Friday, April 10, 2009

Dyeing My Clothes in the Wild

Okay, so appearance doesn’t really matter after your clothes have become caked in mud and covered grass stains, you have begun to smell like a moldy rag, your skin is a darker shade (from dirt, not sun), and your hair no longer resembles that of a human. But, let’s say, near the end of your trip, you would like to wear your permanently-stained clothes in public. This is what happened to me after a hike, and I told some friends that I wanted to dye my favorite sweatshirt. “Oh! Here! Take my indigo plant! If you really want to dye it, this will never come out,” was my friend’s response. I had no idea what she was talking about, and then she pulled an indigo plant out of her backpack after returning from a course. I held it in my hand, wondering how to properly use it before turning my skin the color of Violet Beauregarde’s in the “blueberry scene” of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

After a little research, I learned a few things:

-Natural indigo was the only source of dye until July 1897

-Indigo is the primary dye used in blue jeans

-Indigo is also used as a food coloring

-Indigo is hard to use because it is not soluble in water; to be dissolved, it must undergo a chemical change. When a submerged fabric is removed from the dyebath, the indigo quickly combines with oxygen in the air and reverts to its insoluble form

Therefore, to use it, follow these instructions

  1. Fill a pot with about 1 liter of urine – yes, urine - or water (with water, it’ll fade, but with urine it will create a more permanent dye)
  2. If you dare to use urine, cover the pot with a secure lid and let it ferment for 6 weeks in a warm place
  3. Cut up the leaves and berries into pieces (about 1/5 kg of it), and stir it into the pot
  4. Let it sit for 3-4 days (in either urine or water)
  5. Put cotton inside pot for a few days (the longer it sits, the deeper the color)

Bottom line: dyeing your clothes naturally can be a dangerous and smelly process. But it’s a great story.

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