Words by Thomas Bird
The use of indigo in Japan grew during the Edo period (1603-1868) when the commoners were forbidden from wearing silk. Indigo is a natural dye that comes from a variety of plants, most notably Dyer’s knotweed also known as Japanese indigo. With the general population banned from wearing silk, cotton production increased and it was indigo’s ability to dye cotton well that made it so popular across Japan.
The traditional process has remained the same for centuries. The leaves are harvested and dried in the sun. During this stage the blue nature of the leaves start to appear. Once they have been dried the leaves are fermented, where the leaves are moistened, turned and tended to every three days in a process called sukumo. The traditional plant dye is both anti bacterial, flame retardant, and is dirt repelling, useful qualities for both the working and warrior classes of Japan. Samurai wore indigo underneath their armour to prevent infections in wounds.
The influence of indigo lives on and is synonymous with the Japanese archipelago with the traditional craft of fermenting the dye continues on Shikoku island.