In the Dye Studio: Fermentation and the Indigo Vat

I adore this time of year in the Bay Area. While July and August (referred to as Fogust) can be overcast and chilly, September brings warmth. The light begins to shift from a silvery grey tone to a golden tone. The fruit and vegetables are ripe - and we squeeze in one last dinner of heirloom tomatoes and burrata. I find myself trying to spend as much time outside possible relishing in the warmth and light knowing soon that the days will be shorter. Though I also know that soon enough, we'll get a cold snap, and bam, we'll be in sweater wearing weather. So, it's more important than ever that I dye yarn, and stock the shop with all woolly variations.

Last time I checked in, we were making a mixture of water and hardwood ash, which we call lye.
The reason we were making lye - beyond the fact that are drawn to picking up every object, turning it over in our hands, and wondering how it is made, and then possibly trying to do it ourselves - is that we have a installed a fermentation indigo vat on the back patio and we needed to make 60 gallons of pH basic water as the base for the fermentation vat.

I took a photo of the indigo vat every morning - notating the change in texture and color.

I really can't begin to express my love for this vat. The indigo, polygonum tinctoria, was grown in Laguanitas, which is located in Marin County, about 30 miles from here. It was dried and then composted on a special floor Adrienne and I helped to build January of 2012, also located in Marin. After composting for 120 days, the indigo is ready to be placed into a pH basic vat of water. We stir it every morning and night. And sure enough, this warm weather helping tremendously, the bacteria from the composting are alive and ripe. The smell is - interesting - some may say rank - a mixture of cheese, latrine, and manure. I love it. What can I say. The much sought after copper film has appeared on the surface - as have tiny little blue bubbles. The development of these two characteristics gives us the indication that we are right on track. It will still be another 5 days or so before we begin to dip. I have been sitting over a natural indigo vat reduced with chemicals for years now, and have dreamed of having a natural indigo vat, reduced naturally through fermentation.

We are hosting an community indigo dip on Sunday, October 20, if you would like to come please do, and know that your contribution to the event helps us partake in these practices and allows the practice to stay in effect.

We are extremely grateful to Rebecca Burgess for cultivating the indigo plants, for being the driving force behind trying to create a local indigo blue, and for teaching us how to use this vat. We are also grateful to Rowland Ricketts for his extensive work and research of Japanese indigo and the methods of growing it, composting it, and dyeing with it. By participating in this project, and by using a fermentation vat, we take one step towards supporting growers in this area - and participating in a process which is alive. I can't wait to learn more about this vat and the process of caring for it.

In early October, Adrienne and I are heading to Vancouver to attend classes at the Maiwa. Known for their astute knowledge of all things related to dyeing and textiles, every year Maiwa holds a symposium in the Fall. Teachers come from all over the world. We are both taking an indigo fermentation vat class. And then I am taking an overdyeing with fermented indigo class while I assume Adrienne will look in every nook and cranny, field and brook, for mushrooms. Neither of us have been to Canada or the Pacific Northwest - so we are thrilled! If you have any recommendations as to things to do, see, eat, etc. please let us know.


Sally Fox's organic merino wool is at Green Mountain Spinnery. They are nearly through the entire process of washing, carding, and spinning, and will soon ship this new batch of Horizon to us. I am excited to hold it in my hands as I want to see how this past year's wool growth differs from our last batch of Horizon. We are aiming for a late-October re-release of Horizon. We will have new patterns - and other exciting surprises.

Adrienne and I have been working on revamping the shop and studio. Adrienne has built more shelving into the store for yarn. We have designed and are in the process of putting the finishing touches on a natural dyeing kiosk. This way, the dyes will be displayed neatly. We have custom designed new packaging which will give more information as to how to use the dyes. In the dyeing studio, we are organizing and cleaning and have added better lighting. We are thinking of adding a skylight. We'll see.

And the book - oh the book! I was getting into a bad habit of waking at 4:30am and writing. There's something about the darkness and quiet. Though when it comes to working during the I still am working on my schedule as to when I will write. In the meantime, I have been squeezing in a few hours here and there. I'm really enjoying working on it. I'm so happy we will have this resource to draw upon even in our own studio. There is a lot of information! It feels good to get it out of my head, to consolidate my notes. That said, I have quite a bit of work ahead of me.

Other than that, I've been playing with quebracho red and cochineal in the dyeing studio this week.

Until next week!