INDIGO – The color of ancients. Photographed by Zac Chungath
Indigo is an ancient dye and can be traced back to as far as 5000 BC. It is an integral part of the dyeing traditions in India, which is believed to be the oldest center of indigo cultivation in the Old World. It was a primary supplier of indigo to Europe as early as the Greco-Roman era. The association of India with indigo is reflected in the Greek word for the dye, indikón (ινδικόν, Indian). The Romans latinized the term to indicum, which passed into Italian dialect and eventually into English as the word indigo. During the colonial times, British established a monopoly on the cultivation and trade of Indigo. It was one of the most profitable commodities of the East India Company, so valuable that it was referred to as Blue Gold. Other European countries had no access to Indigo from India and to resolve this rather peculiar problem, they set about to experiment ways in which to manufacture Indigo in laboratories. Several years and 18 milion franks later, a German company named BASF succeeded in the manufacture of synthetic Indigo.
Since the invention of synthetic Indigo, world gradually moved away from natural indigo and thereby cultivation and use of natural Indigo fell back into tiny pockets of the world where traditional textile dyeing practices persisted. As we become aware of environmental hazards caused by synthetic dyes, we are turning back more and more into natural dyeing practices. A renewed interest of the dyes of the ancient is noted now.
Indigo (nil) naturally occurring dye stuff obtained from various plants, particularly those of genus Indigofera. They are found to grow wild in India, Central America and China. Indigo is also present in the juices of Isatis tinctoria or woad plant cultivated in Britain. The natural Indigo dye stuff available at Fabric Treasury is from Indigo plantations of South India, and is available in both the cake and powder form.
Indigo dyeing is a multi step process, depending on the color shade of blue one hopes to achieve. Once mastered, indigo dyeing can be done at home, within minimal environmental impact. This is the best dye to achieve amazing hues of natural blues which has a way of capturing the eye.