Nankeen Indigo Dyeing:
The Nankeen dyeing technique, dating back 3,000 years, is native to China’s Jiangsu province. Known also as Lan Yin Hua Bu (蓝印花布) and Blue Calico, it’s still practiced traditionally today in a handful of small workshops. Using hand-cut paper screens, soybean paste thickened with lime, and natural indigo dye, artisans print contemporary versions of ancient patterns on locally-grown cottons and linens.
First, a thick soy-bean paste to the fabric through a hand-cut oiled paper screen. When the soy paste has dried and hardened, the fabric is submerged in natural indigo baths. The dried paste creates a hard, protective barrier through which the indigo dye cannot pass. This is called a resist, much like wax batik. Upon oxidation, as the fabric comes out of the indigo bath and is exposed to the air, the indigo-saturated fabric gains a vibrant blue, and is set to dry in the sun. The paste is carefully scraped away to reveal crisp prints, and the cottons are laundered to remove excess dye.
Our contemporary Nankeen cottons and linens are produced by hand using natural, chemical-free indigo outside of Shanghai by family-owned workshops where generations pass down the craft. They make the perfect indigo keepsake; traditional Chinese fabrics reimagined for a contemporary way of living.
Nankeen dyeing has recently become the first textile craft nominated to China’s renown Intangible Cultural Heritage list by the Ministry of Culture, a big honor for a humble tradition.
Vintage Nankeen Indigo:
Nankeen indigo dyeing is quite similar to Japanese Katazome dyeing — most steps in the dye process are identical, with the main exception of the resist material. In Nankeen, the resist is soy paste, and in Katazome, it is rice paste. Chinese and Japanese artisans borrowed widely from one another in terms of of design and motif, as is evident in the many vintage samples we collect today.
The collection hails from north eastern China, and our aim is to select pieces that best celebrate the use of traditional motifs. Our vintage textiles could have started life as a marriage bedspread, a prized component of a dowry, or as a wrapping cloth, used for storing clothing and goods.
Typical motifs convey good luck, prosperity and health; even the simplest print is full of symbolism. Historically, Nankeen cloth has played important roles in both daily life — clothing and bedding — and in ceremonial events at birth celebrations, marriages, and funerals. Though a staple cloth for thousands of years, few vintage samples remain; burning the clothing and bedding of the deceased was customary in funeral ceremonies.
Homespun originated in the cotton-growing areas of eastern China in the 1920s, as a compliment to Nankeen dyeing. Cotton grown locally was yarn-dyed by hand with natural pigments including indigo, mulberry, madder, and chrysanthemum. Next, local people would weave the fabric by hand on narrow wooden looms in the home. Checkered, hatched, and striped motifs were most popular. Homespun fabrics were widely used as clothing, pillow cases, bedspreads, and often in tandem with Nankeen; a typical bedspread would have paired a Nankeen top and a homespun bottom. The homespuns we use in our collections are all vintage, woven during the Cultural Revolution.