Blue—Blu—Blau–Bleu : Vintage Indigos

Indigo blue may seem an ordinary colour to most but when in a pair of pre-loved worn in denim jeans it becomes something else entirely.   The cast, mostly reddish, becomes even brighter as the garment is more frequently washed due to the bleach lightening effect on the indigo dye.  Provided that is, the garment has not been tinted during its life.

As the colour wears off the top of the weave twill line it leaves the impression of a darker blue valley between the twill lines but that is illusory. The valley (weft) is in fact white, the reality is the indigo is sticking to the twill sides giving an almost 3D effect to the vintage fabric.   Likewise, the warp slubs will lose their indigo dye more quickly after wearing and bleaching creating another dimension.

 ©The Vintage Showroom (2015)  Worn

©The Vintage Showroom (2015) Worn

Vintage indigos in very old worn in jeans will retain their depth of shade and brightness in the body forming creases leaving worn out patches stained with hand grease.  It is effects such as these which we in the business of indigo denim try to replicate when creating a "new" pair of indigo denim jeans.

 ©Di Battista.A  My Archive

©Di Battista.A My Archive

Another worn in effect is to artificially remove the indigo by creasing the garment before subjecting it to a scrape or stonewash. The tumbling action combined with pumice stones in the washing machine lifts off the indigo dye from the prominent areas and if bleach is also added then the indigo shade becomes brighter as it washes down.

The allure of a beautiful worn in indigo denim garment cannot be replicated in any other item of apparel.

 ©Di Battista.A  My Archive

©Di Battista.A My Archive

The gradual loss of the indigo dye reveals the character of the fabric underneath combining it with wear marks from at least one maybe more, previous wearers.     Well preserved real vintage bright indigo garments have a history and richness that is impossible to replicate.

Blue—Blu—Blau–Bleu : Blue Decoration

In centuries past when hand spinning, hand dyeing and hand painting onto textiles was all part of the clothing process traditional decoration also played a big part.  It was a way in which the local creative culture was expressed.  Traditional motifs were repeated time and again as "stories" on various parts of the garment.  Such motifs all had their different meanings and significance with the provenance of the garment being identifiable by its hand drawn motifs.   India, China, Africa, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Central America  all had motifs specifically recognisable to their country and region.

 ©Legrand.C. (2103)  Indigo: the Colour that Changed the World.

©Legrand.C. (2103) Indigo: the Colour that Changed the World.

Tie dye was and still is traditionally mostly Indonesian, Japanese and Chinese. Although as a hand craft it is taught today in some Western Schools. However the originals created by skilled artists are superior in both technique and complexity. Such craft artists are able to achieve the most intricate patterns layer upon layer.  These skills were handed down the generations such that the resultant fabrics can now command immense prices.

Hand drawing onto fabric using indigo paste was likewise done by tribal artists of great skill.  Motifs were naif and charming. Some were merely decorative and some had greater cultural significance.

 ©Balfour-Paul.J. (2011)  Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans

©Balfour-Paul.J. (2011) Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans

Batik is an Indo Chinese art and craft still practised today and immensely popular but very little is achieved in pure indigo as indigo washes down and out too quickly and is costly to produce.

The craft of batik is created using hot wax for the drawing after which the cloth is dyed. The dye is resisted by the wax which, when the cloth is washed the wax dissolves leaving the pattern as the base colour.  This of course can be repeated using different shades of overdye such that a multi level pattern is achieved.  Today it is multicoloured using non natural dyes. The Indigo examples from previous centuries have a simple intricate beauty the motifs of which tell a multitude of stories.  They of course are collectors pieces.

 ©Legrand.C. (2103)  Indigo: the Colour that Changed the World.

©Legrand.C. (2103) Indigo: the Colour that Changed the World.

Block printing with indigo, and of course other natural dyes, being another simple craft which when combined with Batik achieves a rich combination of patterns where it is the shade that unites - in this case the rich blue of indigo.   It is interesting to see the traditional motifs used in both building decoration as well as to adorn the body in textiles.

There is something very special about hand crafted decorated textiles in mono colour, particularly blue.  Blue being a dominant shade for decoration dominant in every country in the near and far east because of the tradition of indigo dyeing.  Juxtapositions of Block print and batik patterns are timeless.

TREND ALERT - Blue—Blu—Blau–Bleu : Craft Blues

Original natural indigos arrive in numerous casts from rich deep reddish to deep greenish depending on where in the world the indigo originates.  India is the original country of origin but natural dye extraction is practised in many other countries in the near and far east today.

 ©Balfour-Paul.J. (2011)  Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans

©Balfour-Paul.J. (2011) Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans

Extracting the indigo as a dye from the natural plant requires much skill and lots of labour and patience.  Originally and even now the dye works the best on cotton fibre. Although it is quixotic and does not easily adhere to the host fibre bleaching down quickly with both wear and exposure to daylight.

Dyeing the cotton yarn, which was hand spun from the raw cotton balls, was all done by hand therefore the consistency and shade varied enormously. This led to pronounced streaks in the eventual fabric, a characteristic which has become synonymous with an old denim fabric. An effect which we try to emulate today to "pretend" that what we are designing is as close to the old original as possible.

 ©Legrand.C. (2103)  Indigo: the Colour that Changed the World.

©Legrand.C. (2103) Indigo: the Colour that Changed the World.

 Originally, and even today as a hand craft, indigo plants are soaked in water, weighted down and left to ferment over night. After which the scum is removed and the liquid beaten hard until bubbles form and thickening takes place. It is then passed through a sieve to remove the liquid, leaving behind the indigo paste which is used for dyeing after it has dried into chunks. The indigo rocks or chunks achieved from recovered dye paste above are ready to be re-used. In this case you will see how much reddish cast this particular indigo is. 

Such indigo chunks as well as being used for dyeing, were used as paint or drawing materials, or used to paint onto fabric as hand decoration.

 images left-right: ©Legrand.C. (2103)  Indigo: the Colour that Changed the World.  ©Balfour-Paul.J. (2011) Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans

images left-right: ©Legrand.C. (2103) Indigo: the Colour that Changed the World. ©Balfour-Paul.J. (2011) Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans

The original craft of indigo dyeing was a manual and messy business.  Filthy water, dye sludge, and scum residue are all bi-products of the hand dye process.

The water residue from natural indigo hand dyeing takes on a greenish cast whereas the dye itself seems to cast reddish.  Such is the nature of natural plant derived indigo. Modern chemical indigos are more controllable but nevertheless the locality where it is used has an effect on the cast due to the PH in the water supply.

The craft of hand dyeing seems romantic but in the case of indigo the ultimate contamination was and still is a major pollutant to the environment. In the past indigo artisans didn't care about cleaning the old water before throwing it onto the fields whereas now it is global law to clean up the water to at least the same level of cleanliness as when it was extracted from river or stream.   In fact many modern industrial mills have an enclosed recycling system for their dirty water, cleaning it and then re-using to dye again. When the water has been used too much it is then cleaned to a higher level of purity before being discharged into the river or stream from whence it came.