Author: Karen Hampton

September is New York Textile Month! In celebration, members of the Textile Society of America will author Object of the Day for the month. A non-profit professional organization of scholars, educators, and artists in the field of textiles, TSA provides an international forum for the exchange and dissemination of information about textiles worldwide.

The earliest dated indigo-dyed cloth was made during the Bronze Age. Archeologists have found mummy cloth dating back to 2400 BCE in Mesopotamia near Turkey. In Japan, the use of Polygonum tinctoria indigo has been dated to the 10th century, while in Nigeria dye pits used exclusively for Indigofera tinctoria have been in continuous use for 500 years.

The Nigerian wrapper is composed of manufactured cloth that has been hand dyed in an indigo vat using both tie-dye and stitch-resist techniques to create the pattern. The wrapper was worn most probably as a skirt and tied without any construction. The early 1900’s were a transitional period for textiles in West Africa, a time when weaving was transitioning from the village to the factory. During the previous century wrappers would have been woven and dyed in the village.

Rain Cloak (kappa) (Japan), 1850–60; cotton (recycled fiber); H x W: 93 × 344.2 cm (36 5/8 in. × 11 ft. 3 1/2 in.); Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund; 2009-36-1

Today we see a brilliant resurgence of indigo taking place throughout the world inspired by Japanese shibori and other resist techniques. At the same time, we are watching the culture surrounding the oldest dye vats in the world, located in Kano, Nigeria, disappearing. Of the 120 indigo vats still available in Kano, only 30 are in use today and with it a culture is disappearing.

Prof. Karen Hampton’s background is in weaving and dyeing. She is a conceptual artist currently serving as Designer in Residence at Michigan State University in Critical Race Issues with a focus on Textile Design.

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