Monthly Archives: December 2013

Indigo by Catherine McKinley



I have always been fascinated by Indigo cloth. But what fascinates me even more than the actual fabric in shades and patterns of blue, varying from clear sky to thunder clouds, is the mistique and aura surrounding anything to do with Indigo. Why does it have such a power to intrigue and mesmirize?

I have seen quite a few books on Indigo, describing the methods, techniques and patterns associated with Indigo. From Japan, through India and the Middle East to Africa and on to the Carribean. They all have beautiful photos and diagrams but none of them touched me on an emotional level the way this book has.

Catherine’s way with words is as mesmirizing as the dye itself. I picked a few of my favourite passages from the book to share with you:

And when you die-o! Cloth will go to your grave with you – we take our finest to the afterlife. But cloth itself never dies. Your children inherit it and keep you near to them. When you die, they will open your cloth box and see how you have lived! Every wedding, every birth, those who die, church occasions, new presidents, festivals, anniversaries, customary rites – each one has a cloth and your cloth will tell your story. (p41-42)

Cloth is the portage, the vehicle for the spirit on the irreversible, unsettling march from birth to the grave. (p96)

You know, there truly is life inside indigo. You have to learn a respect for that life. It depends on faith. The interaction with the dye pot is like an interaction with faith. It took me many years to understand and master this. You have a relationship with that life. These organisms – I know all their needs. I need to hear them to know what they need and then they can give me all the beautiful things that I need. You interact with the dye pot with an ultimate trust and pure heart. With indigo, I feel like someone who is honest. I feel no conflict in myself, just completeness, and I am far away from everything of the world. As much as I care for them, they adopt me. (p213-214)

Catherine McKinley

Catherine McKinley

She manages to combine things I love – Africa, cloth, words, travel – in an evocative tale of searching and discovering. Not just the story of Indigo but also her own story and how the two are entwined. Not the same, but not seperate either.

I loved reading this book. I learned so much. About cloth and its place in Africa’s history. About being a woman in Africa. And I was reminded of how cloth is one of the few constants in our life. It covers us at birth, keeps us warm and protected through life, and shrouds us in death.

INDIGO – In search of the colour that seduced the world
by Catherine McKinley
published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781408812204