Natural Dyeing- Indigo Henna Vat

I’m back today with another dye post! After my adventures with lac a few weeks ago I was ready to move on to Indigo. I bought all my supplies way back in November but with my injury wasn’t able to use them. I was super excited to give a henna vat a go since I’ve only dyed with indigo twice before, once with a kit which gave great results and once with a regular fructose vat which was bit lighter than I was hoping for. The henna did not disappoint!

All the Details:

Botanical Colors

Organic Henna Powder

Henna is a dye prepared from the plant Lawsonia inermis, also known as the henna tree, the mignonette tree, and the Egyptian privet, the sole species of the genus Lawsonia.

Henna is a bright green powder that mixes into a thick greenish-brown paste with the addition of hot water.  We offer the highest quality, GOTS certified, organic henna powder.

Henna is often used in North Africa to create organic indigo vats.  It serves the same function as fructose and creates a very rich and deep blue shade that lasts and lasts.  We like to use henna to create our indigo stock solution and then rebalance the vat with fructose.

Organic Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria)

Organic Indigo is a powder from the leaves of the indigo plant called Indigofera tinctoria. It is one of the oldest dyes known to humankind.  It is the only natural blue. Its colorant is present in other plants including woad (Isatis tinctoria) and Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria, a buckwheat, for instance. Additionally, it is present in Strobilanthes cusia, a distant cousin to the ornamental Persian Shield that you can buy at Home Depot.

Indigo was used to dye shrouds for Egyptian burials and uniforms for Napoleon’s Army, for instance. In addition, it dyed prestige cloth for African chiefs and denim for blue jeans.  The color was synthesized around 1880 by Alfred Bayer.  Shortly after, the world indigo market collapsed as manufacturers switched to the new miracle synthetic dye.  Then cultivation acreage plummeted.  Within 20 years only a fraction of the indigo used worldwide was from natural sources.

Our organic indigo extract is Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified. It is finely powdered.  It yields a very rich and dark blue.  Our indigo is 45-48% indigotin which is 2 to 3 times stronger than other indigo on the market. Therefore you will produce deep colors with fewer dips.  In addition, the indigo is very pure and potent. Only small producers grow and harvest this indigo.  Each purchase of this indigo helps support small scale agriculture.

Calcium Hydroxide

Calcium hydroxide is used to make an indigo or woad vat more alkaline. It is a fine white powder and is also known as pickling lime, builders lime, hydrated lime, or in Mexican markets, cal, where it is used to soak dried corn kernels in preparation for making masa dough. This is used in Michel Garcia’s 1-2-3 vat recipe, which we describe in our blog.  It is a mild alkali and easier to use than lye or caustic soda.

We provide a food grade quality calcium hydroxide.  Please wear a mask when using it as it is very fine and can be an irritating dust.

1-2-3 Indigo Henna Vat

My goal with this vat was to get as dark a color as possible with the amount of Henna I had on hand which was 250g. Since it’s all multiples of three my calculations were all based of this. A medium dark vat is 3-6 grams of indigo per liter. I used a 5 gallon bucket for my dye with 16L of water.

Instructions for making a 1-2-3 Indigo Henna Vat

Here are my calculations:

  • Indigo 16L x 5.2g = 83.2 g
  • Calcium Hydroxide 16L x 10.4g = 166.4 g
  • Henna 16L x 15.6g = 249.6 g

I used two large pots on the stove to heat my water and then brought them outside to mix all my ingredients into my 5 gallon bucket. I added my first 10L of water to my bucket and used my remaining 6 L for mixing. First I added water to the indigo to dissolve and then put that into the larger bucket, next went in the calcium hydroxide dissolved in water and finally the henna. That took quite a bit of water to mix and strain. Next time I’ll put aside a larger amount of water and I really need to buy something larger to strain with. It was pretty messy. Read this post for full instructions.

I let my vat sit for a full day before dyeing, though my vat was blooming almost immediately. This time I did quite a few slow dips, building up color. My focus was on dyeing my larger pieces of fabric first and then dipping my smaller items (hats and headbands). I had pretreated all my fabric and soaked it the night before dyeing. I had already pretreated my fabric from my lac dyeing which you can read more about here.

After I was done I stirred my vat well and let it go dormant. My husband was really excited about these dye results and has already suggested we get a larger dye vessel permanently setup outside so I can dye whenever I want. Blue is his favorite color! I need to order some more supplies to enlarge my vat- I can’t wait!



Exactly how the name describes, this fabric has a texture to resemble a basket. Choose it to add some depth to your home decor. Made in the USA!

Weight: 5 oz/sq yd

Width: 63 inches

Content: 100% Organic Colorgrown Cotton

Made In: USA 

Hemp Muslin-55″/56″

This hefty muslin is excellent for shirts and bags, as well as home furnishings.

Width: 55″/56″ inches

Weight: 4.7 oz. per square yard

Content: 100% Hemp

Made In: China

Plain Weave-57″-Hemp/Tencel

Hemp fabric rapidly absorbs moisture – which accounts for its coolness and comfort when used for apparel. It is also one of the only fabrics which are stronger wet than dry, so it does not become tender through washing.

Made In: China

Width: 57-58 inches

Weight: 6.2 oz.

Content: 55% Hemp, 45% Tencel

From the start this vat seemed much happier. It had a really strong bloom and was made in a much larger vessel which made dipping much easier. I used a ladle to more my flower off the top of the vat while I was dipping and went much more slowly with my dips, letting the color build up. I love the results! Really even coloring in a nice rich shade. Next time I will make sure to have more henna so I can aim for an even darker shade of indigo.

I did have some henna that settled a bit to the bottom, I probably needed to strain it a bit more. You can see how dark the indigo was pre washing. You always need to go as dark as possible as after washing it lightens about three shades. I let my fabric dry outdoors on my patio for two days before taking it in for a wash. Almost immediately after I was done dipping it started raining so I had to drag my drying rack under my covered patio.

The bundled hemp muslin fabric was folded accordion style and pressed into about 5″ long section. I then tied it off into 4″ sections with bits of selvedge to get this loose pattern. I thought I had taken pictures of it folded but I can’t find them.

Here’s my bundled fabric (hemp muslin) unfurled:

I love the results! I’m already planning ahead for our trip to Greece next year and a blue bag was on the top of my list. The main fabrics dyed here will be used for the Redwood Tote Pattern by Noodlehead. I’m using the hemp muslin fabric I folded and tied for the interior of the bag, the plain weave for the body and the basketweave for the base. The images below show the basketweave is on the far left, the hemp muslin in the center and the plain weave on the far right.

I had also made a bunch of serpentine hats from Elbe Textiles way back in December that I was going to gift after the holidays. These all went into the dye baths as well as two twill headbands I made. I’m not sure if I love them. I made them all assembly style with the remnants of some chair covers I made for my dining table and they need a bit more work. I may add some topstitiching for more structure. The headbands look great though and I definitely needed more now that my hair is getting so long.

Back soon with more makes! I’ve been working on a new tank blouse that has no side seams and is cut on the fold that I just love! I’ve been sewing up lace samples and needed something simple to try out some insertion techniques for my class at the end of the month. I have a ton of projects half completed and then I’ll work on making the bag with the fabrics I shared today. Hope you’re all enjoying summer. Happy Sewing and Dyeing!

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