How-To: Indigo Dye

Jul 20, 2016 | By: Michael Andersen

Indigo is one of the most beautiful natural dyes in existence. Utilized for centuries due to it's bold color and ease of transfer onto cotton, it's been used for generations, and has found it's way into countless cultures and garments all throughout modern history. 

At Tanner Goods, we have always had a soft spot for indigo dyed goods. Chalk it up to years of interacting with the heavyweight denim from our friends at 3sixteen, Selfedge and Tellason, or maybe it's just our obsession with all things wabi-sabi (Worth Holding Onto anyone?) Heck, we've even named different variations of Chromexcel and English Bridle after that striking hue of blue. It's pretty safe to say that we're indigo junkies. 

Introducing The Woodlands Essentials Pocket-Tee and Short Sleeve Henley, now available in an all new Natural PFD color. Hint: PFD stands for prepared for dye. It's a term used to delineate garments that are ready to take dye, and have not been altered, bleached or whitened. Cotton that's PFD is the ideal state for applying many types of dye.  

And who doesn't like a fun do it yourself? We wanted to show you how it's done in a few simple steps, so we asked our resident expert, Meghan Wright of Mazama Wares to show us just how it's done. If you follow these simple steps below, you'll be well on your way to creating a unique, one-of-a-kind garment all on your own. Grab a few friends, order some indigo, and get to dyeing. 

What you'll need:

  • Indigo Dye Kit
  • Rubber gloves
  • 5 gallon plastic bucket with lid
  • A stir stick long enough to reach the bottom of the container without having to submerge your hands
  • Shallow pan to place fabric while oxidizing

Setting Up The Indigo Vat:

1. Fill a five gallon container with about 4 gallons of warm tap water. 

2. Empty the indigo dye, Soda Ash and reduction agents into the water and stir until it's all been completely dissolved. 

3.Try your best to mix everything together properly. First, stir the vat in one direction with a constant circular motion then reverse the direction of the stirring as you drag the stir stick along the outer edge of the vat before slowly removing. Cover the vat with a lid and allow the indigo to settle while you tie up your fabric (about 15-30 minutes.) The liquid will become a yellow-greenish tinted color.


1. Fold, tie or bind your garment. You can use different rubber bands and folds to create some fun patterns. The instructions in your dye kit should have some good suggestions for folding techniques. There will be plenty of dye in your vat so if you want to experiment on some different test pieces first, now is your time to shine. Wet your fabric and squeeze out excess water. 

2. Remove the cover from the vat. Wearing gloves, push the "flower" or foam on the top to the side or scoop out and set aside for later.

3. While squeezing excess water and air out of your fabric, slowly submerge your piece into the dye vat. Once submerged, gently massage the garment for about three full minutes. 

4. As you remove the garment from the vat it will slowly begin to turn blue as the oxygen in air hits it. Let oxidize for approximately 20 minutes in the shallow pan. 

Dyeing cont:

5. You can easily repeat steps 2 - 4 for darker shades of blue or you can rinse, untie, and wash with a mild detergent and warm water to finish the piece. 

6. When you are done, gently put the flower back into bucket.  Gently stir the vat as before in a circular motion then place the lid back on. The vat will keep for several days and you will be able to dye several times. 

7. When you are ready to dispose of the vat, empty contents down the drain. Clean up buckets and utensils with powdered cleanser or soap. 

8. Experiment and have fun! We found some really cool stuff in our closets to try out in addition to the shirts. Items such cotton Converse Chuck Taylors, bandanas and old utility coats work great too. 

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