China, Indigo, Textiles, and Eventually, a Book

I’ve been told by a revered marketing guru that it’s not a good idea to write about a book a year and a half before it’s published, and before it even has a title. So I’m not going to write about that book which has no name. But I must share a slice of the process that will go into making it.
(Well, just a little bit about the book: it involves a creative collusion between rural China and the New York fashion world. It’s about using handmade, hand-dyed cloth to create upper-end runway styles. It’s about sustainability—of venerable traditional lifestyles and of the environment. That’s all I’m going to say for now.)

Making this book has involved a trip to rural China with the author, Angel Chang and photographer Joe Coca. We spent most of our time in Guizhou, an ethnic minority province in the southwest part of the country where the mountains are lush and peaky, and the people—Miao and Dong—are down-to-earth and welcoming. (Well, except that they call Westerners, who are few and far between, Big Noses. I’m sure they have their reasons.)
We saw, touched, and reveled in exquisite handspun, handwoven, natural-dyed fabrics, mostly cotton, mostly dyed with indigo, embellished with embroidery so fine it defies the naked eye, or with carefully-wrought wax resist motifs. We marveled at the elegant finishes of many of these fabrics, accomplished by dyeing with indigo, permeating with some manner of protein (pig’s blood or egg white in many cases) and burnishing to a high gloss with interminable pounding. But right now, since I’m jumping the gun, I’ll just show you some of the sights we saw in the tiny village of Matang, an hour’s bumpy ride from the city of Kaili. Just look.

Matang is known as a center for wax-resist fabrics. This community gathering place has a museum of sorts, fabrics for sale, and a work room.


This woman is a master wax artist. She is free-handing traditional motifs on the fabric as part of a demonstration.


These cloth samples have been painted with wax in intricate, freehand motifs and dyed in an indigo vat, which most households seem to maintain. Next step will be to boil the cloth to remove the wax.


Here’s Joe Coca photographing the de-waxing process in the artisan’s kitchen-work room. The lighting is not optimal.  Indigo

Indigo is everywhere in Matang!


These women were enjoying some Sunday-afternoon social time, and invited us to join them. They were a merry group.  INdigo


Oh, there’s more. But you’ll just have to wait.


5 thoughts on “China, Indigo, Textiles, and Eventually, a Book

  1. Mary Anne Wise says:

    Very impressive freehand work!!! And looking at these textiles I now have a bad case of Want-Itis.
    thanks for the tease!

  2. Maren Beck says:

    The wax application tool looks to be the same as we’ve seen in Vietnam as used by the Hmong there. It is different from the styles I’ve seen in other places, including from the Hmong in Laos. Can’t wait to see the not-to-be-discussed-yet book!

  3. Linda Ligon says:

    The stove difference, I think, is that the inset is a big wok, not a flat surface. The indigo is a different species entirely: Strobilanthes cusia, and it seems to grow wild everywhere. Batik would be the Indonesian term; don’t know the Chinese word, but I think wax resist pretty well covers it. The tool is a little different from what I’ve seen in other places. It’s all quite wonderful.

  4. Deborah Chandler says:

    Wonderful, of course. What surprises me most is that except for the Chinese writing, the stove is essentially the same as rural stoves here in Guatemala. I guess if backstrap looms can be everywhere, so can that style of wood-burning stove. Clearly indigo is a local crop. You never used the word batik, but it seems at least related. Is it just a vocabulary difference? I can hardly wait for more pix and stories, even just captions!

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