Dyeing fabrics with indigo has a long history around the world. In Ancient Egypt, the pharaoh’s boat was supposedly instantly recognizable along the Nile River. That was because of its deep purple sail, coloured with dyes from indigo plants. Indigo has also been discovered in fabric in Peru dating back 6,000 years.
Moreover, the Dutch tried planting indigo in Taiwan as a colonizer during the 17th century with the hope of bringing it back to the Netherlands. And in recent years, this natural dye has made an amazing comeback in fabrics and even visual art in Taiwan.
“Everything is supplied so they just show up,” Yamamoto tells Pancouver over Zoom. “On Saturday, it’s set up in the park. On Sunday, it’s in the studio.”
She offers small samples of fabrics for people to dye. She also has a bucket and walks them through the process. Workshop attendees are also welcome to bring along their own articles of clothing to be dyed. However, Yamamoto emphasizes that it’s not possible to use natural indigo on synthetic fibres.
“Silk is probably the best,” she advises. “It just seems to absorb it. It really retains a vibrant sheen.”
The use of natural indigo dyes has a long history in Japan. According to Yamamoto, people would initially soak these dyes into textiles for utilitarian purposes.
“A lot of farmers would use it to dye their clothes because it has a natural repellant for insects,” she says. “Also, apparently, it extends the longevity of the fabric.”
Fabrics remain in indigo for at least 15 minutes
Indigo comes from a variety of plants. Yamamoto became interested in the dyeing process while studying for a fine arts degree several years ago from the Alberta College of Art and Design (now called Alberta University of the Arts). After graduating, she began doing leatherwork. About six years ago, she began offering workshops on dyeing fabrics with indigo.
She says that a fabric must remain in the dye for a minimum of 15 minutes. And it can stay there for a longer period of time to achieve a darker colour.
“You have to let it air out, ideally for a week, but it could be shorter,” Yamamoto adds. “Then you would rinse it and then it’s permanent.”
She shares the same name as former North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA named Naomi Yamamoto, which occasionally creates confusion. In fact, they’ve never met.
This is the third year that the artist Naomi Yamamoto will offer workshops at the Create! Arts Festival. In the past, she’s also participated in the Powell Street Festival, which celebrates the history and culture of Japanese Canadians.
Yamamoto named her company Flight Path Designs.
“I came up with the logo first,” she says. “It’s a bird that’s flying away from this chain. I was thinking of that imagery.”
The third annual Create! Arts Festival takes place in Strathcona Park (857 Malkin Avenue) and in various studios in East Vancouver on July 23 aand 24. See the schedule online. Follow Flight Path Designs on Instagram @flightpath. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.