Indigo fabric is a remnant of the last product of a chapter of English textile history. Dyed and discharge printed in Manchester for 140 years, it was manufactured for export only to the South African market.
In the early days of sea travel, the journey to Africa took a long time and during the trip the natural starches in the compressed fabric resulted in a very stiff material being offered for sale. The Africans liked the starched English fabric (the starch and dye giving a beautiful blue gloss to their skin) and it came to be recognized as a sign of quality. Red and brown fabrics were also popular.
Sarah Sang, June 2018
Modern Products Replace Indigo Fabric
As the journey time grew shorter as transport improved, the English mill owners found it necessary to starch the fabric before it was shipped so that the imported material always appeared the same. Unfortunately, as with all trade, there came a time when more modern products started to replace the indigo fabric and so one by one the mills ceased to manufacture this particular cloth. Eventually, all production ceased and the last mill transferred its plant and processes to the African continent.
The blue indigo fabric is considered high quality material that is worth its weight in gold in today’s market. It is highly sought after for quilting material.
The indigo fabrics are known for originally from coming from South Africa. The fabric pictured below is the 1860s fabric that was manufactured and woven in Manchester, England and it was sent to South Africa to be dyed by the those that worked in the mills. The brown indigos were only developed during the late 1800s. The navy blue indigo fabric that appears almost black was developed through the late 1830s.
Renell Moore is the creator of Texas Vintage Shopper: An Online Comprehensive Texas Antique/Vintage Shop and Event directory featuring more than 780 shops. She has a masters in communication science, speech-language pathology from Texas Woman’s University and a double major in journalism and English from the University of Texas Permian Basin.