Indigo Dyes in El Salvador
As one who gravitates toward a spectrum of warmth: the light of gold and fiery red and hot fuchsia, I battle with blue. Blue recedes, even as your eye tries to take it in; coy, that way, and complicated. Hard to get to know, if you ask me. And yet, we in the west say overwhelmingly that blue is our favorite color. So, I return to blue again and again to try and understand this elusive shade which doesn't so much evoke a certain feeling but rather stills them all. It doesn't excite me like zesty tangerine, but it soothes me, as I am soothed looking out over a vast deep lake mirroring boundless sky.
Blue, I have come to appreciate, in her wise, placid manner, holds everything. She embraces contradictions, ambiguities, opposites, and holds them in her depths. Which is why cultures the world over have loved the power of blue, assigning to it great spiritual powers. Calling it even the color of heaven.
Indigo is the magic medium for invoking blue, valued and cultivated the world over. India (from whom indigo got its name), China, Japan, West Africa, Indonesia, Mexico - all are centers of indigo and the rituals of vat dyeing and the marvel of green leaves oxidizing into blue cloth.
But El Salvador? I never knew that as early as 800CE, the Pipil people cultivated the indigo plant and mixed it with clay to create a blue so tough that it remains on frescoes today unfazed by weather and centuries. Archaeologists have uncovered Mesoamerican sites of ritual sacrifice where this blue covers all manner of vessel and, it is thought, the humans who lost their lives there.
I told you it was complicated.
When the Spanish arrived, they set up indigo plantations and for 300 years indigo dominated the economy until the mid-19th century when new chemical dyes took the market and the region turned to growing coffee instead.
Natural indigo and its long history almost faded entirely from the region until recently, when a group began to resurrect this practice and product and mysterious process and give meaningful work to women who have none.
Like Alba. Below left, Alba is one of the master indigo dyers for Bluetiful, with the skill of resist dyeing, creating patterns on cotton for a dramatic blue and white that is absolutely striking. Our Production Manager, Jamie, met this group on a trip to Guatemala this year, and has been hard at work with them to create not one but two of our new World Dresses. You've been so enthusiastic with the result and snatched up these chic, comfortable, and organic summer things, so that we've requested more (coming in 3-4 weeks) that you can pre-order now.
They called it Blue Gold, this color that brought such vast wealth to a region that could use a little of that gold today. Particularly the women in El Salvador who are reviving it. I wear my Maya Blue dress, and despite my warm-hued heart, I find in it a beautiful connection to this history, which is the history of all of us - complicated, mysterious, containing all. I like feeling this bluetiful. Think you will, too.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker