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Trip on an Indigo Island

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

Have you ever heard of vegetable dyeing? Indigo is a rare plant, capable of coloring any textile with the hues of the sky... It can be used to make ink, paints and colored powders. Follow us on a trip to "La Maison de l'Indigo" (The House of Indigo), located on the island of Marie-Galante...

La Maison de l'Indigo is located only one hour by boat from Pointe-à-Pitre, on the route des Basses. There, I met Pierre. A bit mystical, a bit dreamy, he welcomed me with a huge laugh in the workshop. When Pierre talks about indigo, you can feel that he appreciates every moment spent working with the material. And he goes back over the thread of events for us...

"Indigo is a magical plant... When you have your hands in the blue, you are happier."

History of a plant of the Antilles... and elsewhere

Indigo is a plant from South America, brought to the West Indies by the Indians. It exists in different forms in Europe, Asia and West Africa. Indigo contains bluish pigments visible on the back of its leaves.

And depending on where it grows, the variety of indigo is more or less powerful in pigments. But one thing remains invariable: in all countries, local traditions and cultures have discovered its color and used it to color beautiful fabrics.

In China, Japan, Mali, India or France, the same steps are followed: cultivating, then picking the plant, extracting its pigments through maceration, etc. The book Indigo, Périple bleu d'une créatrice textile by Catherine Legrand is the most complete document on this subject, if you are curious. You can also listen to the France Culture program on the subject, if you want to go further.

Indigo, a tradition in Marie-Galante

Marie-Galante was from the end of the XVIIth century an island in the heart of the blue gold factory. There were no less than 34 indigoteries in 1680, and their number doubled in less than 40 years! Indigo had been adopted by French decision-makers to color all the outfits of the army, the police, or even the flag of the Republic itself.

The manufacturing process consists in macerating the leaves in water for 48 to 72 hours so that the color comes off. Through a process of successive vats, the indigo goes from a liquid state to a solid paste. By leaving it to dry in the open air, it takes the form of small brilliant pebbles, easy to preserve, carrying all the potential of coloring.

Finally, to dye a fabric - and Pierre let me do the experiment - we soak it in a vat with the indigo, lime and fructose preparation to let it soak in color. The longer the fabric is soaked in the mixture, the more it soaks in color, the more the final hues will be saturated with pigments, and therefore darker. By leaving reserves of fabric well hidden behind a stopper, or folded carefully, the indigo artist can invent a pattern and express his creativity. It is by removing the fabric from the preparation that the magic happens...

A magic plant

I saw the fabric change from green to blue in contact with the air. And as soon as the first rinsing, the last

yellow pigments of the leaf are rinsed, its tints escape, leaving behind a frank and brilliant blue... But the blue of the indigo, it, lasts and colors in an indelible way the fibers of the fabric. It is perhaps for this reason, as well as because of the rarity of the blue color in the flora, that one lends to the indigo of magic powers in all the countries where it pushes... Blue is a color that inspires respect, but also fear, as evidenced by the legend of the Blue Men who terrorized their opponents (the Tuaregs). And conversely, Blue is also in the collective imagination the color par excellence of appeasement, peace of mind, serenity. It is also the favorite color of the French. And with indigo, these virtues are pushed to the extreme. For example, Pierre explains to me all the curative virtues of dipping one's hands in blue water.

"In Japan, indigo artisans live longer than other inhabitants."

So, would you like to have this little piece of history and magic in your home?


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