What Exactly Is Indigo?
Indigo is a dye for fabric to achieve a characteristic dark blue colour. It became famous when the indigo powder was traded from India to Europe. Even today, many of our clothes are dyed with indigo – from the traditional dirndl in Austria to the jeans we wear daily. Pelagonas Mai Table Runners are also dyed with natural indigo.
The natural indigo is made from a tropical plant. However, as it is labour intensive and, hence, expensive, it has been substituted by the cheaper synthetic indigo in the industry. These synthetic dyes not only pose serious health risks for the people who make the products but also the consumers wearing them. Moreover, they are detrimental to our environment. Did you know that synthetic indigo is commonly used in the production of denim jeans?
Indigo is made from a tropical plant. Its seed is planted in June. The harvest in Thailand is in September and October. The plants are bundled together and put into big buckets. These buckets are then filled up with water (around 12-16 litres per bucket). Heavy stones are put on top of the plants to help extract the colour. The leaves need to soak in the water over night, usually about 24 hours depending on the outside temperature.
Before noon the next day, the bundles can be drained and removed from the buckets which were closed with lids. After the soaking process, the colour has changed into a turquoise-greenish-blue tone depending on the plants. On the plants, some blue foam has built and you can also smell that some fermenting was going on. (It is similar to the smell of Kimchi or Sauerkraut.) The bundles are not thrown away, they are being used as fertiliser. Builders lime is added to the water as enzymes. The water needs to be “beaten” for about 20 minutes: with the help of a bowl dipped into the water, the water is moved and oxidised. The colour of the water changes from the greenish-tone to an intense blue.
The liquid sits overnight. The next day, the indigo paste can be collected from the bottom of the bucket. The liquid is removed and the paste is being sifted through a piece of cotton cloth to remove debris. The indigo paste can then be stored for about two years. In the West, the indigo powder is more known. This has a practical reason: powder is much lighter to transport than the wet paste.
The paste is then mixed with ash water or fruit sugars to “feed the indigo” in what looks like a giant vase. This process of fermenting takes several days and is an art in itself. It requires a lot of practice, knowledge and finesse. The yarn is dipped into the liquid. At first, it may look green and multiple dips may be required to achieve the blue colour. The yarn is then hung to dry in the sun and then died again. The darker the colour, the more dips are required. Once the yarns are dyed and dried, they can be used to weave beautiful products for your home.