Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Textile Tuesdays : #6 Indigo

When I was pregnant the first time, I had terrible "morning" sickness. It lasted all day for about 8 months. I also had a weird attraction to the color blue so I bought most of my maternity clothes in that color. I was a social worker in a hospital at the time and I got pretty good at ducking into the nearest bathroom to puke in between seeing patients or families. Anyway, after my daughter was born, any time I looked at those blue clothes or even thought of the color blue, it would bring back waves of nausea. It took me a long time to warm up to that color again. One of the things that helped me come around was the natural beauty of indigo.

Natural colors are almost always much more beautiful than synthetic ones. There is a whole theory of how natural colors resonate at a different frequency and how chemical colors are numbing our visual sensitivity - like the effect of too much sugar or salt on taste buds - but I don't have time to go into that now. But if you think about it, the yellow of a sunflower could never give you a headache, the blue of the sky could never make you sick!

Indigo is an amazing plant and the dye that comes from it has quite an illustrious history. The plant is called Indigofera tinctoria and it is a member of the pea family. Indigo is fermented (isn't that cool?) and has to be alkaline before it can do its magic. When the fabric comes out of the indigo dye bath it is yellowy green. When it hits the air, it transforms into a beautiful shade of blue from pale turquoise to almost black-blue.
Indigo blue is seen on some of the oldest pieces of fabric, it was in high demand for the production of military uniforms, and even now has worldwide popularity in blue jeans.

I took a workshop on natural dyes up in Portland, Oregon a few years ago. It was wonderful and I am so glad that I got to dye a big piece of muslin in the indigo vat. It was in a dark, cold garage, inside a vintage washing machine with stinky, natural fermentation smells wafting up. I felt a little bit like a witch stirring it with a big wooden stick. The woman was an old, true, hippie and very devoted to the gospel of natural dyes. Check her out at Aurora Silks.

Here are some other cool websites that will give you more information and inspiration.

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