and because i love blue.
it's organically grown and i paid a fair price for it so the grower wasn't exploited.
indigo vats are like people. they need to rest in between working, are not keen on being cold and they get bored eating the same stuff all the time.
it's cold here in the deep deep southern winter so from time to time (when i want to dye) i warm my vat with twigs using this very simple heater.
although indigo can be boiled when in its blue form, overheating when it has been reduced can destroy the colour. so the heating is something i pay careful attention to
feeding my vat some honey (that had come to the unwelcome attention of some ants) made the indigo flower go bright blue.
it worked hard yesterday so in the evening (feeding the donkey after work as the indigo master, Michel Garcia suggests) i gave it a treat. boiled bananas strained through an old sleeve. the button at the cuff is handy for attaching the bag to a "dripping stick".
the squeezed contents might look absolutely disgusting but there are people in my family who really enjoy them
more please! it's hard to get a clear pic when Kowhai is wriggling with delight. She loves pignanas especially when they have been boiled to mush
i worked a lot with indigo during my residency in Portland last year. one of the happy side effects of overdyeing ecoprints with indigo is of course that the leaf prints of (particularly) deciduous species are enhanced by the alkali that is a necessary component of every indigo vat. that said, some yellows (such as coreopsis) are quite likely to turn red. and eucalyptus can become quite sulky. you can use almost any alkali to develop ecoprints (ash water, seawater, fermented urine) but you'll find that the prints seem to blur if you haven't bundled tightly enough, as the alkali will develop ALL of the colourant that has bonded with the cloth (not just the bits you can easily see)
i also found to my delight that Persicaria tinctoria literally grows before your eyes. a bag of fresh indigo in the refrigerator had roots from most of the nodes within 48 hours.
which offers the opportunity for selective propagation if you're into that kind of thing. or just wanting to grow a lot of indigo from a limited seed source.
speaking of propagating, a few months ago i had to rescue a rose (Francis Dubreuil*) that had been trashed by one of the goats and used a method i had learned from a copy of French Vogue (yes, I was surprised to find it there myself) that someone had left in the pocket of an airplane seat back in 1976
the method is ridiculously simple and works every time.
fill a pot with good quality potting mix (does not necessarily have to be cutting mix, you actually want it to retain a bit of moisture). trim your cuttings in the usual way (i like to have a bit of firm growth, nip back anything that's too soft at the tip and trim the leaves from three sets of nodes at the business end)
poke them into the pot (if the cuttings are firm enough i don't even use a dibbing stick), give it a good water and when the pot finishes dripping put it into a plastic bag (yes, i know some of your will fall into shock at the mention of a plastic bag from this quarter) and tie the top up
then ignore it all until the plants inside are begging to get out
thinking now that a row of really big pickle jars will make very fine miniature greenhouses for this method. just as long as the openings are big enough to admit pots and to allow for easy retrieval of the plants once they grow
* Francis Dubreuil was a tailor from Lyon who became a rose breeder later in life. Among his abundant output was also Perle d'Or, a completely adorable rose that has so far survived our goats (touching woods as i type). He was also father to Claudia Meilland who married Antoine Meilland (who bred the Peace rose which in France was named Madame A.Meilland...but the Peace rose story is a long one and you can find it here).