The photos below were taken in Sangha, a large collection of villages in the ‘Dogon country’ of Mali, the birthplace of this technique.
Traditionally the dyes are made using entirely natural ingredients. The leaves and stalks of the indigo plant are harvested and pounded into concentrated balls that are then left to dry in the sun, allowing them to be preserved for longer. To create the dye, the indigo balls are soaked in large pots of water to which a natural fixative, or mordant, is added. Sadly, due the relatively scarcity and rising price of natural indigo, synthetic dyes (imported from the UK) are increasingly mixed with the natural dye in the production of indigo cloth in Mali.
Before being added to the dye, the cloth (made from locally grown cotton) is prepared in the same manner as tie-dye, through stitching, tying or covering sections of the cloth to create the desired pattern. The cloth is then soaked in the dye, often for a whole day, and then left to dry in the sun.
The stitching and tyeing is then is removed to reveal the striking blue and white designs recognised around the world. The process of preparing and dyeing the cloth has traditionally been the domain of women in Mali and this is still very much the case today.
Donal Twomey Brenner
Traditionally patterned cloth bought in Mali