Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Mood Indigo

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. 
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