Category Archives: Japanese Indigo

Fibreshed goes to Fibre Camp 2017

The Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild’s Fibre Camp 2017 was held at Camp Sunrise on the Sunshine Coast of BC from Sept 7th to Sept 9th. Fifty fibre enthusiasts gathered to attend workshops, played with their fibre, shopped at vendor stalls, talked, ate and shared their stories.


The Sunshine Coast Fibreshed display featured local fleece dyed with local pokeberries.


The pokeberry was dyed using the solar method…aka…Sun Kissing.


Jars of solar dyed marigolds and onion skins produce bright golds and soft yellows. When overdyed with Japanese Indigo, various shades of green are the result.


On display at Fibre Camp was our Teddy Bears Picnic Blanket along with many items hand made by local artisans from local fleece, dyed with local plants…all invited to the picnic!


This Community Blanket Project was a joint effort by the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed and the Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild. We gathered fibre from the Sunshine Coast, washed, picked, carded, spun, wove and waulked a brilliant picnic blanket for our guild booth display at ANWG this past July in Victoria, B.C.


After spending the day at Camp spinning, spindling, weaving, knitting we had an impromptu Tai Chi exercise session to limber up. Fun and relaxing.


One of the Camp workshops by author of Magic in the Dyepot, Ann Harmer, featured dyeing with local mushrooms.


The weekend offered Fibreshed ongoing opportunities to connect, share, learn and have fun with fibre folk from as far away as New York, across to Washington along the Pacific Coast, and within BC to Vancouver Island. Stay tuned for next year’s Fibre Camp on the Sunshine Coast, BC.

Submitted by Lynda Daniells,
Photos by Lynda and Merrily


International Earth Day 2017

April 21, 2017, international Earth Day was celebrated in Roberts Creek, BC by our local Sunshine Coast Fibreshed. The day started out dry with sunshine, always windy at the pier. We set up our colourful Fibreshed display with locally dyed rovings, plants for a Dyers garden and local sheep fleece for garden mulch….

We featured felting as a creative use of fleece. Ursula Bentz, master felter displayed her gorgeous felted pieces and then assisted folk to make something felted.

Young folk were engaged with Ursula, the fleece, the soap, creating.

This young fellow was very pleased with his felted flower and both children took home felting kits sold for $5.00.

Another young Creeker put finishing touches on this felted mouse.

Many children engaged in felting and let their creative spirit fly.

Everyone got in the spirit of the day….kids of all ages.

Fibreshed was displaying the dyeing  colours we can obtain by growing plants locally such as Pokeberry, Japanese Indigo, Marigolds, Onion Skins, also by gathering local mushrooms on the Coast. Merrily selling Dyers garden starters.

It was a great day in the Creek until wind and rain started to ruin our display. We packed up early and have everything drying by the home fire now.

Photos by Lynda Daniells & Merrily Corder,
Submitted by Lynda

Grow Your Jeans – California Road Trip, October 3

After two long days of I5 driving we were welcomed by the Zen Monks and volunteers of the Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center at Muir Beach, CA.  We had the most amazing vegetarian meals three times a day all grown and prepared at Green Gulch.  We enjoyed quiet meditation sessions in the Zazen (Zen Temple) at sunrise and tours of their Center, the gardens and Muir Beach.  Our accommodation was lovely and the two days spent at the Center is a treasured memory.


We then drove the coast highway stopping at the famous surfing mecca of Stinson Beach before arriving at our prime destination – the Mann Family Farm in Bolinas, CA.  What an amazing event awaited us, making our 2,000 km drive for a four hour event well worth it.  The focus of the Grow Your Jeans event was the coming together of Sally Fox’s organic cotton, dyed with Rebecca Burgess’s Japanese indigo and designed, hand woven and sewn into a beautifully soft and fashionable blue jean.  It was very fitting, as Levi Strauss introduced the blue jean during the California Gold Rush in this same San Francisco area.

2z2photos for Producer directory_2015-10-03_16-33-32

Sally Fox of Viriditas Farm dedicated three decades to breeding a natural coloured cotton with lint long enough to be spun by machine. She farms in the Capay Valley, CA on her certified organic farm and grew the non GMO cotton for the California Fibershed to create denim for the jeans.


These flowering cotton plants are Gossypium barbadense. Sally’s cotton balls grow in various shades of green and brown so can be used without dyeing. She waters her crop every 17 days and harvests in late fall.


Her organic, non GMO cotton was spun in a North Carolina mill, creating a soft cotton thread for the jean fabric.  Sally Fox (second from right) is modelling a handwoven raglan shirt made from her colour and white organic cottons as were all the jeans the models were wearing.  (Photo by Paige Green)


Weaver Leslie Terizan Markoff threaded her floor loom at 64 ends per inch in a warp faced 2/1 twill weaving pattern using thread dyed with Rebecca Burgess’s local organically grown Japanese indigo for the warp. The natural coloured ecru thread was used as the weft at 32 picks per inch.  This creates the diagonal pattern typical of denim, although this fabric is so soft and not like the commercially, chemically produced denim. Designer and award winning pattern maker Daniel DiSanto created a custom fit jean pattern personalized for each wearer. Below he is wearing a tie he designed from scraps of denim left from the jeans with stripes from the selvedges matching the naturally coloured cotton flower on his shirt. (Photo by Paige Green)


Demonstrating hand spinning cotton at the Grow Your Jeans event was Susan Sullivan Maynard (on right) using a charkha spinning wheel. This direct drive, hand turned wheel was used by Mahatma Gandi to spin cotton and assist his people in achieving independence. Due to the typically short cotton fibre it has always been a challenge to spin it.  Susan will be highlighted in the spring Ply Magazine on cotton.


Indigo blue was definitely the color of the day.  For nearly 5,000 years, cultures around the globe have loved the intense blue from many species of indigo.  The Japanese indigo plant grows well in our temperate climate and has become popular with Fibershed communities throughout North America.  The pretty green on the left is colour produced from pounding indigo leaves onto damp cotton to make a print.  On the right we have another shade of indigo in the form of dreadlocks.


The three of us blended into the crowd wearing our locally grown, hand-spun, indigo hand-dyed, felted and knitted garments.  It was fun to finally meet Mary Pettis-Sarley of Twirl Yarns. We first discovered her beautiful Fibershed Yarns in shops along the way to the event and even spotted bags of Twirl fleece waiting to enter the carding machine at the Yolo Wool Mill.


As we moseyed around the Mann Family Farm, mingling with the Fibershed community, we encountered a rack of exquisite “grass-fed” tops and now famous Fibershed blue jeans, later to be modeled in the fashion show.  We learned that Fibershed denim blue is derived wholly from 2 certified organically grown plants:  Gossypium barbadense and Ploygonum tinctorium.  This is done without the use of any toxins.  The synthetic colour of conventional denim when washed, releases dangerous chemicals into the environment.


This gorgeous Veronika knit top is a blend of Cormo, Corriedale and Targhee sheep from three different sources, spun at a local spinnery, naturally dyed with indigo grown by Rebecca Burgess and hand knit locally. The pattern was from a local designer.  The price tag was $550.


These fun, felted and knotted bangles were dyed with indigo grown by Rebecca.


Outside the barn, demos and mini workshops were happening, such as this play opportunity with the indigo dye vats.


Back inside the barn, the fashion show was about to begin and Rebecca introduced the evening with a moving talk about the importance of shedding light and awareness on what we wear and put on our skin, and the need for developing relationships and reconnecting with those who make our clothes. She addressed how the industrial fashion industry needs to be revisioned into a fiber industry, where we ask ourselves in the morning if we are going to wear a plant or an animal today.  She emphasized the need to divest from the chemicals contributing to climate change – those chemicals that provide the stretch and synthetic blue in traditional denim – and was pleased to announce they have removed 100% of chemicals in the Fibreshed denim.


Lovely, sensuous, drapey, indigo dyed tops were the hits at the fashion show.



The final runway item was a large American Flag made of Kentucky grown hemp – the first of its kind in over 100 years.


Outside again we were honored to meet and chat with Craig Wilkinson.  He gave us a quick overview of their Fibershed indigo dye making project.  Craig worked with Rebecca to increase the size of her indigo project from a backyard scale into a 6,000 plant commercial farm in just a few years.  They now have 4 growing sites and many volunteers.  It requires 5000 plants to produce the 440 pounds of dried leaf needed to create a hot enough compost pile.  Bacteria that are added to the compost love heat and eventually break down the leaves leaving the blue pigment called Sukumo behind.  All this requires 100 days of composting with the pile being turned every 7 days.  And to make things even more exciting the Sukumo is built on a special breathable floor made of rice hulls, sand and tamped clay.  Once the Sukomo is done, the fermentation process using hardwood ash begins in the dye vat and eventually the dye is ready for adding to local cotton or wool.  What an inspirational day and immersion into the world of organic “BLUE”!


“The land that feeds us is also the land that clothes us” was the source of the most amazing food and beverage offerings prior to the Grow Your Jeans Fashion Show.  What an amazing display and offering of food and wine grown in the California Fibershed’s landscape!   There was far more food and drink offered than we could comfortably (or politely) indulge in.


After a little more socializing, sadly it came time to leave and drive the dark winding coastal road back to our last night at the Green Gulch.  After one day of touring Sausalito then by ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco we made the drive to San Anselmo for our “Executive Lunch” with Rebecca Burgess, Dustin Kahn and Jess Daniels.   The day had finally arrived for the long anticipated meeting with the heart and soul staff of the original Fibershed in northern California.  There are to date thirty eight Affiliates around the world.


We talked about so many topics such as cotton, hemp, and linen production and milling, woolen mills, carbon farming, likely and unlikely partnerships, community outreach, funding opportunities, clothing designers, the textile industry and cottage industry collaborations.  We came away with such a wonderful feeling of hope for the land and the climate with our shared vision for Fibreshed and the Earth.


What a treat it was to finally make personal contact with these dedicated women who had inspired, supported and helped us make our own Fibreshed – the first Affiliate in Western Canada – something we can all be so proud of.   Four long years of e-mails back and forth had now transformed into a tight personal connection with these three visionary and lovely women.   Cotton, colour, carbon, community and collaboration had brought us to California and we left with so much inspiration, pride and an even stronger commitment to the Fibreshed vision.

Merrily Corder, Lynda Daniells, Deanna Pilling
Thank you to Paige Green for the use of her photographs.  See Paige’s Facebook album for more photos.
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Dyeing with Japanese Indigo

This is the third summer that some members of our Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild have grown and dyed with Japanese indigo.  In mid-July five of us gathered together to dye using the vinegar method.  The indigo was growing in garbage pails with three plants per pail.  We cut the stems just above a node, leaving about two nodes below the cut.


We had an abundant harvest.


Next, we stripped the leaves from the stems.


Then we cut the leaves into pieces.


We covered the leaves with water and added 30 ml of pickling vinegar per litre of water.  We ate lunch while the chopped leaves soaked in this mix.


Next we used a hand blender to blend the leaves and vinegar/water mix into a bright green ‘soup’ which had an intensely rich chlorophyll smell.


We lined a strainer with a piece of silk chiffon, strained the ‘soup’ through it into a pot and then squeezed well to get the liquid out.  The pulp was mixed with more vinegar and water and strained into the pot.


We then added our fibres and fabrics to the pot.  One of the joys of Japanese indigo is that no mordanting is needed.  Some were left to soak for a couple of hours, others overnight.


And here are our results. Prince’s Icelandic fleece, a  55% linen and 45% cotton blouse which dyed a very light but lovely seafoam blue and handwoven silk chiffon which will be the backing for the nuno felted Icelandic fleece.


Raw silk fabric and 80% raw silk with 20% polyester fibre.


Local wool fleece.


Wool rovings, silk hankies around the outside, silk/alpaca blend in the centre, silk chiffon with silk fibre on the bottom right.


Heather Apple

Dyeing at the Yurts

Yvonne Stowell, artist and owner of FiberWorks Studio and Gallery, is a beloved and valued member of our fibre arts community, inspiring and mentoring us.  She hosts exhibitions, workshops and spin-ins in the yurts of her Studio and Gallery.

This summer the deck outside the yurts was brightened by planters filled with colourful dye plants.  Yvonne had a large planter filled with Japanese indigo, a dye plant which our Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild has been experimenting with for the past two years.

1Japanese Indigo

Yvonne gathered 900 g of fresh leaves, rolled them and cut them with scissors into pieces as small as possible.

2Indigo leaves

These were covered with 12 litres of cold water and 165 ml of industrial 10% vinegar (15 ml per litre).  She let them soak for ½ hour and then used a handheld blender to chop the leaves vigorously for several minutes until the solution became bright green.  She strained this liquid through a mesh bag into the dye pot and then made a second water/vinegar solution using the same leaves and 4 litres water and 60 ml vinegar.  She used the blender on this mixture, strained the liquid through the mesh bag into the dye pot and then squeezed out any remaining liquid from the bag of leaves into the dye pot.

Yvonne then added 1000 g of wetted out fibre.  This included a shawl knitted from Olivia’s fleece, alpaca and silk rovings.  These were soaked overnight in the dye bath.

3Olivia shawl in dye pot

The photo shows the variation of the dye on different fibres.  Some alum mordanted fibres that were put into the exhaust dye bath turned a soft yellow green (centre).

4indigo dyed fibre

Olivia’s shawl.

5Olivia shawl dyed with indigo

Yvonne also grew red, orange and yellow dyer’s marigolds,

6Dyers marigold - orange

7yers marigold - yellow


8dyer's marquerite

and dyer’s snapdragon.

9dyer's snapdragons

Yvonne gathered 4 ounces of yellow, orange and red marigolds, marguerites and fuchsia snapdragons, using only the flower heads.  The fibre dyed was alum mordanted alpaca and silk.  She used a process similar to the Japanese indigo – cold water, vinegar and the handheld blender.

10fibres (alum mordant) marigolds, marquerites & snapdragons

Yvonne Stowell and Heather Apple, photos Yvonne

Japanese Indigo Dyeing Day at Merrily’s

Japanese Indigo Dyeing Day had arrived!  On the evening of August 21, Lynda and I each clipped the leaves from our 2 plants which we had carefully nurtured all summer from seeds gathered the year before.  These were placed in a covered glass jar.


The next morning, on Merrily’s deck, with gentle breezes blowing off the Strait, we assembled our equipment, notes and resources – primarily “A Dyer’s Garden” by Rita Buchanan and “Harvesting Color” by Rebecca Burgess.  Everything was ready to go…..then we discovered a major problem!!….our “Synthrapol” was NOT “Spectralite” which we very much needed for this process we had chosen!  After a mad flurry of activity and drive to Robert’s Creek, Heather very kindly came to our rescue with more than enough of the special ingredient.  Hugs to Heather!


Next step was to weigh our fibre.  Each of us prepared 5 ounces for our 1 pound of leaves.  I had 4 ounces of a soft unknown fleece and an ounce of mohair locks.  Lynda had white wool and a blend of wool and llama.


We each prepared a separate batch.  Lynda’s leaves were a little darker than mine and we were worried the lighter leaves would not produce a good colour.  (See results!)  Here we have filled our 4 quart jars with our pound of leaves and warm water and the jars were not quite floating in the pot of water which we brought to 170 degrees over 1½ hours.  We then left it another 1½ hours.


Once the liquid had turned a dark tea colour (Lynda’s dark leaves) and light tea (Merrily’s), we strained and squeezed out the leaves.  At this point we wet our fibre and divided it so eventually half would go into Merrily’s solution and half into Lynda’s.  Next we added 1 tablespoon of baking soda to each solution.


Then we poured the liquid from bucket to bucket for 6 minutes.  You can see the color is quite brown at the beginning!


We were quite excited when the indigo colour appeared.  But we needed to be patient as we had more to do before the colour would set.  First we added 2 plus tablespoons of Spectralite.  Next we heated the dye bath to 120 degrees.  Then we let the bath sit at this temperature for 20 minutes at which time the “light leaf” bath turned a bright yellow.  The “dark leaf” bath did not turn very yellow even after an hour.  We immersed our fibre at this point and let it sit another 20 minutes being very careful not to create any bubbles.


Voila!  When the fibre was lifted from the pot it immediately turned from bright yellow to gorgeous deep blue.  Quite magical!! We noted the “light leaf” solution produced the darker blue and the solution had turned yellow sooner.  Why?  Not sure.  Perhaps more Spectralite, fewer bubbles.


We hung our fibre from dye bath number 1 to dry, added more fibre for dye bath number 2, reheated, waited, removed and then hung to dry.


Exhausted, we retired to Lynda’s house for a yummy dinner and a well-deserved chilled bottle of sparkling wine!


We concluded the day by finishing off our notes and referring to our favorite resource book.


Next morning, I discovered there was some yellow solution still left so proceeded to continue heating, dipping and airing till there was barely any colour left in the pot.  My fibre became lighter and eventually quite green.  The mohair locks were lustrous shades from dark blue to aqua.


What a wondrous and fulfilling couple of days!  We can hardly wait till the indigo plants have produced their second harvest later in the fall so we can start all over.  Maybe someday I will have accumulated enough indigo fibre to knit a cozy sweater!

Merrily Corder

Another Season of Japanese Indigo

(Last year the Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild had a project growing and dyeing with Japanese indigo.  (See “Sea Foam Blue” blog on October 5, 2013.)  Some members did some further dyeing and obtained a darker blue using Spectralite in a technique described by Rebecca Burgess in her book “Harvesting Color”.  This week at our meeting we shared seeds and we’ll no doubt have another blog in the fall about our further explorations with dyeing with Japanese indigo.  Heather)


I suggest starting and treating Japanese Indigo much the same as tomato plants.  I assume that they like it warm for starting and growing, as they are a tropical or semi-tropical plant. I usually use a starting mix with good drainage and often sprout the seeds between damp paper towels to ensure viability before investing time and energy.   Once the seedlings have a few leaves they should be transplanted into a richer soil mix.  I prefer a good potting soil with a little bone meal added.  You can make your own mix with compost, vermiculite, sand, peat moss, soil and a pinch of bone meal, but this in not sterile which can cause problems.


Keep the plants well watered and in a warm sunny humid location.  I put a plastic bag greenhouse around plant growing lights, in a sunny window near the wood stove.  You do have to watch out for mould and other problems such as damping off, depending on the soil used and other conditions. In other words, these little plants do require a certain amount of baby sitting at this stage!  If they grow well you might need to transplant them into larger pots and add some fertilizer etc.  Now it will just be a matter of playing wait and see with the weather.


Once outdoor temperatures are warm the plants can be transplanted out into the garden.  Some years, here on the West Coast, that can be as early as the end of May.  Choose a sunny spot with rich soil and good drainage.  I usually supplement the soil with compost, bone meal and a light application of all-purpose fertilizer such as 6-8-6.  If the weather is stubbornly cool and wet and the plants are just too big to keep in the house in pots, you might try planting them in large pots in the greenhouse or otherwise out in the garden under some clear plastic protection.  Last year my Japanese Indigo plants stayed viable in the garden until we got our first frost. They might not have been making much blue pigment at those temperatures, but they certainly are not as sensitive as tomato plants.  No fear of blight either!

Kathy Gray