Inspired by Indigo






While recently visiting the Cotton: Global Threads exhibition, I saw more indigo in one place than I've ever noticed before. It inspired me to find out more about this seemingly African textile tradition. I came to discover it's multi-continental history. 


Indigo dye is derived from the Indigofera plant family. The leaves are boiled and then fermented to create the dye. It is one of the oldest dyes to be used for colouring textiles. In Asian countries such as China, India and Japan, indigo has been used, particular to dye silk, for centuries. Ancient civilisations across the Mediterranean, Africa, the Middle East and South America are known to have used indigo dye. Across West Africa, throughout the ages, indigo-dyed garments have signified wealth. 

(Sources: Indigo Arts & Wikipedia)  

Examples in images above:

  • Length of stencilled 'adire eleko' from mid-20th century Nigeria. According to the Whitworth, it is "possibly an African copy of a design first produced in Manchester for the African export market", hence the decorative "Manchester" text.
  • 'Djiguibombo' blanket by Aboubakar Fofana.
  • Niké Okundaye and Ebetola (her great grandmother) 'Adire' quilt. Hand-painted 'adire eleko', indigo-dyed and quilted cotton. A leading contemporary textile artist from West Africa, Niké was taught traditional 'adire' techniques by her grandmother, Ebetola. Check out Niké's Centre for Arts and Culture in Oshogbo, Nigeria.
  • Les Arbres a Bleus by Aboubakar Fofana. Fofana is committed to preserving and renewing Mali's cultural heritage through spinning, weaving and dyeing local cotton using organic methods. It is a practice of resistance to the processes and effects of mass production and globalisation. Among the Bambara, the tree is a sacred symbol, linking Heaven and Earth and a divine route to knowledge. View the trees in an actual beach context here.


Coincidentally, later that day I went window shopping in town and saw this indigo-inspired shirt by Burberry Prorsum.

Cotton: Global Threads is on until the 13th May 2012 at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester UK.

4 thoughts on “Inspired by Indigo”

  1. I think ‘adore eleko’ should be “adire eleko”. In Yoruba, adire is basically tie-and-dye. “Adire eleko” refers to adire that has hand painted designs. Sorry if this is confusing because the fabric is also called “adire”. There is an amazing website that is dedicated to adire and other indigenous African textiles, here

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