The Road to Indigo

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Fabric speaks to me. I collect it, stash it, feel it. Antique European linens, worn Irish cloth, functional and timeless, faded Ikat from Java, Sumatra and Flores, woven wall hangings from Myanmar, mid-century Japanese Kimono sprinkled with shibori, or little fabric offcuts featuring sacred cranes, plush velvet Italian betrothal bedspreads, alive with colour and kitsch cherubin, or hand worked pillow cases and curtains from the antique market in Arezzo in Italy, embroidered table cloths, ancient filet crochet edging with worked in stories, words or historical events, crocheted jug covers featuring Dolly-Varden shells and beaded weights, Indian silk saris and long dupatta scarves, visiting every floor of a Sari shop in India: fabric hunting is a central part of my journey. It is often the history of women’s work, or a window into a culture, or one that is about to become obsolete, that appeals so much.

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Hand dyed indigo fabric is a recent addition to my textile addiction. I discovered some wonderful indigo fabrics at the Chatuchak ( Cha-Cha) Market in Bangkok in 2013. The following year, I toured an indigo factory in Dali, on the banks of Erhai Lake, Yunnan, China. And this year, I found another small producer of hand died indigo clothing on the banks of the Mekong River, in Chiang Khan, Thailand, as well as some lovely long lengths of deep indigo died linen in the back streets of the Warorot market, in Chiang Mai.

My next step is to learn this ancient art and dye my own cloth. I envisage drifts of indigo muslin, irregular in colour, floating in the summer breeze.Thanks Ailsa for this week’s travel theme, Fabric, at Where’s My Backpack. If I dug out all the representatives of my fabric collection, this post might fill a book.

27 thoughts on “The Road to Indigo”

    1. I saw this plant growing happily in Dali, Yunnan, China- and not sure how it would go here. I didn’t include pics of it because they weren’t so visually interesting for the reader, but yes, I am keen, both on collaboration and on drinking. I have some wonderful pieces from that trip, not included in this post.

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  1. Beautiful fabrics Francesca. What do you do with it besides collect and enjoy it? I love the line “It is often the history of women’s work, or a window into a culture, or one that is about to become obsolete…” So true. The process of indigo dying is fascinating.

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    1. I can’t bear to cut pieces. I rotate some as hangings. I have all the emroidered cloths stashed and bring them out for special occasions. My DIL irons them for me afterwards. I lost an unbelievable collection in the bushfire- the antique Javanese pieces were so well preserved- for history, for the future, along with small dark places full of the most intricate embroidery. I should stop- but when it turns up cheaply, I feel I must preserve it in my small museum.

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  2. Really beautiful. That indigo, oh my. I have a small(ish) collection of vintage tablecloths and napkins and feel I am preserving the hardwork and artistic flair of generations past. You are doing important work.

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  3. I love the extension from appreciating and collecting to creating your own. Indigo is very appealing. I’m inclined to save old kitchenalia fabric items myself; tea towels, tablecloths, doilies, napkins… but constraints of space means I must use them. I love the history and extending their life.

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    1. Will you be constrained in the nw house at TA? The photo showed such an ample house- well ample verandas and such a sweet kitchen. Old linen is so lovely to use- the feel, the texture, the history.

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  4. I just love this post. I too am a fabric hoarder *ahem* collector. I have a penchant for lengths and tea towels.The thing is, other than using them an impromptu tablecloths, I can’t bear to cut them and have them made into anything. My mum sews so she is itching to get her shears into some. I’m happy to say that my old pantry will give me more room to house more! cheers

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