A little while ago, I wrote about a group of basket makers in Uganda, who weave beautiful baskets from naturally-dyed raffia. (See post “A Natural Dyeing Project in Uganda”)
One aim of this project was to produce blues from the leaves of Indigofera arrecta, an indigo-bearing plant which grows wild in the area around Rubona, where the project is based. For some time I have been in correspondence with the project leader, Rupert Kampmueller, offering advice to help him achieve this aim, and I was convinced that the methods used to extract indigo from fresh woad leaves could be adapted for use with this local source of indigo.
This week I was very pleased to hear from Rupert that, after much trial and error, he has at last been successful in his attempts to produce deep blues from locally-harvested indigo leaves. Based on the methods I use for dyeing with fresh woad leaves, Rupert has developed suitable extraction and dyeing methods to enable the ladies in the Rubona group to produce a range of blues on raffia, using the leaves of locally-growing Indigofera arrecta. The next stage will be to see whether the method I use for storing woad solutions can also be used successfully with indigo solutions made from the leaves of these Ugandan plants.
The following photos, supplied by Rupert, show some of the stages of production.
This photo shows Indigofera arrecta growing wild near Rubona.
Following processes similar to those used with fresh woad leaves, leaves from these indigo-bearing plants are harvested and first steeped in very hot water. After an hour or so, the leaves are removed and soda ash is added to the liquid. Oxygen is then incorporated into the solution to precipitate the indigo particles.
This shows the strained-off indigo solution being poured from one bucket to another to incorporate oxygen.
This shows the froth containing the precipitated indigo pigment.
This shows the raffia dyed in the indigo vat made from the leaves of Indigofera arrecta.
This successful use of local indigo plants is of great significance for the weavers of Rubona, as it means they now have a readily available source of blue and no longer need to rely on imported indigo.