Story of Indigo

What is Indigo?


The beauty of indigo has captured the hearts and imaginations of artisans for thousands of years. It invokes a deep sense of history and tradition from cultures around the world and an almost mystical sense of our connection with Mother Earth in the deep, beautiful blues it creates. Although traditional use has waned in recent centuries, natural indigo can still be found among craftspeople who honor the ancient process.

 


Artisan preparing to dip mud printed fabric in indigo vat   Artisan dipping fabric in indigo vat
 
Artisan pulling out fabric from indigo vat Fabric washed after dying in indigo vat.

 

 
Final fabric with white dots from resist and indigo base.
 

 

The History of Natural Indigo


Natural indigo dye is derived from a reddish-pink flowered plant called Indigofera tinctoria. It is found in many regions around the globe, but who used it first and when has been the subject of study for years. The earliest use is believed to have been about 6,200 years ago in northern Peru, where Archaeologists recently discovered patches of indigo-dyed fabric at the Huaca Prieta ceremonial mound. Previously, the use of indigo had been traced as far back as 3300-1300 B.C. in what is now Gujarat, India. There, archaeologists uncovered at least four different kinds of indigo seeds when excavating the ancient site of Rojdi. Indigo has also been found in the artifacts of Ancient Egypt and China from the third and second millennia B.C. The Mayans and the Aztecs also appear to have used indigo in more “recent” years - 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. 

 


This 15-16th century cotton fabric was made in Gujarat,India. The design is printed using wax resist on white cotton cloth and then dipped into a bath of indigo (image from Met Museum ).


This 15-16th century cotton fabric was made in Gujarat,India. The design is printed using wax resist on white cotton cloth and then dipped into a bath of indigo (image from Met Museum ).

 

 

The process of turning the Indigofera tinctoria into a dye was described by Marco Polo in the late 13th century. In India, he saw the plants harvested, stripped of their roots, and soaked until fermented. The liquid sat until the desired color was achieved and then the solution was aerated so a sediment would form at the bottom of the container. That sediment was dried and stored as loose powder or as cakes that could be easily transported.


Working with indigo is an art that has been honored for the patience and commitment it requires as well as the beauty that results. While today it is most commonly known as the dye from which “blue jeans” get their classic color, indigo appears to have held special, even sacred importance in ancient civilizations. Tutankhamen's burial robes were printed with indigo, as were the clothes worn by the women and men on the walls of the Ajanta and Bagh caves. The dye’s durability was likened to the lasting virtue of wisdom in St. Jerome’s 5th Century Bible.  

 

An extremely rare example of indigo-dyed cloth from ancient Egypt. This is a kerchief from Tutankhamun’s embalming cache.  This kerchief, discovered in the Valley of the Kings, may have been used by Tutankhamun when he was a child. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

As the centuries passed, the popularity of indigo dye grew among artisans across the globe. The increased demand strained the supply, however, and in the late 1800’s a synthetic compound was developed to make production more efficient. The popularity of synthetic indigo dye has since made traditional preparations largely a thing of the past. Luckily, the art survives among the artisans who still practice the traditional methods.  

 

15th-16th century cotton  block-printed and resist dyed Indigo symbolizes a mystical borderland of wisdom, self-mastery and spiritual realizationand this 12TH century  Heian period(794-1185)  hand-scroll; brushed in gold paint on indigo-dyed paper became wisdom in itself. This scroll represents a portion of the Lotus Sutra’s fifth chapter,"Parable of the Medicinal Herbs”.In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Indigo Dyed Fabric with Cranes, Tortoises and Pines painted in dye
Early 19th Century textile from Japan, Indigo dyed and painted with Cranes, Tortoises, bamboos and pines. In collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

Shree Roopam is bringing traditional Indigo to the modern homes


At Shree Roopam, fabrics are dyed using naturally derived indigo dye in a resist block printing method. Hand-carved wood blocks are coated with an adhesive paste made of earth, slaked lime, fine wheat powder, and water. The blocks are pressed onto fabric and sawdust is sprinkled over the paste that remains. The fabric is dried in the sun, then dipped into natural indigo dye vats. The dye adheres only to the parts of the fabric without the paste, which is then cleaned off. The original fabric color remains as the design against an indigo backdrop. The process is intricate, but the results are undeniably exquisite. In short, it’s worth the wait.


We are pleased to bring traditionally-crafted products to you from our artisans using natural indigo. That means our goods are made with environmentally-friendly, natural materials. In a world where convenience and efficiency rule and our environment faces increasing peril, the patient and natural process of indigo dyeing is a welcome return to a time when care and craftsmanship mattered.


We hope you enjoy the products that we have brought to you. The history of indigo is long and we hope that by reminding the world of its mystical beauty, it will have a well-deserved future in your home.

 

 Indigo cushions from Shree Roopam

 

 


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