“LET THE BLUE SKY MEET THE BLUE SEA AND ALL IS BLUE FOR A TIME." – Moncy Barbour
Indigo is one of the oldest and most valued dyes in the world and is extracted from the leaves of the woad or indigofera plants. The word Indigo comes from the Greek term meaning “from India" where it was grown and processed for production. It is a brilliant blue hue.
Indigo was important in all things from religion, colonialism, slavery and fashion. In Christian art, the Virgin Mary is depicted in blue clothes and the Hindu god Krishna is shown in blue.
During the American Revolution, the colonies had a flourishing market in blue. Due to the damp and warm climate the indigo plants thrived in South Carolina. It was so valued at the time it actually replaced paper currency. It was referred to as “Blue Gold” due to its high-priced worth as a trading commodity. Indigo cubes were widely sought after which created an enormous call for more plantation labor. Unfortunately this resulted in the highest prices paid for slaves to meet that demand.
In 1873 Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis invented jeans. Producing large amounts of blue denim increased the need for indigo. The process for extraction was expensive and the amount required for dyeing the denim was unavailable. A synthetic equivalent was discovered and mass production was enabled.
The dye is completely colorfast and will last for centuries. Boro textiles from Japan during the 17th to 19th centuries were defined as rags. Since cloth was scarce in Japan, items of clothing would be patched and mended multiple times and would last the owner’s lifetime. The clothes would be passed down and repaired again and again. Boro fabric was a necessity of the peasants and resulted in unique indigo shaded patchwork that is highly prized and sought after today.
Currently, Indigo is part of a hot trend and is everywhere. You may see it in batik fabrics, pillows, quilted throws, duvet covers, framed artwork and clothes. It is a color steeped in history with a rich (and arguable) past that elevated it to “Blue Gold” status.