Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Moving on with Bananas and the 123 vat.

 The reason for the title "moving on"  to this blog  is as some of you may know is that recently I was subjected to offensive letters  and emails by Mrs Joan Wells of Lincolnshire ( to distinguish her from any other Joan Wells) and her friend Peter Macphail..     However thanks to the support of all my friends  and blog followers who have been quite magnificent I have got  through it and have now deleted the blogs which contained all the offensive letters I had received.  This blog is about having a bit of fun with bananas. .An alternative title of which could  be
Never throw your  bananas away.

Last summer I met Michel Garcia at ISEND 2011 natural dye conference in France and later took a three day workshop with him using his innovative sugar and lime vats.  These indigo vats use fruit sugar as the reducing agent instead of either the tradional fermentation process which result in reduction, or the modern chemicals which do the same.  For those baffled by the whole indigo dyeing process reduction is the  process by which the insoluble blue powder  of indigo (more correctly called ndigotin)  is turned into its soluble dyeing form. See it as one chemical  biting a bit off another and changing it so it is soluble and will dye.  The oxygen in the air will change  it back. and the fibres go from yellow to blue.   Confused? Read on.

I wrote about making up a lime fructose ( fruit sugar vat) last year and Leena has written an excellent and very thorough  account of her experiments with the sugar lime vats. Jane Deane also has a fascinating   series of posts about her experiments  too with the 123 vat  including her use of henna snd bananas
Michel says that the fruit should be ripe and as you can see when I returned form a weeks holidays my bananas were very ripe!   Tired as I was by a long drive I leapt on them with cries of delight.  
 I didn't  get to them till yesterday ( Monday) so they  sat in the fridge for two days .

I had no idea how much indigo the bananas would reduce or to put it another way I had no idea how much fruit sugar the bananas would contain.  The significance  of this  is that Michel uses the ingredient of his vat in proportions.  Hence it's title the 123 vat: I part indigo to two parts sugar to three parts lime ( the lime being calcium hydroxide).
I guessed:
  • I mixed 5g of indigotin powder to a paste with hot water.
  • I poured 2 litres of very hot water into a stainless steel pan. This is  not a vat that has to be kept hot but is a vat that needs to be started hot at 80 degrees C.
  • I added the bananas, skins and  all, and  mushed them up.
  • I poured in the indigo paste, stirred 
  •  I added 15g of calcium hydroxide stirred and checked the pH which was at 10.
  • This is what the vat looked like straight away.
Then I left it and went had a cupof red bush tea  and made a phone call or checked emails for about ten minutes 
The vat cooled down quite rapidly to tepid.
The bubbles are  now bluer and there is a scum of indigo spread finely over the surface.  This  look to the vat is quite typical of lime vats -(the  other one being the zInc lime vat)  However in retrospect  I think I should have stirred it and that this  would  have concentrated the bubbles in the centre.
The Vat after 30 minutes . The blobby stuff under the surface is the bananas
Then I added pieces of cotton -dry.  MIchel does this and it is also a shibori technique for keeping your patterns very crisp.  It definitely works better when the pH is high as it is in this case 
One of the differnt  things about this vat is that Michel puts the  fabric in dry,  scrunches  it around  in the vat and pulls  it out so the fabric is only immersed for a minute or less .  However some others using this vat have  reported a rapid fade of colour.   Michel is a chemist  and my chemistry is an A Level taken forty years ago so I bow to his  superior knowledge but  my gut feeling is that indigotin needs time to move through the fabric so I left mine in for 15 minutes the first time - in the vat which had been standing for ten miutes- then for half an hour or so inadvertantly in the vat which had been sitting for half an dhour.  This  latter vat appeared to be the more reduced vat too.
Pulling cotton out of the vat-ignore the red I think it  was just the flash

The cotton is going blue.  It came out of the vat looking much greener but had already started to change  by the time I got the gloves off and picked up the camera. . 

Dyed cotton a little blotchy -which might be caused by me not moving it around enough but  a nice  blue.


  1. intruiging..always
    he was here in the netherlands and 2 of my friends wetn and were lyrical

  2. Hi Yvette Michel is certainly a very inspiring man.

  3. Helen, my thinking now re the 1 minute dip is that it may be fine when the vat is being 'energetic' but not so good when it is 'ticking over'. But the fading thing wasn't related to 1 min dips, and seems to no longer be an issue for me.

    Soon I am trying a vat with Bangladeshi indigo and lime and henna sent from a Belgian friend and will see how that differs from woad vats, all I've done until now.

  4. That makes sense Robin. I am glad the fading has ceased. I have put some fibres up for a fade test along with indigo dyed with thiourea dioxide and in a fermented vat. So we will see what we will see.

  5. Thanks so much for recording the results of your experiments, Helen! You might be interested that I've just discovered Maiwa has a PDF with instructions for "The Organic Vat" also based on Garcia's techniques - scroll down on this page for the link:

  6. My first banana vat was with fruit that had been sitting for the six weeks we were in Australia, though it was winter and the heating was off, but they were like yours! I didn't put the peel in, though.
    When I redid the vat for a demo, I weighed the banana and found that half of one was equivalent to the amount I needed for 1-2-3!That vat was extrememly successful and it was with sorrow that I report that the bottom of the kilner jar fell out.....There was lots and lots of blue left!

  7. this is all very informative and I guess I'll have to read just a little bit more before I attempt dyeing with indigo; I was lousy at chemistry so it'll be a challenge!
    glad to hear you've put the unpleasantness behind you!!

    1. Hi Saskia
      Don't be afraid of indigo. Just take it step by step. Jenny Dean has a very easy vat in Wild Colour which is the first one I started with.

  8. Aah! I was not really sure about the peel but thought it might also have fruit sugar in - must try one without the peel. Trouble is getting bananas to that state. DH loves them!

  9. I have just the Maiwa instructions for the organic vat - very good!
    It does say that Banana skins should be removed.

  10. Love your blog, but it is coming in twos and threes everytime you post!. Keep it coming but can you fix it so I only get one post of each? I don't think it is from my end because my other blogs only come in once.

    Saving my banannas!

  11. Hi Tina
    I am really sorry that that has happened.
    I have updated this particluar blog post three times -maybe that is why . I will try and make sure I only publish when Iam certain it is right. :)

  12. Helen i'm so exited to read your blog about Michel. I just had a 3 day workshop with him in NL (i'm 1 of Yvette's friends. You see i'm dyeing indigo for a while now with different results and have never seen someone making it so easy. Next week i will make my own 1-2-3 vat with sugar. No bananas, he didn't use the peels.
    What i especially learnt from this...i have 3 teachers and learn 3 different ways. I think thats good, trough experimenting the lessons of my teachers i find my own way.

  13. this post was so interesting, thank you for all the knowledge you share-

  14. that looks interesting - I guess I have to stop DH throwing brown bananas out:) usually I use them for banana muffins, but sometimes they are too dark for this - will try an indigo vat with them instead!

  15. Hi Bettina And in this case the blacker the better!
    Glad you enjoyed the post Martine and Kathy-it's good to spread knowledge around the world.

  16. I asked Michel what about figues and he said: theyre perfect for indigo vat. I'm only once a year in France with my friend and she wont be happy with this because she wants to make marmalade out of them.

  17. Hi Martine -Thanks for that info although there not many figs here. Thsi year I planted a fig tree in my garden but I am hoping to eat the fruit! However I said on facebook I was using black bananas and people have dropped a few off at my door. I am also hoping to use ripe pears. I gathered from Michel that any ripe fruit was fine and I see from the Maiwa site that fruit ripened on the tree was even better than fruit ripended in the fruit bowl. I am planning to use these with my woad and Japanese Indigo while my studio is open this month, so I will really making a vat using what I have in the garden.