My only critique of the indigo dyeing class that I took this past Saturday was that the soundtrack to the class was not Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”, which I am listening to now as I write this. Otherwise, my class at Buaisou Brooklyn was perfect.
Even if you aren’t familiar with natural dyes, chances are you know indigo. It is the original source of the color of your denim. It can be found across cultures and regions of the world. But the truth today is that most of the indigo color that we see is from synthetic (petroleum-based) indigo dye, which was invented just to keep up with our insatiable demand for the deep blue hue.
Indigo is a pretty special plant. While I mistakenly thought it was the root that is used for the dye, it’s actually the leaves, which are fermented. Unlike other natural dyes, indigo also requires no mordant, i.e. a substance added to fix the dye so it doesn’t come out in the wash. It’s no wonder that there is a unique culture that surrounds this plant and its age-old history.
Buaisou is a relative newcomer in the indigo world, created to preserve the indigo culture in Japan and its historic cultivation on an island in the south of the archipelago. They now own a farm in a region that used to be overflowing with indigo farmers, and they travel the world leading dyeing workshops.
In Brooklyn, though, workshops are available weekly, and I joined one after my boyfriend signed us up (he’s awesome like that). Even with a pizza-induced food coma from nearby Roberta’s, the class was so much fun. After a brief intro, each student is given two pieces of plain cloth to dye and total artistic freedom. If that sounds intimidating, it’s not. You literally cannot mess up, so it’s perfect for beginners and more experienced creatives. The only other choice you have to make is if you want to wear gloves when you submerge your pieces in the dye vat or whether you want the street cred of blue hands.
Natural dyes are a tricky subject when it comes to sustainability. The critics would caution that because they are natural does not mean they are organic and free from pesticides, and that devoting good farmland to cultivation of plants grown for dyeing isn’t sustainable because we need to produce food on that land to feed a growing world population. Natural dye advocates argue that natural dyestuffs can be byproducts of food production (example, onion skins and other vegetable waste) and lessen our dependence on petroleum-based dyes. Both sides have their merits.
Indigo is a special story and many of its advocates, including Buaisou, focus on cultural preservation as the art dies away with aging farmers and master dyers.
I believe that indigo production and use at this small artisan level can be sustainable and is most definitely worth saving. Perhaps you’ll try it for yourself to learn more and decide.
Check out Buasiou’s Brooklyn class schedule here. You can also check the site to see if they are hosting a workshop in your city. And as you can probably guess, their Instagram accounts are stunningly beautiful – follow @buaisou_japan and @buaisou_brooklyn.