Natural Blues


The following post was written by Dr. Genevieve Hill-Thomas. She will be managing the dye vat for our first indigo dip day


Nearly ten years ago, I caught a case of the blues in Burkina Faso, West Africa. I was in the village of Safané, researching local textiles that were the topic of my dissertation. Since a child, blue had been my favorite color, so it was no mystery as to why I found indigo-dyed textiles appealing. But it wasn’t until I was in the Koné’s courtyard--watching the matron of the family elicit profound hues of blue--that I fell in love. As her hands gently circulated her textile in the dye vat, shades of neon green graced the surface. Only after fully oxidizing after three to five seconds did the cloth turn blue. It was incredible!


Obtained from plants in the genus indigofera, indigo stands apart from other natural dyes in that it doesn’t require a mordant to bond to natural fiber. Perhaps it was for this reason—in addition to the aesthetic pleasures of the hue—that it has been used around the world since time immemorial. Indeed, many cultures believe that it has healing powers—from the root of the plant, which is said to be a natural antiseptic, to the more recent studies of indigo byproducts that may be an anti-carcinogen.


Figure 1- Minata Koné dyeing cloth.  Figure 2-Products of my indigo obsession,      

in her indigo vat.                                produced in my old backyard in Memphis, TN.


It wasn’t until several years after my studies in West Africa that I attended an indigo dyeing workshop that my dear friend and masterful dyer, Melissa Petersen, ran for our local weavers guild in Memphis, TN.  It was a combination of her exacting science as well as what I had seen in West Africa that led me to start experimenting in my back yard with nothing but indigo, soda ash, yeast, and table sugar. The results were stunning, and for many months I had a living vat that dyed nearly everything I owned. (Maybe that’s a bit exaggerated…)

Thanks to Kristin at Stash, I have the opportunity to play with indigo once again. We’ll start up a vat or two on Saturday and see what success we have with it. So many factors in a new environment (St. Petersburg is new to me!) can affect the balance of the vat, so while I don’t know what results we will get, I do know that we’ll explore several dyeing techniques including dipping, tie dye, and Japanese shibori. Dyeing is the unique opportunity to color your world—come catch the blues with us at Stash!

Interested in more about the impressive global history of indigo? Pick up a copy of Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul. 


-Dr. Genevieve Hill-Thomas

Older Post Newer Post

  • Lisa F Abitz on

    Wish I knew about your Memphis experiments. St Pete is too far away. Sounds like great fun.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published