Everything you wanted to know about Indigo -- Origins, History, & Craft
These days Indigo products are perhaps quite common in every household – it could be his shirt or her dress or a throw on the living room couch or a curtain in the bedroom. Indigo has evolved into many folds and is in fact the most versatile and loved textile possession. So what do we really know about our favorite Indigo dye other than the fact that it is blue in color? Did you know that natural indigo is derived from a plant? Or that a few centuries back Indigo was considered as a rare commodity and only royalties could afford it? Let us learn a bit more about this King of Blues…
Where was Indigo dye originated?
Indigo is among the oldest dyes to be used for textile dyeing and printing. Indigo’s name gives its origin away: it simply means ‘the Indian’ or ‘from India.’ Many Asian countries, such as India, Japan, etc have used indigo as a dye (mainly to dye silks) for centuries. Indigo was cultivated in India. India was one of the earliest countries that started its production and processing and were also amongst the primary suppliers to Europe. Because of its high trading value, indigo has been often referred to as blue gold.
The Indigo plant has light green pinnate leaves and pink or violet flowers. In India, the Indigo plant is found in the dry forests of South India, as well as those of Rajasthan, Punjab, Maharashtra, and Orissa.
How is Indigo made into dye?
Throughout history, a variety of plants have provided indigo but most natural indigo has been obtained from those in the genus Indigofera, which are native to the tropics, notably the Indian subcontinent. The leaves of this plant get harvested and processed to yield the dye. The dye doesn’t exist in the true form of the plant. It has to be extracted from the leaves through a detailed process. This is something unusual about indigo.
The indigo dyeing process-
- The harvested leaves of the Indigofera plant are soaked in water, to release glucose from the indican which is an amino acid present in the leaves.
- The freed indican soon starts to ferment with the other plant enzymes.
- Due to the fermentation, the water turns yellow after several days. The product of this process is called indoxyl
- Left to dry in the air, this product oxidizes further and coagulates into the blue indigo.
- This is then mixed with an alkaline solution like soda bicarbonate, and the resulting sludge is pressed into cakes and dried.
- The hard cakes finally are ground into a fine powder that contains the much-coveted dark blue pigment.
It’s also important to be aware that there also exists an evil cousin of our favorite indigo – the synthetic blue indigo. Natural indigo is derived from plants and is sustainable, whereas the synthetic variety is chemically created from petrochemicals, and it’s manufacturing process yields toxic waste products. Natural indigo always gives uneven and interesting color variations of blue shades, on the other hand, the synthetic indigo yields a uniform blue color.
My love affair with indigo started last year after I spent almost 3 weeks in an interior village of Rajasthan, getting a hands-on exposure on natural indigo dyeing and block printing from the artisans of the famous Chippa community. And that’s when we developed a variety of unique combination of fabrics, one of which is used in our Indigo bag series.
These indigo bags are created with natural Flax fabric with hand block printing on them. First the flax fabric is indigo dyed, then it is hand block-printed, and then processing and calendaring is done. Finally our bags tailor moves his magical fingers on this fabric and makes hand sewn bags out of this fabric. Each bag is hand made with emphasis on high quality and fine details. We have a wide range of designs available in this indigo bag series – horizontal laptop bag, vertical laptop bag, big and small totes, sling bag, backpack, gym/yoga bag , laptop sleeves and lunch bags. We also offer an option of customization in our bags, which gives the customers flexibility to either add an extra pockets or handle to the bag. And this is what makes our bags so unique and special.
One can’t miss to spot you in our show stopper – vertical laptop bag, which is our most popular bag!