If you can’t tell by now we’re obsessed with indigo. The plant dye is a crucial aspect of our brand because of its connection to Nigerian and West African culture and because of its sustainability as a textile dye. The cotton fabric for all our products are hand dyed by master artisans at the centuries old Kofar Mata dye pits in Kano State Nigeria.
What is indigo dyeing?:
The indigo plant: Indigofera tinctoria, also called true indigo, is a species of plant from the bean family that was one of the original sources of indigo dye. It has been naturalized to tropical and temperate Asia, as well as parts of Africa, but its native habitat is unknown since it has been in cultivation worldwide for many centuries. Today most dye is synthetic, but natural dye from I. tinctoria is still available, marketed as natural coloring where it is known as tarum in Indonesia and nila in Malaysia. In Iran and areas of the former Soviet Union it is known as basma. The plant is also widely grown as a soil-improving groundcover.
True indigo is a shrub one to two meters high. It may be an annual, biennial, or perennial, depending on the climate in which it is grown. It has light green pinnate leaves and sheafs of pink or violet flowers. The plant is a legume, so it is rotated into fields to improve the soil in the same way that other legume crops such as alfalfa and beans are.
Dye is obtained from the processing of the plant's leaves. They are soaked in water and fermented in order to convert the glycoside indican 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.
Global history of indigo dyeing.
Indigo dyeing as a craft has existed in Nigeria for 500 years with dye pits in the north of Nigeria -- Zaria and Kano State -- today only the famous Kofar Mata dyeing pits of Kano has survived and has now become a tourist site. Indigo is an integral part of Northern trade history, serving as a valuable form of exchange for ancient merchants and a symbolic material for memorable occasions. The purple cotton of Kano was once famous throughout Africa’s arid Sahel belt, in the days when the Nigerian emirate was a center of trans-Saharan trade in salt and gold, rivaling the fabled riches of Timbuktu.
How we discovered indigo: Our first exploration with dyeing was on our trip to find funtua cotton in Osogbo. We dyed some fabric at the pits in Osogbo and knew instantly that we wanted indigo to be part of our textiles. In the last days of our trip to Northern Nigeria, where we explored the growing weaving of cotton in Kaduna and Funtua, we travelled to Kano to visit Kofar mata in the old city, now a tourist destination.
The tour guide, Haruna Bafar, a 7th generation master dyer, educated us on the history of the dye pits and the simple but deliberately slow indigo dyeing process -- from the six months it takes to prepare a solution for a pit, to the hand dipped dyeing processes, and the use of depleted solutions for healing purposes, Indigo is a naturally circular process that starts and returns to nature over each pits life cycle. Inspired by Haruna’s story and demonstrations, we gave him sample funtua fabric to dye in 4 shades of indigo. The results two days later were breath-taking.
Since then we have deepened our knowledge of indigo and its relationship to textiles, visiting Kano a few more times to experiment with dyeing and weaving techniques.