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My journey with indigo by Ghazal

My interest in Indigo dyeing and shibori began at the same time and swallowed me whole before I realised. We were travelling in Rajasthan, passing through its arid villages in order to get to our destination city of Udaipur when I saw swathes of blue cotton fabric drying in the afternoon heat. It was not possible to go back then and find out more. And soon I was on track to become a journalist. After futile attempts to get into a fine art college, studying textile design or any such art oriented subject was somehow not an option.

Fast forward to 14 years in London and a chance encounter online with the magic of indigo dyeing got me experimenting. Soon with the generous help of friends like Graham Keegan and resources at Maiwa, I created my own vat. Ferrous vat works well in cold UK temperatures and so it was the most viable choice after all.

Indigo is a unique dye in so many ways. The chemical process is fascinating to watch as the fabric dipped in the green liquid turns blue before your eyes as it comes in contact with oxygen in the air. Indigo also happens to have a bigger molecule than other dyes which makes it a perfect match for resist dye techniques that developed independently in various different cultures. The indigo dye does not penetrate into folds of fabric unless it is coaxed into it.

One of the many fascinating aspects of indigo is its connection to human history and its role in some of the most spectacular moments in human culture and civilisation. Jane Balfour Paul has traced this in her book and woven the multiple strands together. To begin, indigo dyed fibres have been found in excavations of Peru, Indus valley civilisation and also ancient Egypt.

The denim we wear today has its roots in the indigo plantations cultivated by slaves captured from Africa. The slave owners used enforced labour and the knowledge of the African men and women to enrich themselves. It went on to be associated with workwear and overalls before going on to become a fashion statement. The Indian freedom movement has its earliest chapter in the indigo revolt against the atrocious tax system by the East India company levied on indigo farmers. The British colonisers forced farmers to grow indigo instead of food crops which resulted in severe food shortages in the region. I believe it is important to acknowledge and fully appreciate our collective history when we come in contact with indigo today.

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