We have been working with indigo-dyed cotton jersey for years now. Between Father Andrew and Goods of Conscience in New York City and Artisan Natural Dyeworks in Nashville, Tennessee, there has never been a need for us to start our own indigo vat. And in the quantities we dye, it’s better to leave it to the experts. However, there has always been this little part of me that covets an indigo bath and I dream of one in our studio for “play.”

Since we set about exploring indigo this week, it seemed a perfect time to also explore recipes for a vat (which Father Andrew says is “very much like making beer”). While investigating recipes, I remembered a text message I received last fall from friends A.J. Mason and Jeff Moerchen about an indigo vat they created in the woods of upstate New York. Here they share the story of their vat:



On October 20th, 2013, Jeff Moerchen added 5 simple ingredients to a vat and carefully followed a process which has been used for thousands of years around the world, to dye clothing and ceremonial fabrics and dress.  An indigo dye bath was underway and was successfully shared 7 days later with friends of 16 Spears.


Finely Ground Indigo Processed from indigofera sp.
Washing soda or Soda Ash
Madder Root


The pure indigo requires a fermentation process brought on by the combined ingredients of water; pure indigo powder (for color); soda ash (to create an alkali solution for penetrating an article of clothing’s fibers; madder root (causes the fermentation), and organic wheat bran (for feeding the fermentation enzymes).  Once combined, the fermentation process was underway. For the next 7 days, we only had to ensure the vat was kept warm and stirred gently each day.  By day 7, the surface of the dye bath had taken on the anticipated copper color – it was time.


On Saturday, October 27th our dye bath was ready and friends of 16 Spears had begun to arrive to share in the day’s festivities: an open-pit hog roast; live musical performances from Levi Barrett, Aotearoa, Hallways, and The Franklin Electric; a welcomed kitchen cook-off; and of course, a clothesline filled with various articles of indigo-dipped clothing brought by guests.  While indigo blue has long been associated with the less than aristocratic classes, 16 Spears was happy to have the guests who participated and shared in our “blue-collar ways”.  Not to mention, we all ate and drank like royalty.


9 comments on “A RECIPE FOR INDIGO

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    1. Alabama

      Hi Linda, thank you for a good question. The short answer is, no it’s not toxic. Ali from Artisan Natural Dye Works says they keep a vat going for about a year, replenishing as they go, but when they do need to restart they begin by salvaging as much pigment as possible (using it for crafts like papermaking) and then bringing the pH to a neutral point before pouring it outside through a sand filtration system.

  1. Simply Rebecca Studios

    What a great post. AJ and Jeff have the right attitude about life, sharing it with others. I love the idea of going back to natural dyes and indigo is my favorite. And I love that they celebrated their indigo vat in my neck of the woods, Upstate NY. Though I have never tried natural dyes myself, I applaud you for doing so in your product. In fact I applaud you in all you do at Alabama Chanin. You are an inspiration to the small manufacturing business.

  2. Mary

    Will you be bringing samples of your new fabrics to LA this week?! Or indigo pieces? Can’t wait to see some of these colors in person!

  3. jamie

    nice idea having it to share among friends. I’ve experimented a bit over the summer with natural dyeing and now will explore using the hopi black dye sunflower seed which gives you purple if all goes as planned.

  4. Jenn Stoll

    I’m wondering if Jeff would share the amounts of each ingredient that he used to create his dye bath…..

  5. Laura Park

    Very interested in starting an INDIGO VAT….could you share an exact amount of EACH INGRED. usedi. In recipe, to produce a functional, long lasting, useable vat.
    I’m introducing natural dyes (class) @ a Montessori Farm school in Ohio.
    Thank you, I’ll wait (eagerly), for your reply.
    Also a source….to purchase….needed ingred………or if any can be foraged, from the wild.

    Laura park

  6. su

    I am dyeing student from Korea
    Can I ask a favor about more detailed recipe?
    I’d like to practice this but I wonder the capacity of those ingredients. Please reply me.

    1. Alabama


      The recipe listed above is different from what we use in our dye house here at The Factory. We use a mineral vat made of 1 part indigo, 2 parts iron (ferrous sulfate), and 3 parts lime. We use the guidelines set up by Maiwa for the amount of each ingredient that goes into the vat. More information on the mineral vat can be found here: http://maiwahandprints.blogspot.ca/2013/09/natural-dyes-indigo-ferrous-vat.html

      Let us know if you have any other questions.