The making of a fresh indigo vat with dried leaves

Part of our USDA grant is the research and application of drying the indigo leaves and making a successful fresh vat. I have accomplished it!

This summer, we built a dryer and this weekend we dried a pound of fresh indigo leaves for the experiment. After an hour, the leaves shrunk to half the size and showed a bluish tint.


Fresh leaves off the stem


Dried leaves

I had 50 grams of leaves to work with. I added 1 liter of water and brought it to almost a boil and simmer for 20 minutes to remove the impurities. The water should be a yellow brown color. I strained off the water and disposed of it. I added another liter of water with 1/2 tsp of lime and 1 tsp of Thiorea dioxide and simmer for 30 minutes. A dark blue purple film should form across the surface. I strained the water into a separate container.


Brown water full of impurities


Simmering for 30 minutes until blue purple film appears

I repeated these same steps 2 more times and combined the liquids to the same container. The strained liquid will be the dye bath. I then dyed a little piece of silk and got a beautiful blue just with 2 dips.


First liquid strained in the jar


Silk dyed in successful dried leaf fresh vat

It was a success but after I left the jar with the lid on for a few hours, the liquid started getting darker and darker. I tried to dye another piece of silk, but it would not take. Hummm!

I then started researching online to see any comments about why? I read that the liquid starts to oxidize itself even though there is no churning and the lid is on tight. And the temperature of the liquid was dropping slowly and that may have something to do with it.

So, today, I am going to warm up the liquid, reduce it again, check the PH and see if it would dye a piece of silk. I will keep you posted!

Caroline Harper Comments
First look at the indigo fermentation process + workshop

Do you want to uncover the container where the indigo plant is fermenting to make indigo dye pigment?

On September 22nd, in Columbia SC, I am hosting a one-of-a kind workshop to dye cotton kitchen towels in a fresh (fermented) vat made with fresh indigo just harvested the day before on Johns Island AND during the class you will be able to have a first look at the fermenting indigo. I will explain the technique which is the same technique used in the 1700s.

Not everyone gets to see our local indigo in the fermentation stage!

How do I participate?


To sign up for the class, happening Saturday September 22, from 10am to noon at CHI design indigo studio in Columbia SC, please go to I am excited to bring this amazing process to Columbia and share piece of South Carolina history with you.



2018 Harvest

Our new 2018 crop is almost ready for harvesting. Some of you may have read The Indigo Girl, by Natasha Boyd. In the story, it talks about carefully checking the plant every morning to see if it is ready. No one says exactly what to look for but I know that when the flower is just about ready to bloom, the indigo is ready to be harvested. Why? Because the energy accumulated in the leaf for pigment production goes to the flower to bloom so it is important to not miss that window. When it is time, the plant is harvested half way in September so it can grow again till the next harvest in October. The stems are bundled, washed and submerged in warm water for 24 hours. That is when the magic happens, or a natural chemical reaction. After beating the liquid and adding a little lime, the pigment starts to separate and floats. It is now time to siphon the liquid and this year we are using special home-made cone bags made of nylon screen so the liquid drains easily and we are left with the solid: the fresh pigment, Blue Gold Indigo.

Hands-on Farm-to-Fabric Indigo Workshop

Chi design indigo will be harvesting soon for our first batch of pigment but we are also offering a Farm-to-Fabric workshop where you will be able to see the plant, harvest it, pick the leaves, make the “blue of the heavens” and dye kitchen towels to take home.  It is almost a full day. Lunch will be served and you will go home with lots of stories (past & present) and the botanical print of our local indigo printed on smooth fine art archival paper. This year, we are offering a workshop on Johns Island, Sunday September 23rd and in Bluffton on Wednesday October 10th. To register, simply go to

Caroline HarperComment
I love teaching

One of my pleasures with indigo is teaching the process to groups of people. I host workshop at CHI design studio in Columbia SC often but sometimes I travel to beautiful places to give a class: Lake City & Moore Farm Botanical Gardens or Wild Dunes Resort for example. Everyone is eager to learn a new skill. They watch, listen, use their fingers, submerge their hands in the blue dye but the most fulfilling for me is when they open their art work and smile with WHOA's and WOW's..


To bring an indigo workshop to your location, please contact me via email A good group size is between 10 and 16. I bring all supplies and everyone leaves with their beautiful work and happiness on their face.

With gratitude,

Caroline HarperComment
Working one-on-one

My very first one-on-one student came from Charlotte NC. In her words, she is on a spiritual journey: "I too, am on an indigo journey, and have been looking for someone closer to the coast I can work with. I'd like to know what an individual day of instruction would look like. Would I be able to learn how to do an indigo vat, and experience working with natural powder? Would I be able to bring my notebook and ask questions about supplies, and techniques? I'm on a spiritual journey now, and indigo is part of that path."

She completely got what she was looking for. We spent 6 hours together. She learned all shibori, mokume and katazome techniques. She learned how to make a natural non fermented indigo vat and how to dye properly with it. The rain caught us so she could not finish all her dyeing but she went home eager to get her own vat started in her small studio.


Caroline HarperComment
Visit with Michel Garcia ~ Provence, France

My husband and I traveled to France these past few weeks to explore the region of woad in Occitanie and to visit with a renowned natural dyer and educator, Michel Garcia. He lives in Lauris, Provence and after a 3 hour drive, he invited us to his studio for a couple of hours of magic.

Michel Garcia & his studio


I learned so much about the blue pigment and the other ways to extract it. I practice the ancient fermentation way but he taught me the dry leaf method and I was astonished! Steeping, mixing with a hand-held mixer, microwaving to dry the mud ball - yes, microwaving!! - 1.2.3 DONE!

Indigo Pigment making process

MG collage.jpg

So this year, I am going to be able to produce purer, faster, better quality blue pigment from our local indigo leaf and create even more beautiful napkins and scarves for you. 

Excited for 2018!
... your indigo girl!

Caroline HarperComment
October 2017 Indigo Harvest

This year's indigo field grew from 1/4 acre to almost 1/2 acre and 600 plants. We harvested 300 plants September 23, 2017 and 450 October 21, 2017. We are still in the process of drying and weighing the indigo dye powder. 

Next year we will be moving the indigo production to a different location, closer to the coast. The two harvests, with the help of the International Center for Indigo Culture (our non-profit), will happen mid-September and mid-October 2018. Stay tuned for opportunities to be part of this Lowcountry Indigo Renaissance!

Lovely indigo day in Kingstree SC.

indigo processing collage.jpg
Caroline HarperComment