indigo in americana quilts
By Patricia Belyea
VICTORIA BC Yesterday I went to a HUGE book sale put on by the local paper Times Colonist. I bought four quilting books and four books on Japan. My bill totalled $20—with a hardcover book titled “America’s Quilts and Coverlets” breaking the bank at $3.
The Quilts and Coverlets book reads like a great story with lots of pictures. The first bed coverings were hooked rugs—before rugs were ever used on the floor. Then it was lindsey-woolsey spreads—whole-cloth coverlets made of wool and stitched like a quilt. What will America’s colonists make next to cover their beds? (I’m only on page 40.)
What really excited me are references to indigo in early America: “Indigo remained the commonest color for a hundred years because it was permanent, and was available at small cost from a country store. The story of the indio dye-pot on the kitchen hearth in every household on the Atlantic coast is often repeated. It needed to be kept warm to ferment and keep its strength.”
In early June I’ll be the TA for an indigo dyeing workshop in Seattle, put on by Botanical Colors. We’ll be experimenting with five different indigo preparations. I really want to learn about indigo and how to dye fabric with it.
I have imported hundreds of bolts of yukata cotton from Japan dyed with indigo. The odd thing is that most quilters don’t want the indigo patterns. They want the newer bolts with all the vivid colors. Yet I have come to love the traditional combo of real indigo and crisp white.
FYI: There is currently an exhibit at International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, NE entitled Indigo Gives America The Blues.