Indigo: Natural Perfume & Botanical Dye

Indigo: Natural Perfume & Botanical Dye

Indigo. A mysterious blue substance with unknown origins, looks like a mineral - a dark blue rock - but in fact it comes from plants (usually). It behaves like  magic, creating multiple shades of blue, deep purples and even green-grass and turquoise. Preparing an indigo vat is like a magical ritual, involving vigorous stirring and observing strict guidelines, while summoning invisible forces in the air, water and earth to come together and help break down this stubborn substance, making it a clear yellow-green, and giving birth to the elusive Indigo Flower - a bubbly froth . Dipping cloth or yarn in it is even more ceremonial, requiring careful handling when dipping into the vat, removing from it, rinsing in water, exposing to air... Like I said, all the elements are at work here! And most impressive of all, the cloth comes out looking yellow-green, and quickly turns into turquoise before it transforms completely into blue (see photo below of a bundle of wild-lettuce shibori coming out of the vat and changing colours). 

Technically speaking, Indigo is the most stable, durable, lightfast and wash fast colour on the planted. Every continent has its own indigo-containing botanicals, for example Indigofera tinctoria (from the Fabaceae family) from India, Polygonum tinctorium (Dyer's Knotweed, from the buckwheat family) from China and Japan, and Isatis tinctoria (woad) in Europe, which is rather weak due to lower levels of indigotin. Also, some animals (mollusk that was used to produce both the esteemed techelet  (sky blue) and argaman, (royal purple), that was used religiously for dyeing ceremonial clothing articles the Jewish temple and garb. 

Indigo is the dye used for Shibori (Japanese resist dying, AKA tie dye), and also the colour used for most fabrics in Boro quilting are coloured with). The thread for Sashiko is often dyed with indigo as well (although if the fabrics stitched on are blue it will likely will be a white stitch). Indigo is what the Imazighen and Tuareg (the indigenous people of North Africa) garb is dyed. And that's how denim (jeans) are dyed, although now it's mostly synthetic indigo that is used for that (and has a very harmful impact on the environment). 

For those of you living in Israel and intrigued by indigo dyeing, get in touch with Hagar Zachar, who teaches indigo workshops in her farm in Alon HaGalil, with the philosophy of farm-to-dyepot and sustainability in mind. She also makes her own floral water-colours, teaches indigo dyeing techniques, indigo vat building & maintenance, and how to extract indigo from the leaves. For any floral heads and natural dye amateurs, meeting with her is highly recommended! 

One of the things I enjoy the most about Indigo dyeing is the scent of the organic indigo vat. Whether based in henna, bananas or dates or any other source of starch or sugar, organic vats (as opposed to mineral vats, such as those based in iron or ammonia) are very fragrant, bringing to mind the scent of milky bubble tea. It's such a soothing and addictive scent, and I resist sipping it by reminding myself of all the lime (calx) that's in the vat, which makes it way to alkaline for ingestion!

Indigo perfume was created long before I had any notion of the process of indigo dyeing, or its smell. It is more of a translation of that mysterious colour, the deep dark blue, similar to that "blue hour" referenced in Guerlain's famous perfume. The inspiration for this was my mother, and her velvety hug, soothing and soft. Before leaving for Canada, she gave me one of her blouses, a blue velvet hoody that helped me remember that hug and feel close to her even beyond many continents and oceans. That particular fabric is cool to the touch but very soft and also reminds me of my mother's personality, forever flickering between warmth and coolness. 

Indigo perfume contains many unusual notes: boronia, violet, caraway, carnation and aniseed over a cool-warm backdrop of Himalayan cedar, frankincense and a proprietary amber base. Somehow that combination together creates a scent that reminds me a lot of vitex, which although not directly associated with indigo dyeing, is a wonderful ecorpinting plant, giving a beautiful shade of green and very clear shapes of either leaves, branches, flowers or berries. When layers over indigo, the colour it gives is a beautiful turquoise, as you can see in the picture below. 


Scent & Synesthesia: Grin

Scent & Synesthesia: Grin

There are 295 kinds of green, making it the most diverse colour in nature. Green is also the colour of the heart chakra, and is associated with life and vitality, the element of earth and a healthy planet. 

Tomorrow, my friend Hasi and I will co-host an event dedicated to the intersection of colour and scent. We will demonstrate some of the techniques for extracting colour and fragrance from plants,,explore the concept of synesthesia, and how our personal history is intertwined with vines, and strewn with the healing beauty of leaves and flowers. In the photo is Grin perfume and a stunning rainbow of greens - flower- dyed fabrics by Hasia Naveh.

While green is a colour that is almost synonymous with nature, it is not as straightforward to achieve using natural dyes. Often what we'll get is either an olive green (i.e.: with plants that also contain tannins, such as pomegranate), or myriad uninspiring yellow-greens (from carrot, for instance). They tend to have a muted quality. Grassy green is usually achieved using weld (a very valuable type of yellow) layered over indigo.

The particular stunning, vivid range of green shades you see in the photo was achieved from a dyepot of scabiosa flowers, grown by Hagar Zachar, a natural dyer and flower horticulturalist from Alon HaGalil. The variety of shades is due to using different types of fabrics (i.e.: linen, cotton, silk) and also experimenting with either fresh or dried flowers. Another factor in natural dying, is when is the fabric dipped in the dyepot. Generally speaking the earlier dippings will absorb the brightest colours. The last additions to the pot, when the dye is much weaker, may achieve pastels. And of course the length of dipping time is also a factor. 

Bonus: Hagar's presence and participation in our event is a pleasant surprise (an idea Hasi came up with last minute, and we were so fortunate that Hagar was able to say yes!). She will be showing us more flowers that are suitable for colour production, on either paper or fabric. 

Grin perfume of course plays on the sound of "Green" and "Grin" - and who wouldn't smile if they're surrounded by luscious green plants, or more specifically, observing the first sprouts of green grass come autumn and the first rainshowers (if you're living in the dry parts of the world); or shoots of green from bulb plants in the spring (if you live in the parts of the world where the dead season is winter). Green as a symbol of new beginnings, and pretty optimistic at that.

The scent is made of various green-smelling and green-coloured fragrant botanicals: Galbanum, with it sharp, cut-grass and parsley personality; boronia, a delicate flower with beta ionone at its helm; violet leaf, with it green cucumber-like scent, watery and mysterious; green pepper (because it has a green colour, of course), green oakmoss, and vetiver root, which brings another shade of green that is both cool and earthy. 

Indigo Flower

Indigo Flower

Indigo is a mystery: an elusive colour that hides in several plants across the world. The preparation of indigo is like an ancient ritual, and one of the telling signs that it worked is a coppery patina and the "Indigo Flower" that forms on top of the surface. The blue indigo flowers pictured above are in fact the dried up fruits of milk thistles that I have dipped into the vat and dyed their fuzzy hairs blue.

Each continent has its own indigotin-bearing plant, and it's amazing how ancient civilizations have unlocked the secret for extracting and dyeing with it. Indigo does not dissolve in water  and requires a careful alchemical process before it can be used as a dye. It is the most durable natural dye, and we are all familiar with it through denim, which represents just some of the shades that can be achieved with indigo dye.

I've been dreaming of shibori dyeing with indigo and have finally became confident enough to prepare my own indigo vat. Indigo powder has a peculiar scent that is familiar from henna dyes (they are histoic allies, often used in conjunction for making the paste known as "black henna", and also henna is a natural reaction agent in the indigo vat). I used dates in my own vat, and it smells like milky bubble tea which makes indigo dyeing all the more enjoyable! 

Before I even knew anything about Indigo I was inspired to create a perfume by that name. It is an homage to my mother, herself a mystery. The perfume smells like a velvet indigo hug


Happy Mother's Day!

Bluebells, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Happy Mother's Day!
I hope all the mothers among you were treated well today and got the appreciation you deserve!

I always associate purples and blues, and violet, iris and lavender scents with my mother: If she were ever to be a perfume wearer, I would imagine her wearing l'Herue Bleue or Apres l'Ondee. The violets and heliotrope in both are exactly what I associate with motherhood: tenderness and mystery.

Today I wore Indigo, the perfume I created for my mother. At its heart are violets, supported by boronia and iris, the spiciness of carnation and the opulence of orange blossom. It's an odd perfume in my collection and not really accessible. The top notes are strange: caraway and anise. But they really complement the unusual boronia and violet perfectly. The base is incense and amber with suave cedarwood from the Himalayas.

What scents do you associate with motherhood, and which perfume did you wear today? Comment and enter to win a sample of Indigo perfume!

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