The Indigo Journey

When I was offered one of the artist in residence positions at the MOP garden this year, I had no idea what an incredible journey I was in for.  I was introduced to the amazingly-talented and hilarious Catherine Shapiro, a community-minded, multifaceted artist and master gardener who has become my mentor and good friend.  Over tea on Main Street, we conjured up ideas for our indigo project and thus the journey began.


From seed we grew Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria), which were planted in Catherine’s backyard and mostly at the MOP garden in Mount Pleasant.  We started the plants indoors in April.  The seedlings were quite slouchy at first which made me extremely nervous; however, most of them survived to be planted in the ground in May.  Indigo plants enjoy warm humid climates so some ingenuity was needed to create a micro-climate that they’d be happy in.  After months of tending the gardens and fighting the drought, the indigo was ready for its first harvest.

In early August, we held a potluck/dye workshop at the MOP garden where neighbours and friends alike helped harvest the indigo and got to play around with shibori dyeing techniques.  It’s amazing what gorgeous designs you can get from folding, tyeing and wrapping fabric!  It was indeed a creative and delicious summer afternoon!

Through many trials and tribulations, we learned a lot about the extraction of indigo and its many techniques.  This time around, the extraction only yielded a small amount of dye.  Still a work in progress, but the future looks bright and exciting!  There are so many traditional techniques used by different cultures for extracting the dye and preparing vats for dyeing.  We’re prepared to go to great lengths to try them all!

Luckily, we have a great store in town called Maiwa Handprints, where we purchased natural indigo for our dye vats.  We held a second workshop in late September to dye silk panels for the creation of community lanterns, which were displayed at the Neighbourhood Small Grants celebration and the Community Variety Show at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House.  The lantern frames were built from bamboo or willow and the little one is decorated with indigo painted directly on silk.  Thanks to all our community friends who lent us their unique creative touch!

Our dear indigo plants have now gone to seed.  Looking back on the year, I notice how so many roots have deepened; the connection I feel to the MOP garden space, my interest in dye plants, and without a doubt my friendship with Catherine.  Our journey is only beginning…

Many thanks to the Neighourhood Small Grants, Vancouver Foundation and MOPPARC for making this journey possible.


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