigofera tinctoria. I've tried growing it in Japan a few times without success. The actual pigment content is much higher than the native Japanese variety making it easy to process in a settlement tank.

Masato used a plow for the first time. He considered himself a pro after an hour! I plowed in a lot of cow manure this year as the soil seemed a little tired last year.

Here is indigo drying up on my third floor eaves with a good view of my tea field in the background.

And the fermented indigo balls I make each winter.

And me dying some shibori:


  1. that is a labor of love to be sure. grateful that you shared it. the photos are lovely and transmit both the time and timelessness of the process.

  2. If you have any extra seeds of different Polygonum tinctoria this fall, I would very much like to buy some of your seeds, especially the round leave variety sounds interesting if it flowers earlier than others and so it would have time to flower also here in Finland. I am also interested in other varietys.Perhaps I could pay through paypal?

  3. I enrolled in school for painting a few years ago and stumbled upon textiles shortly after. I don't know when I fell in love with natural dyes, but last summer I sent my first indigo plant to my father's house. I did not inherit his green thumb. I am reading through your blog, because I know I will be able to learn more about the spirit of dyeing that I won't find in dyer's handbooks. Right now I am preparing to work on making my own vats in the ceramics studio at my school. Does the kind of clay or it's glaze have any effect on the indigo dye? I envy your beautiful blue lifestyle.