Aug 17, 2011 2
In the first of our new series of author interviews we spoke to Jenny Balfour-Paul, author, artist and intrepid traveller, about her new book Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans, the organic dye revolution and the differences between writing and film-making.
How did you first become involved in the study of Indigo?
I always loved textiles and colours, especially after travelling around India in my late teens. When living in the Arab world in my early twenties I became fascinated by local textile skills and learnt weaving and batik. Back in UK, and by this time a practicing batik artist and teacher, I worked with the late Susan Bosence, renowned block-printer and dyer. She was passionate about indigo dyeing and encouraged me to return to Yemen in 1983 when I told her its age-old indigo traditions were on the verge of collapse. (I had visited the country earlier that year with my husband when he was organizing a conference on Yemen for Exeter University’s Arabic dept). A first field trip to Yemen led to many more such studies all over the Arab world, resulting in a PhD (later published) at Exeter University called ‘Indigo in the Arab World’ and then to research worldwide for ‘Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans’.
How have developments in the last ten years changed the way we should look at natural dyes? Is the study of indigo more or less relevant to the world today?
It is far more relevant today. The importance of sustainability is obvious because over-consumption is affecting us all – humans, animals and the whole planet. The textile and fashion industries are enormous and cause huge amounts of pollution and waste. Dyes form a large part of this. Synthetic indigo is made from toxic ingredients whereas natural indigo from plants is non- toxic, enriches the soil, and in hotter climates indigo can be farmed in rotation with other crops, or on waste land. It also provides employment in rural regions.