Troubleshooting a Hydros Indigo Vat

I had a bit of a vat breakthrough in the last few days. The more I work with Indigo the more I get to know it. It’s kind of been like meeting someone and really wanting to be friends with them. But first you have to get to know them, and by getting to know them you fall into an understanding of how the other person works.

This is how it has been with Indigo. Indigo is a dye of character and it behaves differently depending on how you set up your vat. Coming from a place of self teaching, Indigo is not an easy dye to work with. It’s not similar to anything else I’ve used before, but learning its secrets has been really exciting. I love a good bit of trial and error, even though it frustrates me immensely when i just want it to work!

So the other day when I was trying to bring back my vat, I just could NOT do it. It was just dead dead dead. And I just couldn’t figure it out. Why? Why was it dead? I was doing everything I was supposed to according to what I’d been told (just add more hydros!!) and this was doing nothing.I heated it up, I fed it chemicals, it laughed in my face! After 8 hours of frustration I turned to my new book The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing¬†and sat reading all about Indigo vats. All different kinds. It starts off talking about a lye and hydros vat which is the most similar to what I use, but at first I couldnt see how I could apply that information to what I wanted to do. Even the troubleshooting sections couldnt help me.

After a good sleep I remembered something thanks to Liles! Just add more hydros is WRONG. You can’t just add more hydros. This leads to an unbalanced vat. ¬†Liles talks about working out how to know what to feed your vat to bring it back into working order. He recommends taking 2 cups out of the vat, and in one, add more hydros, and in the other more lye (or in my case soda ash) and seeing which one yellows. Then you’ll know what you need to add to your vat. This was an absolute success for me. My vat was perfect and ready to go within 5 mins of me doing this and working out that my vat needed more soda ash.

I really hope that this helps anyone out there who is walking the same Indigo path as me! If you find this info useful in your dye journey, please leave me a comment, I’d love to hear about your work with Indigo.

indigo2Who wouldn’t want to figure out how this amazing colour works??

13 thoughts on “Troubleshooting a Hydros Indigo Vat

  1. ha! great explanation of working with an indigo vat. i never done a hydros vat- haven’t even used the chem vat lately(for me that is a thiox vat) but i wonder if you might invest in a ph meter. testing the ph is a sure way to know whether you need to add soda ash or not. i’m currently running a natural fermentation vat and use the ph meter all the time.

    1. Yes I really should invest in a PH meter! Since it is getting cold here I’m not setting up a fermentation vat yet, but I am hoping to do so in the spring. Should be a whole new adventure!

      I also love reading your blog Glennis, you’re a very inspiring Shibori artist :)

  2. Thanks Vic for dropping by. I just realised that you live in Melbourne as well. How exciting to meet another dyer here. I have been dyeing for a long long time. I only dye for fun not for sale or anything. I make stuff with my fabric, but not as much as I would like too. You will love eco dye. With the eucalyptus trees we have here you are set to go. If you want a day to play with eco dye, I would be happy to show you. I live on the west side of Melbourne – Hugs Nat

    1. That would be absolutely amazing! I would love to do that. I’ve been devouring your blog all night, your work is so very very inspiring! I also realised that I was commenting on a post that was 2 years old, so I’m sure there is a lot you could teach me about indigo as well! I will send you an email very soon and we can organise a meet up, there is always so much to learn :)

  3. I’m having horrid woes currently with my vat. Purchased a new stainless steal pot too in order to heat it up. Added thiox it shifted slightly, but the next day returned to it’s same sullen dark blue with a tinge of dark green to it. So I hit it up with lye and turned up the heat once more. A brief change in its ghastly shade of dark blue to dark green but it wouldn’t or rather didn’t fix completely to the cloth, which was prepped… I’ll try tomorrow with both lye and thiox in separate jars to see which way I’m meant to take it….thank you for sharing! Onward indigo soldiers! Any other pointers greatly received!

    1. hi, for some reason i didnt see this post!

      I’m not sure what type of vat you are running, but a thiox vat is similar to a hydros vat. it sounds like you don’t have your ratio’s right from the start if nothing is happening in the beginning. so perhaps go back to your recipe, and check your scales and see if you’ve got the right amount of each ingredient going in?

      1. Vic Hi! Hope your journey in Japan is rolling out beautifully – thanks for the response. Your absolutely right about the ratio’s, managed to keep it fed for about a month following your?Liles test. and since December have had some spectacular results! Yesterday fed the ( same) vat yet another new stock solution. Im using Soda Ash/ Thiox/ indigo combo. Having similar woes today, and believe my Thiox might be damp therefore the reduction of the indigo is not happening as well as it ought to. Enjoy Nippon! Best George a.k.a papergluebamboo

  4. Hi Vic! First time trying to bring back muy vat. I’m sort of stuck. Any hint about how mucho to add? I have done your test and needs soda ash, but by now I have added quite a lot and the vat is still dead.
    Love your work and your blog

    1. Hi Adriana,

      There isn’t really a hard and fast rule on how much hydros to add, I guess it depends on how “dead” your vat was. If it had been resting for a few weeks, I’d actually not bother, mostly because they start to really whiff!

      If you’ve done the test and added soda ash and that hasn’t worked, then add a few teaspoons of hydros as well. The hydros amount depends on how much water is in your vat. Think about how many you added to start it. If it is completely gone, add that much again. If it just needs a lift, and 1/4 of that amount and so on. It’s impossible to really give quantities, especially without seeing the vat. As you go along you’ll find natural dyes are not an exact science. It’s a good life lesson! Good luck :)

  5. I had this exact problem 2 days ago. Ur story has helped me immensely. Thanks and indigo wishes ?

  6. Thanks for your simple and great advice ! Just wondering how long a hydros vat can last? Sometimes I get 2 or 3 days at the most … Adding hydros when I probably needed to add soda ash has given the shibori a “cracked” look! And quite light in some places . Can I revive it?

  7. Oh man!! Can anyone’s please tell me the difference between a hydro and thiox vat? I’m currently working with thiox, soda ash indigo ratio and regularaly run into issues no matter how hard I’ve tried to make friends and ‘get to know the indigo’. I have had a few successful sessions in the past.
    I need to be dyeing pretty regularly but my vat never wants to keep its flower for more than a day or two and after the first few sessions appears to imbalance pretty quickly.
    My raw silk yarn didn’t appear to fully take the dye as it appears more like washed denim.
    Would love some helpful tips!

    Thanks from NZ

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