Tie-dye is all the rage. What was crafts 101 at high school and commonly associated with hippies has instead become a fashion craze. Many who have jumped on this trend bandwagon and made good profits are professing “It’s here to stay!” But some said that about shoulder pads, didn’t they? Have you ever heard about the indigo dye process? U.Mi-1 loves this popular preindustrial process: let’s dive into it together.
A Brief History: Indigo Dyeing Techniques
What we hope is here to stay is indigo dyeing. One of the oldest dyes used in textile dyeing and printing is indigo. Its use dates to 6,000 years ago. These days, most people acknowledge the Japanese Shibori for their indigo dye technique.
Indigo Dye in Japan
Indigo became especially important during the Edo period, between 1603 and 1868. This was due to the growing textile industry. At that time, commoners were also banned from wearing silk. This lead to the increasing cultivation of cotton, and consequently indigo, which was one of the few substances that could dye it.
Shibori Dyeing Technique
Shibori artists created intricate resist patterns on fabric. They used thread to isolate many small repeated points on the fabric. After dyeing these spots of color create captivating designs that tend to be far more intricate and detailed than modern tie-dye.
Commercial tie-dye uses a simple technique of twisting and tying the fabric to create basic designs. Importantly, while tie-dye uses dyes from the entire rainbow color spectrum, shibori dye usually uses only one color: indigo. Today, indigo has become associated with ideas of high quality and craftsmanship has been instrumental in the rise of Japanese famous denim.
Indigo Dye in Northern Nigeria
Like the Japanese, indigo is the foundation of centuries-old textile traditions throughout West Africa. In Nigeria, dye pits, still in use today, date as far back as 1498. Nigeria has its own dye-resist techniques similar to Shibori, which we call Adire (indigo). Boiled cassava, lime, and alum are used in our dye-resist techniques used to create sophisticated patterns.
Unlike the Japanese, Indigo-dyed clothes in Nigeria always signified wealth and status. Traditionally, the women in each village would dye the cloth, with the Yoruba women in the south particularly well known for their expertise. In Northern Nigeria, it was the basis of the wealth of the ancient city of Kano, with the Hausa male dyers working at communal dye pits.
These local craftsmen attracted many travellers and traders. Their craft and pits remain in the family, passing on from one generation to the next.
While these dyers still ply their trade today, at the same pits, it is sadly now a dying art due to competition with synthetic fabrics and cheaper imports. Moreover, the locals revere indigo-dyed garments and do not regard them as everyday garments.
Sustainable Dying: Indigo Dye
U.Mi-1 Creative Director Gozi loves the dye pits scattered across the compound, which resemble a giant honeycomb. Each pit contains dye made from the indigo plant, grown just outside the city. This dyeing process is a natural plant-based method and uses no chemicals. Dying with indigo plants ensures that the dye is non-toxic and environmentally friendly, unlike commercial indigo dye which use synthetic dyes..
Furthermore, these dye pits do not require electricity to run, making them extremely sustainable. Our latest collection Mood Indigo celebrates this process and the earth from which it comes from.
Our indigo fabrics have been specially made by artist Nike Davies-Okundaye. She has designed each piece using beautiful traditional motifs.
Mama Nike, as she is fondly known, is the owner of Nike Art Gallery and strives to revive the tradition of indigo dying. Subsequently, she has set up free arts and crafts courses for young Nigerian children and disadvantaged women where she passes on this wonderful tradition to her pupils.
A true inspiration to many, she aims to improve their lives through art. U.Mi-1 shares the same goals. Indeed, it is an honour to share her vision.