About the Antique Rugs of the Future Project
Sheep Breeds of Azerbaijan
Shearing, Sorting, Washing, Carding, Spinning
"The advantages of handspun yarn to machine spun yarn"
Rediscovery of Ancient Natural Dyes
Our Natural Dyestuffs
Difference between synthetically and naturally dyed rugs
Weaving and Finishing Steps
Galleries of ARFP Caucasian Azerbaijani Rugs
A variety of plants have provided
indigo throughout history, but most natural indigo is obtained from those in the
genus Indigofera, which are native to the
tropics. In temperate climates indigo can also be obtained from woad (Isatis
tinctoria) and dyer's knotweed (Polygonum tinctorum).
The primary commercial indigo species in Asia was true indigo (Indigofera tinctoria, also known as Indigofera sumatrana). In Central and South America the two species Indigofera suffruticosa (Anil) and Indigofera arrecta (Natal indigo) were the most important.
The plants of the genus Indigofera produce a much stronger dye that those of the Isatis (woad) family; however, dyer’s woad is much more easily cultivated and therefore more widely used than Indigofera, which needs a tropical climate. Isatis tinctoria grows up to approximately 1.50 m(5’) in height and can be harvested three times a year.
1) INDIGOFERA TINCTORIA
Preparation of indigo dye with Indigofera tinctoria
After the field has been ploughed,
the seeds are planted at the beginning of the rainy season and are ready to
harvest in 4 months. Indigo plant is suitable to grow in areas not subject to
flooding, for example, in the back yard of the house or the area around the
shelter where cows and buffaloes are kept. The high land near the rice paddy is
also suitable for growing this indigo plant. Little care is needed for young
plants. All that is needed is to keep weeds away from the young plants until
they grow 1 foot high, and then keep the cows and buffaloes from destroying the
indigo plant before harvesting.
Four months after planting the seeds the leaves of the indigo plant start turning dark green which indicates good quality dye. The plants are cut off and made into small bundles.
The leaves are then soaked in a large earthenware jar filled with water and left to be fermented in order to convert the glycoside indican which is naturally present in the plant to the blue dye indigotin. The precipitate from the fermented leaf solution is mixed with a strong base such as lye, pressed into cakes, dried, and powdered. The powder is then mixed with various other substances to produce different shades of blue and purple.
Indigofera tinctoria in history
The name indigo comes
from the Roman term indicum, which means a product of India. This is somewhat of
a misnomer since the plant is grown in many areas of the world, including Asia,
Java, Japan, and Central America. Another ancient term for the dye is nil
from which the Arabic term for blue, al-nil, is derived. The English word
aniline comes from the same source.
An indigenous variety of indigo began to be
cultivated by Spanish overseers on the plantations of Honduras and the
Pacific slopes of Central America in the 1560s. The indigo plant was known
to early Guatemalan colonialists by the Nahuatl word xiquilite, and the dye
was known to contemporaries as “Guatemalan Indigo.” M. De Beauvais Raseau,
writing about indigo cultivation in the Eighteenth Century, stated that the
Native Americans also knew about extracting dye from the plant. They called
it “Tlauhoylimihuitl” and used it to darken their hair. It seems that indigo
production continued to increase throughout the 17th century in
the New World. The French colony of Saint Domingo eventually became the
major producer of indigo, and this dye was also of the best quality. The
English gained their first indigo-producing colony in this part of the world
in 1655 when they captured Jamaica. However, it is unclear how important New
World indigo was in the worldwide indigo market, as prices fluctuated and so
did production numbers. By 1740 sugar had replaced indigo as the main crop
of Jamaica, but, on the other hand, this was also the beginning of the
indigo boom in South Carolina.
It seems that “Guatemalan indigo” did not enjoy as high a reputation in Europe as indigo from Asian countries. In 1746, when “A Friend to Carolina” wrote his tract encouraging the cultivation of indigo in South Carolina he emphasized the necessity of establishing a superior product: “All Kinds [of indigo dyes] are better or worse, as they are neat or pure; for those who make it in America, often maliciously mix it with Sand and Dirt, but the Cheat is easily discovered; as Indigo that is fine and pure will burn like Wax, and, when burnt, the Earth or Sand will remain.” He pointed out that in the Americas indigo dye was often made with the stems and branches of the plant instead of just with the leaves. He felt that this too might be detrimental to its quality — “But one ought to have the Leisure and Patience of the Indians, to undertake such a Work [stripping the leaves], and have Workmen as cheap as they are in that Country.”
Beauvais-Raseau, L’Art de l’Indigotier. Paris: L.F. Delatour, 1770.
Raseau, who was captain
of the militia on Saint Domingo prior to 1770, discusses the history of indigo
in all the regions of the world where it could be grown. He gives various
methods that were employed for extracting the dye and then goes into greater
detail on indigo production in South and Central America. His wonderful little
book contains diagrams of the plants, the process of making indigo dye, as well
as the ideal plantation. Indigo plantations did not require much labor except
during July, August and September when the plants were cut, fermented and the
dye was extracted. Because it was thought that the Indians were particularly
susceptible to the diseases that bred around the fermentation vats, plantation
owners claimed that they did most of the field work, while Black slaves
extracted the dye. In reality, the division of labor was probably not so strict
— particularly since Black slaves were in relatively short supply and were often
more expensive to hire than the Indians.
Recipe of dyeing wool with indigo
Indigo with Urine The proportion needed is double the weight in grammes of powdered indigo to litres of urine. Indigo is stirred little by little into urine fermented for ten to fourteen days outside at a temperature of at least 24°C (75°F) in a sealed container. After another ten to fourteen days outside in the sun, with daily stirring, the indigo should have dissolved and the liquid can be used for dyeing. One generous quarter litre of the liquid added to 25 litres (5 ½ gallons) of water will dye one kilo of wool.
History of woad cultivation