Soap making secrets: Using indigo powder as a natural colorant

Soap making secrets: Using indigo powder as a natural colorantA few weeks ago, I spent some time at the Cleveland Botanical Garden and was so inspired by the herb and dye gardens that I decided to work with indigo powder as a natural colorant in my soap.

Indigo is a plant-based dye that has been used for thousands of years as a dye for cloth and pottery. Did you know it’s also used to add color to bath and body products?

I used indigo powder in two different ways to achieve different looks.  For the striped soap on the left in the picture above, I mixed a small amount of indigo powder with olive oil. I then added the mixture to a small portion of the soap batter to make a dark blue layer. This soap is scented with a nice unisex blend that has fruity notes of lime, lemon zest and apple, along with floral notes of lily of the valley and rose.

For the second batch, I wanted the entire soap to be one color, so I mixed the indigo powder into the water portion of my soap recipe. Once it was diluted, I added the lye. I scented this soap, shown on the right above, with the juiciest smelling blueberry fragrance oil. I can’t stop sniffing it!

If you’re a soap maker interested in learning more about how to use indigo or other natural colorants in your formulations, I recommend reading this post by The Soap Queen, Anne-Marie Faiola. It’s loaded with great tips on usage rates of several natural colorants.

As I researched the use of indigo in soap, I learned that this stunningly beautiful dye has had a long and tumultuous history. If you’re interested in learning more, listen to this NPR interview with Catherine E McKinley, the author of “Indigo: In Search of the Color that Seduced the World.” I’ve added this book to my reading list!

I also learned that extracting dye from indigo containing plants is a difficult and arduous task. Because of this, most indigo used today is synthetic and not plant derived like the powder I used. But, I stumbled across a small company called Ricketts Indigo that is dedicated to using traditional methods of extracting dye. They create gorgeous cloth, towels, handkerchiefs and other items that are dyed with the indigo they grew and processed. Their shop is full of beautiful items that would make the perfect gift for anyone who uses the color indigo in their decor.

My indigo-inspired soaps will be available for purchase in the Emmet Street Creations Etsy store in mid-August. They’d make the perfect gift for that hard to buy for guy or gal.

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