True blue. Feeling blue. The deep blue sea. Singing the blues…
The indigo blue color has captivated us for many, many generations. From India to Asia, to Central and South America, through Greek and Roman culture, the plant has travelled though Great Britain and America and marched from ancient times to today. After all, what would blue jeans be if not for its distinctive color? Following are 5 fun facts about indigo to celebrate our upcoming Indigo Dye Day workshop at Callaway!
1. Indigo's Origins
Wondering where the plant is from? It's all in the name - Indigo means "the Indian" or "from India". As early as 5,000 years ago people were using indigo to make the deep blue dye.
2. Indigo Girls
Eliza Luca Pickney introduced the plant in South Carolina in 1744. She planted it on her father’s plantation outside of Charleston. The yield was a whopping 6 pounds, which she exported to England. It was quite a hit! Britain offered a reward to the colonies to grow more. The next year 5,000 pounds arrived. It became the second most important crop, next to rice, for South Carolina. In 1755, Georgia exported 4,500 pounds of indigo.
Not surprisingly, England took away the reward when the upstart colonies started that war. You know, that pesky independence one.
3. Smurf Hands
Most historic indigo was either indigofera tinctoria or suffruticosa. And no young lady of long ago wanted to be betrothed to the indigo maker, because the fermentation process stinks, and his hand were probably blue. "Smurf Hands", you might call it in modern times. But today, we’ve streamlined the process and can offer a class that makes the most beautiful blue in creative designs. And wear gloves!
4. Where Jeans Come From
18th century Genoans were known for their sturdy blue cloth made for clothing fisherman and dock workers. The cloth became known as "Bleu de Genes", or Blue of Genoa. In December 1870 a Latvian immigrant working in San Francisco as a tailor was asked by a customer to create a pair of durable workpants for her husband, who was a woodcutter. Jacob Davis sewed the pants from duck cloth and reinforced the weak points with copper rivets. Davis approached his cloth supplier for financial backing to patent his reinforced jeans concept. His supplier, Levi Strauss, agreed, and a patent in the name of Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss and Co. was issued.
5. How It's Done
The ingredients are stirred together, and then it must rest. Oxygen is the enemy of this dye process. So items to be dyed (100% cotton, wool or silk) must be slipped beneath the surface quietly, with no plop! Sliding it down the side of the bucket is best.
Then take the cloth out – slowly, sliding it up the side, and throw it down on a plastic sheet or pin on a clothesline. It will be pond-scum green. Not kidding! As the air hits it, it slowly turns from green to blue over about 20 minutes. Turn to get the breeze hitting all sides.
Rinse, but probably don’t need to repeat, unless you want a very, very dark blue.
Most of the blue washes off skin, but be sure to wear old clothes, because the process does spatter.
But it’s worth it!!
- Susannah Johnson
Join us for Indigo Dye Day at Callaway from 1-3 on Saturday, September 15th, led by our fiber craft expert Susannah!
Class is $40 ($42 online) and includes a t-shirt to dye, or BYO natural fabric or yarn.
Sign up today - hurry, space is limited!