You know the buttery, silky heft of a favorite pair of jeans after years of wear? That’s how African indigo feels. We always keep a stack of these wonderful textiles on hand to drape over a couch or wear as a shawl—or simply to touch.
Indigo is a natural dye made from mixing leaves from one of several species of the Indigofera plant with an alkali, often ash. The result is a distinctive, rich blue dye that rivals lapis lazuli for depth. Sometimes the indigo leaves are mixed fresh, but more often they’re dried and rolled into balls the size of a fist. From the Tuaregs in the north to the Camaroonians further south, West Africans have been making indigo cloth for centuries. In many tribes, wearing a beautifully patterned indigo is a sign of wealth and a fertility blessing.
Nurturing a successful vat of indigo dye is a tricky process that some tribes have traditionally encouraged with ritual and prayer. Cloth might soak for days, be lifted repeatedly for exposure to air, then submerged again into the vat. Artisans create patterns in the indigo by tying off sections, applying wax, or even knotting twigs and pebbles in the cloth as a form of “resist” dying.
Once a cloth is dyed, artisans might beat the fabric with wooden paddles to glaze its surface. In some tribes, fresh indigo is applied to the finished cloth so that it will purposely rub off on the wearer’s skin, showing the community that the wearer is prosperous enough to own a new indigo cloth.
Besides the dye, the cotton fabric used for dying is marvelous, too—thick and often hand-loomed. Many of our African indigo cloths are made of four or five long strips handsewn to create a panel the perfect width for draping over your legs for a nap.
Our customers inspire us with how creative they are with African indigo. Besides using the panels as throws or to make pillow covers, try clipping curtains rings to the top for a window covering. Reupholster a Victorian side chair in an arrow-patterned indigo. Line your favorite coat in vintage indigo so you revel in its texture each time you slip an arm down a sleeve.
However you use your African indigo, please stop by and show us a photo!