The production of indigo is an alchemical process, its mysterious transformations steeped in ancient myth and magic. Indigo bearing plants grow all over the world and have been used for five millennia to dye natural animal and plant fibers a blue like the sea and the sky. Until recently, it was the only colorfast blue dye available, and even today, blue jeans are dyed with a synthetic indigo dye using the same age old process of reduction and oxidation. The fiber, immersed in a reduced yellow indigo vat, when removed, turns from a bright dandelion yellow, to a blue, which no dye in existence can match, in a matter of a few minutes. That is the “Magic of Indigo.”
For over twenty years, I have been using indigo to dye wool, silk, and cotton, and have presented lectures and demonstrations of its miraculous properties both in this country and in the Caribbean. I raise my own indigo, send seeds and instructional information all over the world to professional and amateur dyers.
When we were in Paris a few years ago, we went to see the Unicorn Tapestries housed the Musée de Cluny. The blues of the lady’s gown and the background patterns, dyed in the fifteenth century using the same basic chemical technique as modern Levi jeans, were vivid and intense, as if they had been dyed yesterday.
When I began to write this historical novel, indigo became an important aspect as its mystery and power permeated the pages of the manuscript.