I’ve been wanting to try dyeing with Australian indigo (Indigofera australis) for a long time. I’ve got a small bush growing but it is still too young for harvesting. So I was very excited when some friends offered me clippings from their huge plant.
There are a few tutorials online specifically for Australian indigo, at Turkey Red Journal and Tinker Maker. But I really wanted to keep it natural and avoid using Sodium Hydrosulphite. I kept researching and came across a method for Japanese indigo which uses cold processing of fresh leaves. Although Japanese indigo (Persicaria yinctorium) is not related to Australian indigo, both plants contain indican which is the precursor to indigo.
I used cotton prepared with a soy milk binder, and followed the instructions on The Dogwood Dyer’s blog. This involved whizzing up fresh leaves in a blender with cold water and straining the green liquid out. I folded and tied some small cotton samples and soaked them in the dye. After the first soak the cotton has turned this vivid green:
The next day I did many rounds of short dips and each time the cotton got darker and more blue.
This is the darkest that the triangle got, plus some lighter, greener samples and an Indigofera australis leaf. Isn’t it magic that these leaves can produce such a dark blue?!
This was my first time trying shibori. It was so exciting to unwrap my little triangle and discover the beautiful patterns that folding and tying had made on this top.
And here are a few other shibori samples, tied with rubber bands and soaked for different lengths of time.
I really enjoyed beginning to explore the many hues that Australian Indigo can produce. Now to find and grow more plants!
18 thoughts on “Dyeing with Australian Indigo”
Hi Louise, I’ve got both your books and some months ago did an eco dyeing class with Wendi Trulson.
At that class I met a lovely lady (originally from Hawaii) who specialises in Australian Native Plants. She offered me some Tephrosia rufula which she described as alternative indigo plant. I went there yesterday and we harvested some.
The plant is just like you describe as your Australian indigo. Lots of small petal like leaves along a thin stem, overall a bit like an acacia leaf.
What can you tell me about it. I have read your blog. Have you any tips on how to prepare it? I have managed to get 1600 gms of fresh leaves from two plastic shopping bags of branches harvested. Polly
Hi Polly, the easiest way to check its dye potential is probably to try the fresh leaf salt rub method with a small amount of leaves. For this method, squash up some leaves with a sprinkling of salt and then rub this directly into a small piece of fabric. If you get some green colour on your fabric that shifts to aqua over time, this will indicate that it does contain indigo. Then you can process all of the leaves, either in the same way with more salt or by following The Dogwood Dyer’s instructions that I linked to. I have no idea whether it will work as it is not an indigofera and I can’t find any references to it containing indigo. But it is worth a go. Let me know what happens!
Hello Louise, I love the colour you achieved. Can I ask how colour fast was the result?
I ended up giving this top to a friend. She has washed it a few times and the colour is holding so far.
Hi Louise, I am in Northern New Southern Wales . We have Indigofera Australis popping up in the garden. I think it occurs naturally here. I have planted quite a lot of it from cuttings. There is enough for a small harvest. However, I dont know when I should do that. I think it is around now but some of it has long since flowered and some is still flowering. Do you have any tips. P.S. this is my first foray into the world of Indigo dyeing and I really want to use fresh leaf . Thanks
Hi Shekhinah, I have seen some people recommend certain times of year for harvesting, but I’ve always just done it whenever I wanted to and had good enough results. You can always try blending up a small amount and testing a swatch. It is better to harvest after a dry time though, as the colour will be weaker after lots of rain.
Great. that ‘s helpful. thanks very much.
I’m in the Lismore area. I’ve got one of these and it’s getting quite large. Its got very small seed pods still green at present. But I’m gunna try cuttings as well. Its a most attractive native plant and the flowers are gorgeous.
Yes it is a beautiful plant. And it responds well to being cut back, so you easily try dyeing with it from time to time.
I am interested in all natural dyeing methods.
I find the colours Produced by indigo extremely interesting
Indigo is amazing and a very special dyeplant. There is something to be said for using whatever is growing prolifically around us though. Local and sustainable, the colours of our place.
Did you not use heat at all in this dye bath method
That’s correct, it is a cold water method. This preserves the enzymes in the indigo, which are heat sensitive.
Thanks so much for this information Louise.
I was just gifted a small Indigofera Australis tree and can’t wait until it grows.
My pleasure Krystyna. Luckily native indigo is relatively fast growing, for a perennial anyway.
Thanks for this very interesting and useful information. I have been nurturing an Australian indigo bush for some time now in anticipation of a dyeing project.
I’m so glad it helped. It’s a really special dyeplant.
Cherry Ballart gives wonderful greens. It’s a parasitic small tree that grows amongst eucalypt forests. Give it a go.