It’s summer and the indigo dye pot is alive and well, being fed by various students at the former Textile Arts Centre in Chicago. I can smell the dye pot—it’s a disagreeable odor, one like no other. Not putrid, nor sweet–somewhere in between, or not. If you’ve dyed with indigo, you know exactly what I mean.
In the adjoining room, I sit with a small stack of cotton squares, stitching, tying, wrapping and knotting each one. There wasn’t a rhyme or reason to the patterns I was creating. I just want to test out different methods of “tie-and-dye” from my stained copy of Tie and Dye As a Present Day Craft by Anne Maile (Ballantine Books, 1963)– the net result to be a bed cover, made of patch-worked squares.
All these visions come rushing forward with the whiff of indigo. And even now, many years later, I still sleep under this cover. I can stick my nose into the cloth and smell that indigo smell. It brings back the memories of each dip, the color intensifying with each return to the pot. Indigo is magical—it’s a unique vat dye that passes through several transitional colors, from blue to yellow, to green, and back to blue, providing intriguing design possibilities. (If you want to see the process in full, my fellow indigo dyer at TAC/Chicago, Dagmar Klos, shows you how to do it in Interweave’s Colorways, Fall 2011.)
My nose continues to lead me to indigo vats. When I was at the Lao Textile Museum in Vientienne it led me to the open air studio with the indigo pot doing “its thing”, being fermented–fed with organic materials and stirred. Of course, I had to purchase the cloth woven with the indigo cotton dyed in this very pot.
I don’t keep an indigo vat anymore –I count on Earthues’ (Michele Wipplinger) indigo kit to shorten the dyeing process considerably. And it’s been years since I wrapped a pole to make arashi shibori, but Catherine Ellis’s shibori sample blanks make it easy to create a patchwork pillow or blocks for a quilt. But, in some small way, I still want to stick my nose close to the vat and smell the indigo.