11 months ago
I found it! I found a piece of real indigo! It's a late 19th century piece of handspun and handwoven hemp, sewn into a cushion cover, and it's the real thing.
The word 'indigo' gets thrown around a lot to describe any blue-dyed textile. Indigo is blue but not all blue is indigo! Most of the blues I find aren't indigo. This is one of only two pieces I've found that are. How to tell? Firstly there's the colour. It's luminous, and despite the age of the piece, it's still vibrant and alive, not flat and dead. There is no fading. It's also a medium blue. If this was chemical indigo, it would be a dark blue and it would be faded. When I washed it, two things happened. First, I soaked it in very hot water in a weak solution of percarbonate and gentle soap. The water became yellow, a good sign that the dyestuff is indigo, as this yellow colour is the alkali washing out from the fibre. Several hours later when I began to work the water through the textile, colour came out. But not much colour, and it precipitated around the bath like a ring (yes, I soak textiles in the bath!). It's telling that the colour was not a murky inky colour smelling strongly tannic or chemical, but a clear blue that stained the water a light blue colour. Next, and here's the kicker – I immersed another white textile in the blue water to see. If this was a chemical dye, the white textile would pick it up and become a greyish blue. But the white textile emerged perfectly white, and the white parts of this piece, as you can see, are also perfectly white. This is a sign of real indigo because once indigo oxidises, it becomes solid, and it cannot stain another fabric. If you have a piece of indigo which stains other textiles and the stains will not wash out, it is not indigo, it is chemical blue dye. And finally, when I pulled this piece from the rinse water after a number of hours of soaking and washing, it emerged not faded and stained, but brighter and more luminous , the whites whiter, the blue even bluer. That's the mark of real indigo. Real indigo doesn't fade, it just gets more beautiful. This is not for sale, but I hope this post helps to understand blue a little better.