Vintage African indigo comes in an endless variety of indigo blue from the super faded to nearly black. Not only do the shades of indigo vary, the patterns created from tie dye and other resist-dye techniques are endless too. As one might imagine, the skill of the artisan comes into play, but so does the region and era from which the African indigo textile originates. For the purpose of this post, I will touch briefly on the aesthetic differences so my readers might know when they come across a very unusual example of African indigo rather than a more common cloth. I hope to share some knowledge as to why some African indigo textiles cost more than others.
Photo credit: Morrissey Fabric
The first two photos seen here show examples of vintage African indigo textiles that I uncovered while shopping with an African Textile dealer known to carry uncommon pieces for the collector. Sometimes the African indigo fabrics are in relatively good condition. Even so, I always have to launder and spot clean them no matter what the price tag. It's also common that the vintage African indigo cloth requires several hours of repair work to reconnect the strips of cloth. I use 100% cotton indigo dyed thread when making any repairs to these beautiful textiles.
Photo Credit: Morrissey Fabric
The African indigo seen in this photo is very faded. This is highly desirable not only for the relaxed and calm appearance it exudes, but because it shows age. These very light African indigo textiles are out there, but more often than not, they are in rough shape. Typical they have multiple torn areas, the fringe is missing or completely frayed, and they have palm oil, grease, and dirt stains. Many people like the aged distressed look, but most don't want the vintage cloth to be soiled to the point where it has a bad odor. This is where time and expertise come into play. I've seen many salvageable African indigo pieces ruined by someone who tried to use too much bleach to clean or fade the antique textiles. Don't use bleach! Oxiclean or 24 hours of soaking in a gentle textile soap like wool light is best.
These very light vintage African indigo fabrics are rare enough that they will become more valuable with time and are therefor quite collectible. If you find one or purchase one from my shop, I would encourage you to keep it in tact for future generations to enjoy.
These graphic indigo pieces are a bit easier to find than some the other patterns out there, but they can be equally stylish. I've seen dozens if not hundreds of variations on the tie-dye technique. Interestingly, you can often tell when the artist was more skilled or perhaps just learning their technique. Sometimes the patterns flow with grace, but other times they can look clunky and not all that visually appealing. If you decide you want to add this style of African indigo to your collection, wait for one that speaks to you.
Photo credit Above and Below: MorrisseyFabric
When it comes to vintage African indigo, some of my personal favorites have involved fringe. I have restored so many pieces of African fabric that I've lost count. However I do remember many of the battles I have had to save the ultra long fringe on a vintage indigo or two, and how pleased I was to do so. After trial and error, I learned there is no shortcut. I have to tie small sections of the fringe together so it won't tangle when washed. With lengths reaching up to 18 inches long, even hand washing can cause a knotted mess. So proceed with caution if you decide to launder a fringed African indigo on your own. Of course, you can always send it to the dry cleaner.
Now that I've touched on some of the more unique pieces of vintage African indigo, check back next time when I'll post some photos of the more common but still lovely African indigo textiles.