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Indigo dye

Written By Views maker on September 09, 2008 | 9/09/2008

A variety of plants have provided indigo throughout history, but most natural indigo is obtained from those in the genus Indigofera, which are native to the tropics. In temperate climates indigo can also be obtained from woad (Isatis tinctoria) and dyer's knotweed (Polygonum tinctorum), although the Indigofera species yield more dye. The primary commercial indigo species in Asia was true indigo (Indigofera tinctoria, also known as Indigofera sumatrana). In Central and South America the two species Indigofera suffruticosa (Anil) and Indigofera arrecta (Natal indigo) were the most important. In colonial North America there were three commercially important species: the native Indigofera caroliniana, and the introduced Indigofera tinctoria and Indigofera suffruticosa.

Dye was obtained from the processing of the plant's leaves. These were soaked in water and fermented in order to convert the glycoside indican naturally present in the plant to the blue dye indigotin. The precipitate from the fermented leaf solution was mixed with a strong base such as lye, pressed into cakes, dried, and powdered. The powder was then mixed with various other substances to produce different shades of blue and purple.

Natural indigo was the only source of the dye until July 1897. Within a short time, however, synthetic indigo almost completely superseded natural indigo, and today nearly all indigo produced is synthetic.