Indigo plants are cultivated in neat plots on the hillsides near the houses. The
plant grows to about 60 cm high and can yield 2 crops each year. The dye is
contained in the leaves which when allowed to ferment and then oxidise produce a blue powder that is insoluble in water. This can be stored as a paste or powder. There are various ways of preparing the Indigo vat with substances that make the Indigo soluble. The urine of children, particularly boys is a common additive as well as lye, lime and rice wine. When the dye bath is bubbling strongly it is ready to use. The fabric is emersed in the dye vat and worked for about half an hour then hung up to oxidise into the distinct blue colour. Subsequent dippings and oxidations will darken the colour and the black of the Hmong fabrics is achieved by repeating the process twice a day, each day for a month.
Our trek took us through one of the Hmong villages and while I wasn't lucky enough to see any of the dyeing in action, I was taken into the home of a hemp spinner. The room was very dark and the floor was uneven, hard packed dirt. There was no electricity or running water to the house and cooking was done over a fire in the middle of the floor in the kitchen. The spinner was working on with a large wooden frame with the only lighted supplied by a hole in the thatched roof above.
The hands of a Black Hmong girl
The hands of many of the Hmong girls and women are permanently stained from the dyeing process.
Wayne having fun buying from the girls
Over the course of the three days in Sapa, I bought many Hmong textiles, mostly in the form of pillowcases and bags. I will treasure them forever remembering the hands that made them, hands that live in poverty but yet in such a rich culture.