Our Love of Indigo at Praxis Fiber Workshop

Dyeing fabric in a vat of indigo

Praxis Fiber Workshop connects our community to a broad picture of the contemporary and historic textile field. We share about textiles as they grow from the land all the way to the most advanced technological equipment. When it came to growing, we were complete novices. It wasn’t until meeting Rowland Ricketts in 2016 that we knew we had to grow indigo! Rowland specializes in the Japanese tradition of sukumo (Polygonum tinctorium). He explained that Japanese indigo would grow best in the climate in Northeast Ohio, similar to his set up in Bloomfield, Indiana. And this started our deep dive into growing and processing sukumo! We turned to a local organization, Cleveland Seed Bank, for advice and assistance in starting our seeds and planning our garden. Shortly after, we met the most passionate team of landscapers, who adopted us and began to prepare our VERY rough land for a giant community planting project scheduled just days ahead. Dozens of people came to help us plant seedlings that year, and it sparked our joy and commitment to seeing this project through.

After more weeding, watering, and harvesting than we ever thought possible, we had only 150 pounds of dried indigo leaves—a far cry from the necessary 400 it takes to produce sukumo. Sukumo is made by composting the dried leaves, and the large quantity is necessary for the compost pile to reach a high enough temperature. Undiscouraged, we doubled our funding and doubled our scale in year two.

Rows of indigo plants growing on a lot in Collinwood.

It took us almost four years and endless labor to create our first-ever fermented sukumo vat. Once the composting is complete (a fourteen-week process where we turn the compost pile each week), we slowly add wood ash lye to the sukumo to create the dye. Rowland came to help us build our very own composting floor—one of only a few in the US! We partnered with our local wood-fired pizza restaurant for the wood ash and slowly made five strengths of lye for the vat. We now have a composting floor and a continuous vat alive and available for use at Praxis. But, what now? We have been rebuilding our community post pandemic, and our collective needs are always changing and evolving. In order to create a program with the needs of the community in mind, we have launched an indigo cooperative. So far, we have eleven members who are meeting monthly to care for, use, create and learn around the Praxis indigo program. We are building a curriculum and ultimately hiring community members to help us expand our dye production. Indigo is truly a collective effort, and we have learned so much from this amazing plant.

For more information and to sign up for our co-op, please visit praxisfiberworkshop.org/indigo.

15301 Waterloo Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44110

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