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To Dye For: Microscale Vat Dyeing with Indigo


The preparation of dyes and the process of dyeing fabric are two of the oldest chemical processes developed by humans. The use of dyes is an ancient art that was first practiced in Egypt, Persia, China, and India more than 5500 years ago. Indigo was originally extracted from the Indigofere Sumatrana plant found primarily in India and later from the Isatis Tinctoria plant in Europe. Due to the demand of this supply of blue dye, a trade route between India and Europe was established.

The first synthetic dye was generated in 1856, when William Henry Perkin, a student at the Royal College of Chemistry (England) accidentally discovered a synthetic mauve dye. This in turn, led to the first commercial development of an organic compound. In the 1880’s, Adolph von Baeyer undertook the study of indigo and determined its molecular structure and synthetic routes. For this work, von Baeyer received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1905. It was commercially available until after 1900 due to the problems faced when trying to mass produce the invention. However, by WWI, almost all the world’s manufactured dyes were produced in Germany and synthetic dyes had almost entirely replaced the extraction of dyes from natural sources. Dyeing with...

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