maya blue recipe

After discussing Indigo as Pigment, I’ve had a lot of requests to share the process for making Maya blue. This recipe is based on the research of Michel Garcia, whose Natural Dye Workshop DVD series I recommend. To make Maya blue pigment at home, only two ingredients and a few tools are required.

  • Botanical indigo powder: This can be store-bought or home processed, and must be thoroughly dry and finely ground.

  • Clay substrate: Sepiolite, palygorskite or attapulgite will absorb the indigo when heated. You can purchase small jars here, or larger amounts here. If your clay is granulated of foraged it must be finely ground.

  • Mortar and pestle for grinding: This must be dedicated to crafts only, never food.

  • Dust mask: These types of clay can be irritating.

  • Small pot: Likewise dedicated to crafting.

  • Mulling slab and muller: For extra finely grinding the finished pigment and mixing paint.

 grinding sepiolite clay

grinding sepiolite clay

Make certain that none of your tools have any water on them, as even a drop will spoil the reaction. After finely grinding, weigh 10 parts clay and 1 part indigo powder. I have used 30 grams sepiolite and 3 grams indigo. Combine these in a small pot and heat over a medium low flame.

Over the course of a few minutes, you will see the two powders combine and turn a uniform blue color. At 356 degrees Fahrenheit the indigo sublimates to a gas, bypassing the liquid phase, and is immediately absorbed by the clay. Remove the pot from heat and allow to cool. The color will have a violet tinge when hot, but turn turquoise as is cools. You now have Maya blue pigment, indigo locked inside and stabilized by the clay.

maya blue recipe
  • A Weighed indigo and sepiolite

  • B Mixed indigo and sepiolite before heating

  • C Mixture after heating: Maya blue!

Maya blue pigment may be stored indefinitely. To use as paint it must be finely ground with a mortar and pestle followed by mulling with a binder to mix the paint of your choice. Check out Kremer Pigments and Kama Pigments course offerings and videos to learn how to prepare your own watercolor, egg tempera, or oil paints.

 mulling maya blue watercolor

mulling maya blue watercolor


marbling patterns: feather

Now we come to some exciting compound patterns in our series of marbling pattern tutorials. These rely on a series of basic patterns repeated one after another. For the most uniform results, use a set of marbling combs and keep your hand steady, with your eyes focused on the movement of just one tine through the pattern in the vat. Of course, you can achieve similar but more organic results by drawing with a stylus. Remember, the diameter of the stylus will impact the line quality, and the spacing of the pattern at each step will influence the outcome, so feel free to play with the scale along the way. And, lastly, remember to take your paper grain into account when planning out the pattern. The feather pattern begins with a getgel, continues with the nonpareil, and is completed with a widely-spaced getgel.

The getgel at left is followed by the nonpareil.

Then follows a widely-spaced getgel (about 3"), perpendicular to the nonpareil pattern.

Having completed the getgel, the nonpareil is now drawn with a stylus or a nonpareil comb.

Perpendicular to the nonpareil stripes, this is followed by widely spaced parallel lines.

In the spaces between these lines, another series of parallel lines are drawn running in the opposite direction.

And the feather pattern is complete!

marbling patterns: nonpareil

Today our series of marbling pattern tutorials brings us to the nonpareil pattern, from the French "without equal". Though truly the nonpareil is not one of my favorites, it is a step towards some further compound patterns whose elegant line quality depend on it. This pattern requires a nonpareil comb, whose tines have 1/8" or 1/4" spacing - but if, like me, you don't have such a comb you may carefully use a stylus. This gives a looser, less static quality to the pattern.

Complete a getgel pattern (at left above), then draw a series of tightly spaced parallel lines perpendicular to it.

The nonpareil pattern begins with a getgel, which may be repeated once or twice for finer lines. Remember before beginning to make a note of your paper grain direction, and do some strategizing so that the completed pattern will be oriented as you wish.

Working perpendicular to the existing pattern, pass your nonpareil comb through the pattern once or draw a series of closely spaced lines with a stylus.

I did not pull a print of this pattern, but continued working on it. However, below are some lovely vintage examples of the nonpareil from the digital collection of the libraries of the University of Washington, which also illustrate the effect of pattern orientation.

the kettle stitch

The kettle stitch, which holds the tension along each signature and acts as the change-over for many bindings, is a persnickety little stitch until you get the hang of it. When learning the coptic or sewn-to-tape bindings a common problem is an incorrect kettle stitch that does not 'lock' the tension, or a kettle so successful it cinches the head and tail while the center of the spine bows outward. These diagrams illustrate how I execute the kettle stitch, along with a trick for regulating the sewing tension both along the spine and between the signatures.

On reaching the head or tail of a signature, I exit the last sewing station, make certain the thread is nicely taught, then clamp down with a forefinger on the fold about 1/2" inside the last sewing station. The thread (and tension) is held firmly by this finger, and the end of the signature pops up just a bit. That tiny bit of extra space will prevent the kettle from cinching too tightly. I hold this position until the kettle stitch is completed with my other hand, locking the thread in place.

To execute the kettle stitch while holding this posture may seem acrobatic at first, but it can be easily done using the technique recommended in Non-Adhesive Binding, Volume III by Keith Smith. Having made certain to place the sewing stations a distance from the head and tail that is shorter than the length of your needle, its point will emerge from between the signatures and can be pulled through the loop in one easy motion. To tighten the kettle stitch keeping that extra iota of space, pull the thread straight upwards. And finally, release the finger that has been clamping your signature down all this while.

Another helpful technique is the french link stitch, which regulates the tension across the spine (between the signatures) by linking each stitch spanning a tape to its neighbor. The french link stitch is an extra step, but the herringbone-like pattern it creates can be a lovely addition to an exposed spine.

french link stitch diagram