Indigo Paste (Strobilanthes cusia)
There is no single plant called "indigo." Rather, "indigo" can be obtained from a number of different and unrelated plant species which all contain indigotin dye. These include Isatis tinctoria common in Central Asia and Europe, Persicaria tinctoria common in East Asia, and Lonchocarpus cyanescens common in West Africa.
This natural indigo dye paste comes from the Strobilanthes cusia plant, sourced from China. Traditionally manufactured by farmers and dyemakers and commonly used in Miao textiles, there are now only two remaining indigo dye extraction pools in Guizhou. Fresh indigo paste is excellent for direct application and printing as it is already hydrated and ready to use.
If you would like to use paste in a vat recipe that calls for powder, we recommend replacing the powder with paste in a 1:3 ratio (e.g. 100g powder becomes 300g paste) as the indigo paste already contains water and is thus heavier than the equivalent amount of indigo powder.
It is important to note that natural, organic indigo (i.e. from an indigo plant) is not toxic. In fact indigo is considered medicinal and appears in teas and sweets in China and Japan. However, the process of reducing indigo (removing oxygen from the vat in preparation for dyeing) is often performed with harsh chemicals which create a toxic environment. In addition, some indigo dyers use synthetic, rather than natural, indigo.
You can learn more about mixing a natural indigo vat and other natural dye techniques from Michel Garcia's DVD, Natural Dye Workshop: Colors of Provence Using Sustainable Methods.
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