Finding new suppliers is definitely one of the most difficult parts of our job. Why? Because we’re picky. Really picky. Our motto is that we never want our customers to have to compromise their style or their conscience, and finding suppliers who meet our high standards in both design and ethics isn’t easy.
But, when we find a perfect new partner, it’s the best part of what we do by far. That’s how we felt when we found Living Blue, who produce our stunning new collection of indigo shibori cushions and throws. Come with me behind the scenes to find out how their beautiful shibori cloth is made – I think you’ll be amazed!
It all starts with this humble looking plant. Lots of people assume that indigo is just a particular shade of blue, they don’t realise that real indigo is completely natural. Chemical dyes have been created to mimic it, but you can’t really appreciate the true beauty of pure indigo until you see the real thing. Mother Nature really does do it best!
The wonderful thing about working with Living Blue is that it’s a co-operative, which means that the artisans themselves all own a share. Whether you’re job is to harvest the indigo plants or to embroider the cushions, everyone benefits from a share of the profits and has a say in how the project is run. For local people who have been exploited by big corporations for generations, this is incredibly empowering.
Once harvested, the leaves are crushed, mixed with water, oxidised and boiled to reduce it down to a thick, blue paste. Nothing is wasted: the foam is turned into pigment for painting, the waste water can be put back on the fields as fertiliser and the plant stems are made into compost.
The paste is spread out on shallow trays in the sun to dry. Here, in Northern Bangladesh, it doesn’t take long for the water to evaporate leaving these beautiful blue flakes, which are then crushed to a fine powder.
Isn’t the colour just amazing? I almost feel I could dive right in! Now the creative part begins. Our cushions and throws are made with khadi cotton, a locally hand-loomed cloth that’s incredibly fine and light. The cloth is stitched, pleated and bound using shibori techniques, which originated in Japan. It’s an extremely complex form of dying and it takes many years of practice to perfect the intricate patterns.
The bound cloth is then dipped into a bath of the intense indigo dye. Where the binding is tight, the dye can’t penetrate, creating a beautiful contrast of deep blue and crisp white. And now, the moment of truth…
Ta dah! The stitches are removed and as the cloth is carefully unfurled, the intricate rippled patterns are revealed.
The cloth is washed and hung out in the sun to dry, then prepared for finishing. For our indigo shibori throws, two widths of cloth are sewn together to create a large double bed sized throw, then simply hemmed. The shibori cushions are passed on to the skilled team of women who are in charge of embroidery. They use traditional kantha stitches in tiny rows up and down the cloth, just as our partners at Basha do when making our vintage sari quilts. Finally, the cushions are edged with neat blanket stitch in contrasting scarlet or citrus yellow thread.
The finished results are so stunning and I think they become even more beautiful when you appreciate all the time, skill and passion that’s gone into creating them. To the artisans at Living Blue, indigo isn’t just a colour, it represents hope, independence and a bright future… and it’s theirs. When the project started in 2005, there were just five employees, three men and two women. Today, 182 artisans own a share in Living Blue and 1,200 families in the area benefit from the revival of the indigo industry and the financial support, schooling and development funds that have come with it.
For me, I’ll never look at indigo in the same way again. I’m also incredibly proud that Joe and I are the ones to showcase Living Blue’s incredible work to Britain and help support them as they grow. If you’d like to support them too, head to the Decorator’s Notebook Shop and buy from the Living Blue collection. There are special introductory prices to enjoy too, with £10 off throws and £5 off cushions, only until 20th March. Dive in!
[Artisan and production photographs courtesy of Living Blue. Product photographs Decorator’s Notebook]