indigo noun / ˈɪndɪɡəʊ / 1. a tropical plant of the pea family, which was formerly widely cultivated as a source of dark blue dye. 2. the dark blue dye obtained from the indigo plant.
One of my all-time favourite textiles is indigo cloth. There’s something about that rich and variable blue that I have a strong connection to – my memories of visiting a dyer in Central Asia with my mum, or of scouring Tokyo with the Anthropologie team for a lovely piece of boro. It’s a colour and dye that pops up in several different cultures but the wonderful thing about it is that each place will have its own take on it.
Most indigo is derived from plants of the genus indigofera which commonly occur in the tropics. In Europe using the leaves of woad was the predominant way of producing a similar blue colouring, that is until trade passages between India opened up and allowed the importation of Asian indigo (some European countries passed laws to protect the woad industry, calling indigo the devil’s dye!).
The region of West Africa has some of the oldest methods of indigo dyeing and the most fantastic patterns come from countries like Burkina Faso, Niger and Togo. I’m yet to visit, but the Kofar Mata dye pits in Nigeria is where one can see firsthand the process of indigo dyeing; pits in the ground are filled with water, ash and indigo and once the fabric is placed in this mixture it can be left in there for hours, depending on the intensity of the blue the dyer wishes to achieve.
Shop our collection of West African indigo cloth, each with its own pattern, texture and hand stitching.