Here at Ambatalia we have built a fermented indigo vat made from the Japanese indigo plant called Polygonum Tictorium. This plant was grown and composted for 100 days here in northern California by Rebecca Burgess founder of Fibershed. Without her work and many volunteers I wouldn't have this opportunity to build this kind of vat.
I built this vat myself with guidance from Rolland Rickets techniques. Using composted indigo
( sukomo), hand made lye form hard wood ash, lime stone and bran. Every day I care for this vat by stirring twice a day and testing fabrics, smelling and feeling the vat between my fingers. Learning each day what it needs.
The history and magic of this natural permanent blue dye from the indigo plant ( many species) goes back 4000 years through out many countries of the world including India, Japan, China, El Salvador, Africa, Indonesia and U. S. A just to name a few.
In south Carolina a million pounds where grown by slaves and shipped to England from 1740- 1776. In Bengal India from 1777 to 1859 Indigo was grown by peasants under brutal treatment by the planters instead of food. They finally refused to sow a single seedling of indigo with the support of Bengal called the indigo revolt in 1859, a fore runner of the non- violent passive resistance later successfully adopted by Gandhi.
Since the 1850's when synthetic dye was invented by English chemist Perkins and synthetic indigo indigo tine also used in food coloring today was invented by German chemist Boeyer, indigo dye from plants were used less and less. In 1897, 19,000 tons were produces by the plant, dropping to 1,000 tons by 1914.
In the last hundred years there have been a handful of master dyers around the world that have kept this tradition alive. Only in the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest and more and more artist that are now wanting to experience this ancient magical craft of dying with plant. Even though the Japanese vat is rare and more complex many are able to use the pre-reduced indigo purchased.
I have been inspired a long the way by many and from carrying beautiful indigo textiles in the old Ambatlia fabrics from Nike davies and Yasuo Nakajima to plenty of vintage indigo from all over the world. I feel fortunate to help build a compost floor with Rebecca Burgess guided by Rowland Ricketts and did a little indigo stomp. I have followed many masters via internet for years like Aboubaker Fofana and Hiroyuki Shindo to national treasures like Ayano Chiba.
Gratitude goes to the master dyers around the world that kept this magical
Color of the ocean and sky alive for us to enjoy for the last few centuries.
sifting the hard wood ash
gorgeous husband building the vat space
creating the lye from the wood ash
stirring the lye from wood ash
creating the space
sukomo and 1st batch of lye
stirring the first steps
adding the bran
inviting the indigo spirit
there is hope