I was talking to a colleague recently about herb dyes – she’d been to the Neonyt trade show in Berlin and seen some fantastic innovations in natural dyes which got me thinking about the beauty of natural indigo.
I’ve always loved indigo as a colour, driven mostly by my love of denim. The highs and lows of the fade allow the fabric to take on a life and character of its’ own. Over recent years I’ve developed a mild obsession with vintage indigo workwear coats and jackets. I have so many now I can do mix and match layering and pretty much dress head to toe in shades of indigo. Always room for one more.
However, my love of indigo was peaked to maximum levels when visiting the Aizenkobo workshop in Kyoto, where I was lucky enough to see the most stunning natural indigo dyed fabrics. After getting lost in the atmospheric side streets of Kyoto, we finally found the workshop and were welcomed in by master dyer Kenichi Utsuki. The discreet entrance opened up to the most beautiful showroom and workshop combining the calmness of Japanese design with shades upon shades of indigo. I was blown away by the depth of colour achieved in the fabrics and also the beautiful gradient dying technique he had perfected in the scarves.
Over tea, he explained his natural indigo dyeing process, from fermentation which can take about two weeks to the dyeing of the material. Depending on the depth of colour required an item must be dipped and then sun-dried between 20 and 50 times, a process that can take months. Chemical based indigo preparation can take less than one hour with only one dipping. The richness of the colour that I couldn’t take my eyes off, is due to the natural indigo and natural fermentation process. I also learnt that natural Japanese indigo keeps its colour for over 100’s of years. I was a little sceptical until I was shown a truly vintage garment with its’ indigo colour still remarkably deep.
I was also unaware that natural fermented indigo dyed cloth offers protection from mosquitos and has antibacterial qualities. Hence worn by Japanese labourers and samurai warriors.
With conversations about the impact of chemical dyes at the forefront – natural dyes, wellness benefits and new innovations are definitely going to be part of our new fashion future. For now, a few pics of some of my indigo finds, including the fabric from Aizenkobo workshop.