May 09, 2004
Indigo - denim blues
Jenny Balfour-Paul has written two books on indigo blue, dying and the dyer's history. Unlike, mauve, indigo is an ancient and natural dye. A book review by The British-Yemeni Society describes the traditional method of getting blue-jean blue:
"The natural indigo dye vat was, in fact, somewhat obnoxious, containing as it did a fermentation of indigo plants tempered by alkaline additions such as urine, camel dung, dogs’ turds and dates, coated with scum and set as often as not in a dark, airless room where the dyer sat and stirred for days on end." (ick!)
In spite of this, Balfour-Paul fell in love with indigo and it's possibilities. Bluenote website presents a photo documentary of her explorations in indigo. There are also some fascinating photos of the dying process: "When the fabric strips are lifted from the vat of greeny-brown liquid, they change colour to blue as they come in contact with the air." In the photo, you can see the chemical reaction creeping up the strips of fabric. "Indigo is insoluble, it's the oxygen that causes the chemical reaction that turns the items blue as you pull them out of the liquid."
She also discusses woad, the older English blue dye, which was supplanted by indigo. "Woad was grown widely in Europe in the Middle Ages until the arrival of tropical indigo in the 17th century - woad merchants were wealthy men as woad was needed not only for the familiar blue, but also for green, purple and black in combination with other natural dyes."
Uses for indigo? In an interview Balfour-Paul answers the most unusual use that she's come across for indigo: "Probably for dyeing the hair, eyebrows and beard in China and the Middle East - hence the legend of Bluebeard". As far as fiber art, Isabella Whitworth's web site features indigo dyeing and shibori inspired by a lecture on indigo given by Jenny Balfour-Paul at the Crafts Council in London.
The future for indigo blue looks good with new research supporting the natural indigo process: "SPINDIGO aims to enable growers to supply natural indigo with a purity greater than 90% to a significant proportion of the European market. Three species of indigo producing crops are currently being grown in Finland, UK, Germany, Italy and Spain to demonstrate their potential as commercial crops throughout Europe. Each crop is being assessed for its suitability to the different climatic conditions met across Europe."Posted by sfenton at May 9, 2004 04:24 PM