PaperCity Magazine

Round Top_June 2021

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Page 36 of 83

BY RAINEY KNUDSON. PHOTOGRAPHY LISA PETROLE AND THOM JACKSON. ART DIRECTION MICHELLE AVIÑA. As we traipse through barns and fields during the thrice-annual antiques show, something always catches the eye — over and over. This season, it's indigo-dyed textiles, both vintage and new versions reviving the use of natural indigo. O f all the places in the world, Europe got indigo last. Indigo plants are indigenous to Asia and South America, where the blue dye has been used for millennia; a 6,000-year-old textile dyed with indigo — the oldest known example — was recently discovered in Peru. Like lapis lazuli for paint and cobalt for glass and ceramics, the blue of indigo initially came to Europe via the Silk Road, and it occupied a similar rarefied place in the European imagination. For centuries, indigo was so precious and costly that it was referred to as "blue gold" and reserved for the most luxurious uses. By contrast, in Japan and South America, indigo-dyed cotton was widely loved by workers, who used it to make the clothes that would eventually become the inspiration for blue jeans. In the 1880s, synthetic indigo was developed in Germany, which resulted in the decline of indigo plantations. Almost all indigo used today — more than 40,000 tons annually — is this chemical indigo. But synthetic indigo comes at an environmental cost, and in recent decades, artisans and growers are working to revive the use of more sustainable, natural indigo dyes. The textiles made from these dyes use centuries-old techniques and are valued for their organic, handmade quality. Using natural indigo is a specialized art that involves submersing a fabric into a vat of dye and exposing it to the air to fix the color, where the initial yellowish green oxidizes into blue. If the blue tint is too pale, the operation is repeated until the desired blue is achieved. Traditional vats in India are holes in the ground 10 to 15 feet deep. These ground-level pools are used the world over for natural indigo dye. In Japan, they're called "hell vats" for their bubbling, greenish color. Designer Courtney Barton — whose shop in Round Top sells carries ethically sourced textiles from around the world, including yarn-dyed indigo textiles from West Africa — likens the repetitive use of indigo to a darkroom, where photographers control the desired level of coloration. Barton works directly with small-scale Indian textile shops to produce her block-printed blankets, as well as fabric for her pillows, which are sewn in Houston and Louisiana. "In the last two years, I've seen way more interest in indigo than when I started my business 10 years ago," she says. "Indigo is an easy way for people who are color- shy to get a globally influenced look in their home. People love the striped West African indigoes and use them on tabletops, as a sarong or even framed." Textile designer Mili Suleman, who owns Kufri in Dallas and shows at The Halles in Round Top, loves indigo for her geometric and striped textiles woven in India, including her best-selling Karuso design. This summer, Suleman will release a new collection in collaboration with L.A.- based Commune Design featuring natural fibers (cotton, linen, wool, and silk combos); three of the fabrics are indigo. Suleman and Barton emphasize sustainability in the artisans they work with, both in terms of natural dyes and fair wages. The traditional methods used in their textiles connect to craft and nature, as does the timeless, irresistible deep blue of natural indigo, with its echoes of sky and sea. Opposite page and left: Beautiful examples of indigo textiles from Courtney Barton, Round Top and Houston; Kufri, The Halles at Round Top and Dallas; Richard Schmidt Jewelry, Round Top and La Grange; Carol Piper Rugs, Houston and Dallas. Models kneeling on Courtney Barton indigo pillows, $240 each.

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