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Blue Alchemy

Artisans Artists and Designers Books Historical textiles Selvedge

Indigo is a textile dye, extracted from species of the Indigofera plant which contains a chemical compound called indican. When processed in certain ways, the green leaves of the plant produce a striking blue colour. Indigo can be a temperamental dye, and special knowledge is required to produce it. Used since antiquity, for a long time it was the world's only blue dye. At the end of the 19th century, this came to a sudden end when synthetic indigo took over in commercial and industrial practices. In traditional societies it still holds a place both culturally and artistically. The indigo dye process is fascinating, when initially soaked in the dye vat, textiles are a grass green but once they emerge into the air they are transformed into vivid hues of blue. It is this seemingly magical process that Mary Lance's documentary title Blue Alchemy refers to. [caption id="attachment_19025" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Blue-Alchemy-Selvedge-Magazine-Blog3 Photo: Featured in Selvedge Issue 41 / Coastal.[/caption] Lance is an award-winning film maker, and  "Blue Alchemy: Stories of Indigo" is her first documentary related to textiles. When she first came across indigo during a lecture in New York, Lance was instantly intrigued and made a note that one day that she would make a documentary about this magical colour. In 2005 starting from Japan, she journeyed across the globe to film this feature-length documentary that unravels stories about the blue dye that has captured our imaginations for a millennia. From United Kingdom,  Nigeria India, Mexico, El Salvador, Bangladesh to the US, "I wanted to show what indigo is, how it works, its celebrated but dark history – and how it is being used today,” Lance explains. [caption id="attachment_19023" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Blue-Alchemy-Selvedge-Magazine-Blog Still from Lance's documentary Blue Alchemy: Stories of Indigo. Location: India.[/caption] We meet textile artists, makers, writers, all bound together by indigo.  From Japanese indigo compost sukumo to the the Yoruban dyeing techniques, Lance shows us how people are using indigo according to their cultural traditions. One of the experts Lance interviewed is Hiroyuki Shindo, a Japanese textile artist whose work and indigo dyeing process is featured in the documentary film. He is one of the world’s leading artists using indigo. Hiroyuki uses natural indigo, fermented with ash, lime, bran and sake, in vats sunk into an earth floor. [caption id="attachment_19027" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Blue-Alchemy-Selvedge-Magazine-Blog5 Japanese textile artist Hiroyuki Shindo's work was featured in Selvedge Issue 16 / Archive.[/caption] In her film, Lance has captured the visual beauty and sounds of the dyeing process - and striven to communicate the dignity of the people who are doing the work. “In all the places we filmed, people had an affection, even a reverence for indigo”, Lance explains. “I hope that comes across in the documentary.” [caption id="attachment_19024" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Blue-Alchemy-Selvedge-Magazine-Blog2 Still from Lance's documentary Blue Alchemy: Stories of Indigo.[/caption] Mary Lance's previous work includes “Agnes Martin: With My Back to the World” (2002) and “Diego Riviera: I Paint What I See” (1989) To find out more about her work, please visit www.newdealfilms.com. Blue Alchemy: Stories of Indigo now available through the Selvedge Artisan Emporium. Shop the documentary here. Copies for institution use also available.


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