Indigo is a natural dye deeply embedded in cultures around the world. Many times as my blue hands pull cloth out of vats of indigo, I ponder the question – why do we do what we do? What can be accomplished by passing on the techniques of creating cloth and sharing stories of artisans?
Travel can offer a bridge to understanding textiles and their place in our lives. Much of my travel has focused on the cultural study of textiles, both ancient artifacts and contemporary cloth. One such trip to El Salvador stands out because I discovered the many layers of meaning that indigo can bring to a place where history, politics, and people are enveloped in the blue of indigo.
In 2007, after a long journey from Guatemala to El Salvador, my traveling group arrived at Hacienda San Juan Buena Vista and heard Grace Guirola’s personal story, one that spans generations and seemed destined for a bright blue future. Grace’s great grandparents produced and processed indigo in the distant past, but her family fled to the safety of the United States during the civil war in El Salvador (1979-92), the land taken by cooperatives during the agrarian reform. Years later she was able to buy some of her family’s land from the cooperative, return to her beloved landscape shaped by the mystique of indigo and begin a long journey of restoring her ancestral home and building a life based on indigo.
We walked the ground where she had planted two varieties of indigo, shared stories over a meal and delightfully dyed yarn in her indigo vats after dark. It was a memorable experience that resulted in a small treasure trove of dyed items to carry home. But the indigo had penetrated more than cloth, it had created a memory to carry, one more woven story in my mind.
I have been fortunate to travel many places around the world and these international experiences have completely reshaped the way I think about our global environment. The exhilarating experience of being thrown into the unpredictable miasma of a world market—be it the plaka, the souk, or the plaza—will change a person. And everywhere in these world markets there are textiles, dye plants, and the stories and memories of women.
This is what I now believe. The textiles in our lives are so much more than beautiful objects, they are woven histories that can promote understanding of culture, reveal bits of society and unravel a continuing story to share through structure, pattern and colors – including the deepest, darkest indigo blue.
This is one story, one person, one culture, one country, but stories like this are part of cultures around the world. Indigo is a powerful agent of change in many regions. Blue Alchemy: Stories of Indigo, a video by Mary Lance, delivers multiple stories that reach across continents to explore the transformative nature of a powerful natural dye – indigo – a universal color that can change the world.
Get your dye on and share your story! And by all means, share this blog on.
ClothRoads has recently added new bags, dyed in deep indigo, and made by El Salvadorian artisan group Alma de Anil.