Calm, serene, ethereal - if this was a word association game, you would instantly think of the colour blue. The hue of clear skies and pristine waters is also the colour that lies at the heart of Nila House - a space dedicated to honouring and preserving the natural dye and handloom traditions of India.
Indigo dip-dying by master dyer, Mr. Saini
We’ve seen indigo dye used in denim, and across the spectrum of homegrown design that’s seen a surge in the pandemic, but Nila House digs deeper into the textile traditions of India and the country’s relationship with the ancient use of indigo. Breaking away from its colonial legacy, the house attempts to change the perception around indigo today by focusing on its incredible properties and positioning it as a regenerative craft.
The natural dye then becomes a craft with potential for sustainable futures. Recently, the label, inspired by the upcycling Japanese Boro technique (the practice of reworking and repairing textiles through piecing, patching and stitching), launched a zero-waste product line. Cushions worth coveting, quilted blankets with the universe printed on them, smock tops that channel the lightness of being -- Nila paid its tribute to the calming quality of indigo, while making sure not a single scrap gets left behind.
Bright, beautiful and bold, the colour blue is high up on our list of pandemic priorities, and Nila House taps into this need. We speak to Anuradha Singh, head of Nila House on all things indigo. From facts and figures, to honing the hue for a new-era India, read excerpts from the interview below.
Besides the beauty of indigo blue, what attracts Nila House to the natural dye?
Traditional indigo dyeing is a regenerative craft - it not only avoids a harmful impact on the surrounding environment but it creates a positive one. The waste water from natural indigo dyeing can be used as irrigation for crops, and the nitrogen-rich plant waste is a natural fertiliser. Working with indigo, both at the grassroots among artisan clusters as well as on the design innovation front, has been a wonderful point of entry for us to deep dive into supporting sustainable farm-to-textile systems across India.
Naturally dyed indigo yarn
Indigofera suffruticosa, commonly known as Guatemalan Indigo
Indigo has been used in the Indian subcontinent for centuries. What’s the new look you bring to the ancient dye?
Natural indigo is a truly timeless dye. We have examples of indigo textiles dating back to several centuries that feel uncannily modern in their sensibility. At the Nila studio, we use indigo as the foundational tool for experimentation - from shibori to even dyeing paper for our line of stationary. What’s something really interesting that people don’t know about the dye? Beyond being a breathtakingly beautiful dye, indigo also carries healing properties - it is a wonderful insect repellent and is soothing for the skin!
Indigo dyed paper for stationery
The slowcraft of Shibori
What are some common mistakes we make when buying indigo dyed products?
People often glaze over the detail of whether or not natural indigo has been used. Because of the complexity of the process, natural indigo products are often more expensive; the less discerning customer might choose to ignore the provenance of their indigo product. Synthetic indigo simply does not carry the richness and the essence of holistic well being that natural indigo does, not to mention the environmental consequences of synthetic dyes.
Shop the brand here.