Hi George. Can you tell us a bit about your incredible indigo farm in Guernsey?
The Bailiwick Blue farm is located at Gélé Vinery on Guernsey’s west coast, within the former Guernsey Frampton commercial greenhouse built in the 1960s. The term “viticulture” is a colloquialism originating from the commercial Guernsey grape and tomato growing industry.
Bailiwick Blue has been in residence since 2017. It was initially a small project to grow, prepare and dye with indigo for personal use, sharing the space with other creators. In 2019, the Gélé Vinery became home to Bailiwick Blue and many Persicaria Tinctoria (Japanese Indigo) plants.
Over the years, the types of dye plants have increased. Indigo grows in half of the workplace. Madder, marigold, dyer’s chamomile, coreopsis, scabiosa, sulfur cosmos and Hopi sunflowers are also part of the Bailiwick Blue growing arena.
Many natural dyers grow indigo on a small scale, but what was it like to grow it?
Scaling was a huge learning curve. Meeting the soil requirements, raising the seedlings and planting the indigo was the easy part – and he acted with excitement.
What I didn’t consider was that the environment changed because of it. I put a lot of effort into leveling the soil and it worked almost too well. The three foot bush became a thing of the past as I had a five foot indigo bush – perfectly proportioned and I wasn’t ready to process large volumes of plants. For anyone thinking of upscaling, you have space and wetting and ventilation etc.
Did you have any surprises along the way?
Colorful indigo plants: white and green and still bare pigment.
Also adopted by the most vocal and demanding Siamese cat.
Above: variegated indigo – white leaves still produce blue pigment!
With our climate in the UK, would you recommend growing ‘under cover’ if we can afford it? Does it promote better growth?
Yes, definitely to both. Although indigo grows fairly outdoors in England, like most plants, a warm environment helps it grow faster. Properly cared for, a healthier plant will yield more; in the case of indigo, this means more leaves.
Persicaria tinctoria is water-loving and is known to grow along river banks in the humidity of Asian summers. Therefore, growing under cover controls this element by conserving moisture. Leaves have microscopic “mouths” called stomata that absorb carbon and moisture, and so leaf nutrition is essential for almost all plants.
If you grow under cover, you should consider that it is in some ways more difficult work due to the heat. Hats, SPF, and hydration are required, and it’s best to avoid working during peak heat hours.
Are you growing new dye plants this year?
Every year I promise myself that I will maintain the current balance of indigo with other dye plants and flowers. Somehow I get caught up in the excitement of color, so with a deep breath I admit the following additions to the 2022 growing arena: vaad, indigofera, early sunrise coreopsis, and hollyhocks.
I am working on a larger volume of sulfur space and welding. The latter does not look good outdoors or indoors. The weld is tenuous at best, I discovered. Woad, as a first timer, appears to be only 6 weeks into adulthood. It is huge, grows outdoors and likes to be drenched with heavy dews every morning and sits under trellises in the high sun during the day.
How did you first become interested in indigo and natural dyes in general?
My relationship with Indigo began in the 90s when I was working for Jane and Patrick Gottelier, the founders of the Artwork brand in London. Knitwear designer Jane brought to life English fishing village knitting patterns with her collection of indigo-dyed cotton knitwear under the Geo Trowark label. The same examples can be found today in a book about Ravelry.
My love for indigo deepened while living in Japan, especially after discovering author Amy Sylvester Katoh’s Blue and White store in Tokyo. The store is an absolute source of inspiration for all things blue and white, pre-loved and new. Traditional Japanese patterns (stitched and printed) play on home furnishings, clothing, and clothing such as tenagui and furoshiki. I was a freelance window fitter at the time; my main client is Anglobal Co., the parent company of Margaret Howell, UK, Ltd. Ltd. was In my free time, I adapted traditional Japanese shopping baskets and the blue and white “Ikkanbari” homeware collection sold at Amy’s store. . Ikkanbari is the practice of repairing broken baskets with “washi” or English paper and “nori” rice paste. Using Awagami mulberry paper, ‘unryoshi’, I would paint the traditional patterns with indigo dye and then clear lacquer to protect the surface.
In 2014, I partnered with a friend who wanted to create meaningful accessories for a website we created while living in California. I discovered a natural dye Sasha Duerr and I also came across your book Botanical Color at Your Fingertips. Both led to an epiphany of ideas for using natural dyes for scarves and wraps, the need to reduce the pile of waste clothes and the need for everything to be compostable. Indigo was the most obvious color choice.
After returning to Guernsey in 2016 and a phone call Cathy Hattori is the founder of Botanical Colorsabout buying and shipping indigo, Kathy came up with the idea of literally growing Persicaria tinctoria At the Bailiwick. By buying cotton wool Maiwa and from the pigment Botanical ColorsMy visit to indigo dye has begun.
Above: Bailiwick Blue indigo pigment
What are your dreams and plans for Bailiwick Blue?
The dream is to turn the space into a learning center where people from near and far can visit to teach and learn natural dyeing techniques. In addition, it would be a foundation for the growth of botanical dyes established in our beautiful island landscape. We (I imagine I won’t be working alone until then) will continue to supply natural dyes to individuals and dyehouses, and most importantly we will get a much needed seed license – but not this year!
It is now summer and you are busy growing and extracting indigo. What does a typical day look like for you right now?
In early spring, the focus is on soil, seeding, sowing, and then planting. From May, it’s all about harvesting. I’m in the vineyard from 6:00 to 6:30, knife in hand. “Fresh is best” as they say. I cut and weigh by 9:30 to beat the heat and maintain pigment levels.
The pigment is made by rotation, so that indigo is interspersed with the collection of flowers for drying and weeding, a different type of loop between the aeration, cleaning and rinsing pigment. The day ends with the flowers being pressed into trays and shelves at home to dry.
I work from 06:30 to 21:00 most days and during peak season there really isn’t much, if any, respite. This it’s now or never scenario. Sometimes friends will step in to help, especially when the flowers are in full swing and waiting for the pigment to filter out. It gives me some social interaction, otherwise I’m mostly talking to cats and plants.
Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your work?
Working with nature is a journey – to be embraced. When I set out to manage my environment, I quickly learned that it was about not being attached; one never ends. This is a lesson in learning to go with the flow. It’s the excitement and appreciation for each product that keeps me on my journey, along with the deft satisfaction of packing the food or warm sweet lueko (pre-indigo or white indigo), honey-scented dried flowers. knowing that it’s part of my creative process for clients. Plants offer us many things: food, color, healing. I am a strong believer that nature provides exactly what we need.
I will be forever grateful Brittany Boles to create a Facebook page named Indigo Pigment Extraction Methods, a must for indigo dyers and growers. You can find solid links and information there. Indigo blue is a great place for the mind.
Thanks for the interesting conversation, George!
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