Colour me indigo
Indigo, one of the oldest dyes, which changed the world in so many ways, has been a fascinating subject for us for a while. This page is dedicated to the mystery of Indigo which we will continue to explore. We will share our passion and evolving knowledge with like-minded people through our talks and textiles tours.
Indigo is considered to be the world’s oldest textile dye
There are early archaeological finds of indigo from over 6000 years ago in the Indus Valley on the Indian sub-continent, then 4000 years ago in Egypt, India and China. However researchers believed that the history of indigo stems back even further, as early as the Neolithic age. It is even believed that our ancestors used indigo in cave art and for painting their bodies. It is suggested that this is why we call it indigo, a greek word meaning “coming from India. Although blue occurs in many instances in the plant world, commonly in flowers and berries, most naturally occurring blue plants-stuffs are unsuitable for dying. Some can be used to derive some colour (for food or textiles) but the blue colour is not long-lasting. Indigo, on the other-hand, is the only natural source of long-lasting blue colour for textiles. However, indigo the colour does not occur in nature. The plants from which we derive indigo do not show any blue in their leaves, stems or flowers. Rather the colour indigo is achieved by fermenting the leaves of certain plant varieties to create indigo dye. Historically, indigo maintained it’s place since it was the only blue dye available and still today, after more than 150 years of organic chemistry and quite a few competitive dyes of blue colour, it is still the most efficient blue dye or pigment. in fact there is no other substance that creates such intensive blue colour with such few carbon atoms in its molecule.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are patterns created on the fabric?
Patterns are created using dye resist techniques:
- Tied (Bandhani)
- Wrapping, twisting, binding, folding, clamped, stitching (Shibori)
- Wax resist (Batik)
- Paste resist with starch (cassava or rice) or mud (Adire or Ajrak)
How does the colour get fixed?
Indigo is a vat dye, it does not require a fixer or mordant to adhere to fabrics.
To get deeper blue or almost black colour, the fabric has to be dipped in the vat multiple times. The dye deposits on the fabric layer by layer for the colour intensity.
Is there a revival in the use of Woad, source of blue dye in Europe, for dyeing textiles?
Yes, there have been many attempts to revive woad (Isatis tinctoria). How successful it depends on us as consumers. We at ATI, are here to rekindle these discussions and build awareness in the society.
Here are a couple of links for further reading.
- Mel Gibson revived the fashion in the movie Braveheart. “Woad Back in vogue”
- In 2004, the European SPINDIGO (Sustainable Production of Plant-derived Indigo) Project was completed.http://www.woad.org.uk/html/britain.html#Woad-revival
- An article on The Sunday Times – “Back on the woad again” https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/back-on-the-woad-again-75bxxvt7nth
Derived from the leaves of shrubs in the Indigofera family, indigo dye has been used for millennia in most regions of India to colour yarn and fabric (especially cotton) in shades of blue. Indigo is a substantive dye, fixing without the help of a mordant, but requires expertise to successfully prepare and use. The process was demonstrated for the V&A by the Cheepa family, indigo dyers living and working in Kala Dera, Rajasthan. www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/the-fabric-of-india/
Books on Indigo
Natural Indigo Dye for Denim in USA
Denim is dyed with natural indigo grown in Tennessee. An alternative to the synthetic dyes used for most jeans, it restores the soil, requires no chemical pest control and helps American family farmers keep their land in profitable production.
Adire in Nigeria
Adire is indigo resist-dyed cotton cloths that were made by women throughout Yorubaland in south-western Nigeria. Resist-dyeing involves creating a pattern by treating certain parts of the fabric in some way to prevent them absorbing dye.
Aizome in Japan
Ai (indigo) is a dye that is collected from the leaves of the Japanese indigo plant. It is said that it was introduced from India to Japan through the Silk route.
Threads of Tradition
24 Days - 22th Jan to 14th Feb 2023
A farm-to-fashion textiles tour goes off the beaten track to meet master artisans at their work and showcase the best in the traditional textiles industry covering India's West, Central and Eastern regions.
Science of Sleep: The Company Using Japanese Indigo Dye to Improve Wellbeing
Aizome Bedding is the first company of its kind to utilize the traditional Japanese art of aizome (indigo dyeing) to improve your sleeping experience – and your life – naturally. Find out more about the bed
The Slow Fashion Movement
Links to Social Enterprises
Upasana – https://www.upasana.in/
Weavers Studio – http://weaversstudio.in/
Shrujan – http://shrujan.org/
Kala Raksha – http://www.kala-raksha.org/
Nike Davies-Okundaye – http://www.nikeart.com/
Related Talks & Presentations
Colour me Indigo
Indigo is an ancient dye that attracted the name ‘‘Blue Gold’ for its strong performance as a high-value trading commodity in ancient times as it was considered a luxury item. It has been used in many civilisations and was popular in Mayan, Egyptian, Japanese, African and Indian cultures.
Sari to Sarong
What is the common thread that ties India, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia? It is the ‘Ikat’ weave. The word ‘Ikat’ means ‘tie’ in both Indonesian and Malaysian languages and refers to the tie and dye weaving technique which has been used for centuries to create beautiful artisanal Ikat handlooms.
Indian Fashion: Old is New
Let us take you on a colourful and breathtaking virtual trip to India to see how Indian fashion (clothes, jewellery and accessories) has evolved over the years and the impact it has on the international fashion houses to this day. More and more Indian designers are embracing the traditional handloom weaves, tie and dye, block-printing, embroidery, metalwork …
Our Monthly Newsletter