Tie-dye is all the rage. What was crafts 101 at high school and commonly associated with hippies, is the current fashion craze. Many who have jumped on the 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 artists created intricate resist patterns on fabric. They used thread to isolate many small repeated points on the fabric.
What After Dyeing
After dyeing these spots of color created 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 a spiral design. 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 ideologies of high quality and craftsmanship. It has been instrumental in Japanese denim’s fame.
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. We have our own Shibori, which we call Adire (indigo). Boiled cassava, lime, and alum are resisted techniques used to create sophisticated patterns.
Indigo Dye in Northern Nigeria
Unlike the Japanese, clothes dyed with indigo always signified wealth. Women dyed the cloth in most areas, with the Yoruba women 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 cheap imports. Moreover, the locals revere indigo-dyed garments and do not regard them as everyday garments.
Sustainable Dying: Indigo Dye
I love the dye pits scattered across the compound, which resembles a giant honeycomb.
Each pit contains dye made from the indigo plant, grown just outside the city. This dyeing process is a plant-based method. It uses no chemicals. Dying with indigo plants assures you that the dye is non-toxic and bypasses dangerous chemicals.
Furthermore, the pits do not require electricity to run. It is certainly 100% sustainable, unlike commercial indigo dye which uses synthetic dyes. 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, owner of Nike Art Gallery, as she is fondly known, 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.