Tale of 2 pots: Henna & lye face off

Yesterday, in 96 degree heat, Kim and I cooked up two indigo pots—one using henna and Michel Garcia’s 1, 2, 3 recipe and the other using a traditional lye-based recipe. It was a face-off.

What follows is a step-by-step pictorial explanation of the henna vat: “Hannah,” in the white bucket. The 1, 2, 3, means 1: 50g indigo, 2: 100g lime, 3: 150g henna/fructose. (Here’s another good resource, courtesy of Seattle-based Botanical Colors.)


Now, here’s Lyle (orange bucket). It uses indigo (approx. 25g), lye (1/8 t) and sodium hydroxide (Rit color remover, 1oz). The recipe comes from Jim N. Liles’s book The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing.

While Hannah simmered, we hopped onto Botanical Colors to buy more henna and lime. An hour or so later, we were hot and flummoxed: Hannah was giving us nothing—no indigo blossom, no color imparted on the fabric, no signs of frothy goodness! We swizzled it, we heated it, we prayed to the indigo gods over it. Still nada.

Guzzling down kombucha, we put palms to forehead and said, “Doh!” We asked ourselves: Why are we cajoling Hannah when she’s so damned stubborn and, when she obliges, gives us such dingy blues? So we canceled our order and got mixed up with Lyle. Here’s a comparison of our results.

I’ll take better comparison shots in the future. But what we saw was a strong, clear blue from Lyle and a dingy gray that didn’t even stay from Hannah.

In the dyeing community, everyone exalts Garcia. We’ve spent two years trying to achieve results from his method. Of course we’d prefer to use a less toxic solution. Of course we want to maintain and nurture our vat over time. Who wouldn’t?

But we love the bright blue that Lyle reliably gives us—at half the indigo intake Hannah requires. So we stuck her in the sun and hope to have better results next week. If anyone wants to show us the error of our ways, send us a note or meet us at the Kingfield market.

Next up, Dyers on the dark side: How pleather plays with indigo (see top-most image).

One thought on “Tale of 2 pots: Henna & lye face off

  1. kimatmndigo says:

    The game is on.I think the numbers are all laid out clearly for each recipe, and now we will start the dipping. It is going to be great fun. Birthday Dye-off next Sunday!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s