Dong indigo gets the limelight

Today’s New York Times features an eye-popping, jaw-dropping article, “Chinese Village Keeps Alive a Tradition of Indigo Dyeing.”  The timing is sweet, because the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s exhibition “Miao Clothing and Jewelry from China” just opened, offering a firsthand look at these Miao masterpieces.


Yang Xiukui, 55, prepared fabric to be coated in an extract from cowhide to help give it a glossy sheen. Credit: Bryan Denton for The New York Times

How I envy the article’s author, Amy Qin, and what I would give for a similar chance to immerse Kim and me among those textile artists of the Dali village.

One thing I loved is how the Dong explain away an uncooperative vat, blaming bad-vat feng shui or women’s woes: periods or pregnancy. The glossy surface comes from treating the dyed fabric with cowhide extract—I had heard pig’s blood—and hours of banging away on it with a cudgel.

About this time last year, Todd and I went to China—Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu—where my eyes feasted on silks (while he discovered some unorthodox Santas).


The closest I came to Dong indigo was at Beijing’s mega market, Panjiayuan, where our friend, Max Deng, led me to these Miao women.


The Times article claims, ““You can’t buy this type of handmade cloth at the market.” On that, I beg to differ: I bought three gleaming rolls, and they’re precious to me for their raw beauty, their story and their possibility.

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