The History of Indigo Dye

Shibori would not be the art it is without Indigo and I would not be so deeply immersed in that art without the amazing properties of Indigo!

Indigo is probably an integral part of your everyday life, too. Every time you grab a pair of denim jeans to wear, you’re recognizing the value of Indigo. As the only natural blue dye, Indigo has been a very important part of the history of dyeing.

Indian Indigo Plant

Originally rare and expensive, Indigo dye is now available in several forms. It’s name came from a Greek word meaning “of India”. Passing through the Italian dialect into English, it is now known to us as Indigo.

African Indigo Plant

Besides India, Indigo is grown in several other countries including Africa, China, Japan and the United States. Synthetic Indigo is now widely available and what is most commonly used for the commercially dyed fabrics in our clothing and home décor. As a person who highly values our environment, though, I now only work with natural, organic Indigo processed without any harmful chemicals.

Japanese Indigo Plant

The use of natural Indigo from the plant Indigofera Tinctoria dates back at least 5,000 years. Blue stripes, most likely dyed by Indigo, have been found in the borders of mummy cloths in Egypt. The plant and it’s deep blue dye were so valued that early explorers searched for it on their travels. Originally thought to be a mineral, European explorers discovered it was a plant and tried to bring it back to grow at home. The climate of Europe was too cold, though and the plants failed.

I mentioned denim jeans at the beginning of this post. The color Indigo became increasingly popular in the US after 1873 when Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss beginning offering their sturdy work pants. Today’s denim is dyed with synthetic indigo, although the original twill cloth dates back to the 1800’s and began production in Genoa, Italy. The sturdy blue cloth was called ‘Bleu de Gênes’ (the blue of Genoa) and we now know and wear it daily as “jeans”.

Indigo continually fascinates me! I love how the color changes from green to blue to the intense, deep Indigo. There is a great connection to history in dyeing with Indigo and the art of Shibori. There is no end to the possibilities of color and design.

Have I tempted you into the world of Shibori and Indigo? I hope so. I have upcoming classes you can explore and register for right here. And, you can purchase your own Natural Indigo Vat Kit, right here. Please join me in the adventure!

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