How to Dye with Fresh Indigo Leaves

The process of natural indigo dyeing begins with the indigo plant itself. Dye pigments are extracted from the leaves of the indigofera tinctoria plant, a shrub native to India and other parts of Asia. It is then processed and turned into a powder or paste form. This indigo dye is then mixed with a reducing agent, such as fructose or ferrous sulphate (iron), to reduce the indigo so it can bind to the fabric.

But there is another way.

In search for different natural dyeing techniques, I came across a method using salt and indigo leaves, and finally got to do just that.

Patiently growing the seedlings from September/October (spring in Australia), they have exploded with big leaves. They love the sun. Give them plenty of love with compost or plant fertilisers like Seasol.

Indigo is a whole different category in the world of natural dyeing. It’s also the only plant that produces shades of blue.

It was my first attempt to naturally dye using Japanese indigo leaves.

Seedlings in October:


Full grown indigos in January:


You’ll have time to harvest the leaves across January to March until they start producing beautiful pink flowers, eventually producing seeds around April, which you can save for next season.

Indigos are hardy plants and they’re quite easy to grow. You can even propagate in water from the cuttings.


Another great thing about indigo is that you don’t need to mordant the fabrics.

Mordanting is a process before dyeing fabrics and you need chemical compounds for the fibres to absorb the dye and make it colourfast.

I had some success in dyeing some fabric swatches in blue and wanted to share how it was achieved.

Hope you will find this helpful and interesting!

  • 91g freshly cut leaves
  • 250 g fabrics
  • Table salt
  • Cold water
  • Bowl
  • Gloves
Handy items to have by your side:
  • Rags/towel
  • Scale
  • Pen and paper
  • Soak your fabrics in warm water in prior. Dyeing with wet fabrics will help the dye to spread more evenly.
  • Make sure to start the dyeing process immediately after you cut the fresh leaves.
  • Use gloves unless you want blue hands!
  • Weigh the leaves and fabric(s) and keep a record for future reference
  • Where an apron and or clothes you don’t mind getting stained

There are couple of ways to dye using fresh indigo leaves. This time, I used some salt and tap water which worked fine.

But another way is the ice blender method. You can put the leaves and ice in a blender and use that to dye the fabrics.

The cold temperature of ice, as well as salt helps the indigo pigments from oxidising, which gives the fibre a chance to dye.

Step 1.

I added generous amount of salt in bunch of indigo leaves and started kneading. It’s amazing how much it shrinks!


Step 2.

Knead the leaves for 15 to 30 minutes. You will start seeing the juices coming out of the leaves and that’s when you know it’s ready.

Step 3.

Throw in the wetted fabric into the bowl and start kneading them together until you see the colours have soaked thoroughly into the fabric. (I forgot to do this in the video but highly recommend.)

At one point, the fabric absorbed all the juices I added some water. Tap water worked fine but cold, refrigerated water may be more effective.

Step 4.

Squeeze the juice out of the fabric and shake the leaves off to let it oxidise on the clothing line.

You can also rinse in water to help oxidise.

The fabric will look more greenish, but as it is exposed to the air, it turns blue.




natural-indigo-dye-9Step 5.

Once you’re happy with the outcome, thoroughly rinse with water, spin and dry on a washing line.

I tried with few different fabrics and only dyed once.

Silk turned turquoise-blue.

Hemp/Organic cotton knit soaked the colour very well and turned in a beautiful sky blue.

Organic cotton grey marle jersey came out with an interesting shade of grey-ish blue.


Regular indigo dyeing requires at least 3-4 dips to make sure the colours are dyed evenly.

If you want darker shades, repeat this process more than once.


Indigo dyeing using fresh leaves from your own garden is not only eco-friendly but a very satisfying experience.

The process of natural indigo dyeing creates unique and beautiful colors. The hues range from light blues, to navy blues, to even teal and turquoise.

It’s also possible to layer the dye for more complex color combinations. The dye also has a unique texture and feel, which makes it perfect for creating unique garments or home decor items. 

Above method and ingredient portions are a guideline.

Natural dyeing is a journey full of discoveries and suprises.

Give it a go and you will develop your own tweaks and recipes over time.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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