CHAPTER I . DYEING TEXTILES
We can make a positive impact by providing an economic opportunity to preserve traditional indigo dyeing and textile crafts!
WHAT IS INDIGO
Indigo dye is a natural dye that is extracted from plants and animals. Though the dye was and is still produced organically, most of the indigo dye available in the market today is mass produced through chemical processes to satisfy increased demand for blue dye.
Indigo is thus named due to its distinct blue colour. It is one of the oldest dyes in existence and has been used for many centuries in ancient India, China and Japan, for dyeing and printing textiles. India, which was the main producer of Indigo, exported the dye to Europe and the Mediterranean region through Portuguese and Arab traders. The Greeks and Romans also bought their indigo dye from India and used it as a luxury commodity. Other ancient civilizations from Africa, Mesopotamia and Egypt have also used Indigo for centuries. In most west African cultures, Indigo was used to dye garments worn by wealthy people to symbolise their status.
THE COMPLEX PROCESS OF MAGIC INDIGO
It involves very precise chemical processes to ferment the leaves of Indigo plants to create the blue dye. Unlike other textile dyeing processes, the fabric does not turn blue in the dye pot. Exposure to the air is required, so that a drying piece of dyed fabric will slowly turn from yellow to green, to a deep dark blue. But this process is also very fragile, and skilled artisan is needed to ensure success with Indigo dyeing. Too much fermentation, or not enough, or the wrong level of heat can destroy a whole batch of dye.
The skills required, and the unusual qualities of the dye itself have led to Indigo dyeing being revered for it’s magical qualities in many traditional indigo textile community across the globe.
Indigo is therefore a highly admired dye among the craftsmen. They believe, for example, that if they eat with indigo-stained hands there won’t be any problems with the food or digestion, or that if a cow drinks the indigo solution it will become stronger.
They say that indigo has the power to turn anything natural. Wearing Indigo dyed fabric is thereby considered auspicious.
Minimises the amount of pollutants to dispose off;
The waste produced during production is mostly plant polymers, which are biodegradable;
Tests have shown that insects and other animals can survive in a fermenting mixture of natural indigo;
Growing indigo-producing plants provides a source of income for farmers and workers;
Plants provide green cover which is good for the environment.
Involves petrochemicals which yield more pollutants;
The pollutants and impurities produced during manufacture, such as anilinine, are not biodegradable;
When these pollutants are dumped into rivers and lakes, they kill aquatic life and make the water poisonous to humans and other terrestrial animals.
NATURAL INDIGO vs. SYNTHETIC INDIGO
There are still a few groups of craftspeople dyeing with Indigo in the traditional way across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and in Central and South America. But even these are under threat in the era of globalisation, with cheap manufactured clothing and synthetic dyes displacing labour intensive traditional crafts. These traditional skills are in danger of dying out!
However, globalisation is also providing opportunity to preserve the valuable cultural heritage as well. More and more consumers are concerned about the impact of synthetic dyes on the environment and the health of the workers who use them.