Secret sauce: time to add the sticky

Shh, don’t tell Kim that I’m sharing the recipe of our secret sauce.

Come closer, so I can whisper it in your ear: KARO syrup.


Yep, cheap, nasty Karo syrup has made an appearance in our bio-vat. Searching for a substitute acid for henna, we hypothesized that corn syrup might do the trick to feed our hungry indigo. So in place of henna or white powdered fructose, we added a solution of Karo, rounding out the 1-2-3 vat with indigo (1), pickling lime (2) and “sacred syrup” (3).

This is still in the testing phase, and we’ve never seen anyone else admit to using it. Nevertheless, our results yesterday weren’t too bad. (No saying whether our vat will develop Type 2 diabetes, though.) At least it’s locally sourced!


We also experimented with cochineal—the season’s first attempt. I used a mortar and pestle to grind the desiccated insects into a powder. Then we mixed 50 gr of the bugs with tartaric acid, which Kim’s man just happened to have a bottle of (thanks, Dan!). We mixed the paste with water and started dipping.

Unlike indigo, cochineal requires a mordant. Also unlike indigo, cochineal doesn’t mind some slopping around. Introducing oxygen into the vat isn’t a problem. Kim had wonderful success with a few wool skeins (samples above, rinsed in vinegar). And we’re leaving a buff-colored pleather coat in the vat for the next two weeks, in hopes it takes on a deep russet.

On my bus ride home, I ran into sisters with identical flossy cotton-candy hair. When I showed them pictures of our cochineal vat and told them the color came from insects, they said: “For real?”


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