Growing Indigo

Growing Indigo is a project about art, agriculture and industry. It began in 2007 when Britt Browne and Robert Young started growing indigo varietals in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. Fascinated by the ideas of Black Mountain College in the 30’s and indigo farmers like Rowland and Chinami Ricketts working today, they saw modern art and the tradition of craft functioning in a way that could meet the needs of a society. 

A quick primer: Persicaria Tinctoria, or Japanese indigo, is a plant in the buckwheat family whose leaves are used to make a deep-blue dye. The color that comes from the plants is a natural dye, and is the only one that does not need a chemical mordant, or binding agent. The dye will adhere to both plant and animal fiber. The plants are resilient and varieties are grown all over the world. El Salvador is a leading exporter of natural indigo; it is also produced in great volume in Japan, where demand exceeds supply.

Indigo is the blue of thousand-year-old religious rites and our modern jeans. It’s the blue in the first American flags, once a literal currency in revolutionary symbols. Indigo has been synthetic in the industrial world for the last 200 years. While it’s one of the world’s oldest natural dyes — it’s referenced in Indian manuscripts from the 4th century B.C. — it is rarely used in commercial production today. In the U.S., some premium denim companies are using natural indigo, but it’s rare to find a commercial textile house that chooses natural indigo over a chemical dye.