Sustainable Cloth Challenge – The Youth Indigo Partnership

The Sustainable Cloth Challenge has many stories.  Here, as told by Kerstin Zurbrigg, a group of friends partnered to explore the beauties of indigo – from seed to finished product.

These friends decided to addressed three questions: what is sustainable, what is regenerative and what are the impacts of our choices? Their individual and collective approaches to answering the questions formed an intersection of exploratory, challenge streams in conversation, with a focus on material sourcing and farming. They worked together  to create a community- shared, sustainable dye garden, which was the guiding inspiration for their collective and individual approaches.

In May, two large garden beds (roughly 5’ x 8’) were created using no-till methods and through adapting restorative gestures to the earth in composting and mulching practices. Pollination was encouraged through sustaining a diversity of plants in the shared environment. These investigations of regenerative agriculture principles became a primary endeavor in the shared garden. The seeds were 7th generation indigo (Polygonum tinctorium/Persicaria tinctoria) seeds, open-pollinated, and originally sourced from Putnam Hill Nursery, Rowland Ricketts and Craig Wilkinson. Seeds were planted tightly to dissuade weeds and to minimize the need for watering through the height of the summer.

After the first harvest in early August, Sylvia and Ava used a fresh-leaf ice bath extraction method to dye wool yarn and roving sourced from local farms. In late July, leaves were frozen and saved for use when the projects would be further along. This method of preservation and of color release was brought to us all courtesy of local spinner and dyer Kathie Bryant (and, for the flexibility of this method, and extension of time in utilizing a fresh leaf process, we are truly grateful).  Ella and Maya’s yarns were dyed in the richly pigmented waters from the process of freezing fresh indigo leaves.  The garden continued to thrive and the indigo plants grew bountifully well into the month of September when successive harvests were gathered.  The vibrancy of the plants had much to do with the connections, caretaking and restorative practices so beautifully given to the space of the garden. In the late fall, seeds from these plants were gathered and dried with the hope that they will be planted in future community-shared gardens.

They explored the possibilities of fresh indigo through Streams of Indigo, four projects that explore the colors of indigo through their own lens:

Misty Shoots  – Sylvia was inspired to work with shades of light blues. She had a specific color in mind for her project and then based her sweater around what she thought would match that color. Although inspired by other sweaters and patterns, the pattern for Misty Shoots was completely of her own making. Using yearling mohair yarn from Flying Goat Farm, Sylvia started with a stitch that she knew she wanted to include and then worked from there to create the rest of the sweater. Sylvia not only learned about how to create a pattern but she also learned about the dying process of working from fresh leaf indigo and extracting color with ice.

Blooming Breeze – Ella decided to reuse one of her old old projects and repurpose the yarn into a project that she would actually finish and wear. Blooming Breeze is made from yarn which she had previously cleaned, spun, and knit and then unraveled as she worked from the old piece to the new piece. After the sweater was knit she dyed it with fresh indigo leaves in an ice bath. While working on the project she learned about the process of growing and dying with indigo.


Harvest Sky – Ava handspun and dyed local Finn sheep wool purchased from Solitude Wool, and up-cycled yarn spun by Kerstin Zurbrigg from a Coopworth sheep called Einkorn from Arbormeadow Farm in Virginia. Ava was inspired by texture and color. She wanted to work with different gauges of yarn and experimented with needle size as a way to increase and decrease while working on Harvest Sky. Through this process she learned about the relationship of the yarn and the needle and how it affects the drape and quality of the knitting. Ava used trial and error to make a sweater without a pattern and used her senses and gut feelings to decide what to do in the pattern. She also was not afraid to take out her knitting when she did not like the way it looked.

Frozen Roots – Maya was inspired by re-envisioning old things and by nature. Maya wanted to turn something that was unwanted and unused into something new, creative, and elegant. She raised the silkworms, sourced from a sericulture institute in Padua, Italy, and used their silk to make embroidery thread.  In the process she learned about the lifecycle of the silkworm from egg to cocoon to moth, and how to process the silk from the cocoons. Maya worked with a spinner, Kerstin Zurbrigg, to help her to develop an embroidery thread for her work.  Once the embroidery thread was ready she dyed it with indigo. She learned about the processes of developing silk from cocoons with Reneta Maile-Moskowitz and then applied this to her project.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *