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Mood Indigo [Mar. 9th, 2007|10:06 am]
Tony Grist
Want to know some interesting facts about indigo?

Well, you've come to the right place.

I went to an exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery yesterday. The name of the exhibition was Indigo. And now I know all about how they grow the little, scrubby plants,  how they ferment the leaves and how they dye the cloth. 

In India, in Africa, in Japan, in France...

The old skills are dying out in India because the indigo farms were associated with the worst excesses of the British Raj.  Basically they were using slave labour. No-one wants to grow the stuff any longer because of the taint. 

The Indian process involves half naked men standing in tanks full of the fermenting stuff, smacking the water around with paddles. Rythmical. I wouldn't want to do it.

In Nigeria it's women's work. And the process is different. They make the fermented sludge into balls and set them out to dry in the sun. 

The fiddly techniques they use to make patterns! Like tying hundreds of little stones- one by one-  into a square of  cloth so that when it's dyed it comes out covered in white spots.

The French have gone all high-tech.  The indigo factory is at Albi-  Toulouse Lautrec's home town.

Indigo has been around since forever. The Egyptians prized it. The Persian troops that fought at Thermopylae used it to dye their beards blue

The European variant is called woad. Guys with winged hats used to splash it on all over.  Scary.

Boy, but  I know a lot about indigo!

There were some lovely textiles in the exhibition. In the Yemen they polish the dyed fabric with stones so it gives off a waxy shine. Beautiful.

Oh, and let's not forget Levi Strauss. Where would we be without our blue jeans?

There was a little blue dress in the exhibition. 10th century.  Big enough for a toddler. Someone had  hoiked it out of a grave in the Egyptian desert. 

[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2007-03-09 12:39 pm (UTC)
Two more for your collection:

It isn't colour-fast. My beautiful indigo shirt, which I love, not only turned my wash blue for the first six months, it turned me blue too: I'd take it off and have blue arms underneath. (Woad, eh? Well that explains a bit...)

It's the interloper in the rainbow. Think about it: ...green, blue, indigo, violet? Who thought indigo was a distinct enough colour to merit that? (Answer, I suspect, someone trying to make the number of colours up to the magic seven).

The exhibition sounds great: I wonder if it will come north?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-09 01:01 pm (UTC)
I've had shirts like that.

Well quite. Indigo is the name of a blue dye- which can be dark or pale according to choice. It's scarcely a colour in its own right.

I'm sorry, but the exhibition seems to be heading south- and only south. Plymouth, Brighton and Hove are its future bookings.
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[User Picture]From: shullie
2007-03-09 01:00 pm (UTC)

thanks for that :)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-09 01:04 pm (UTC)
I didn't think I'd find it interesting- but I did....
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From: amritarosa
2007-03-09 05:56 pm (UTC)
Another tidbit- indigo is STINKY!

Long ago at school our fibers instructor had us set up several yard-debris sized plastic trash cans full of indigo. The whole dye culture was pretty oderiferous.

We were told it was ready when and "indigo flower" formed floating on the surface of the liquid. It was simply a mass of bubbles and gel-like leaf fragments and other things, but it was a sign that the batch was ready.

The dye batches would stay good for many days if the "flower" was refreshed periodically.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-09 06:30 pm (UTC)
Nowhere did it say anything about the smell, but I guess it stands to reason, really.

The guy who was watching the vats in India was quite a specialist. Draw off the liquid too soon or too late and the batch would be ruined.

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[User Picture]From: currawong
2007-03-09 11:34 pm (UTC)
You left out one little factette ... it stinks.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-10 09:52 am (UTC)
They didn't tell us that.....
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