Recently I was invited by my friend Saiful Nurudin to visit his family’s indigo production in the small kampung of Jlamprng Wetan about 10 kilometers from Ambarawa. It was a fascinating and educational 4 days during which I observed each step of the process from harvest to finished product. Here are some photos to illustrate the process.
This is Saiful (“Iful”). He’s an affable fellow, very knowledgeable and generous in sharing it. Iful is seen here in one of his family’s indigo fields about to begin the harvesting.
Iful’s father started the business about 8 years ago and has since become one of the experts in the area. Iful helps out with the production but spends most of his time developing the other aspects of the family business: coloring by contract for other textile producers, and designing and producing his own line of indigo-dyed textiles. Some of you are probably familiar with the work Iful has produced for The Language of Cloth:
Scarf, batik tulis leaf pattern on cotton.
Scarf, detail, sekar jagad motif, batik tulis, indigo-dyed cotton.
The landscape is serenely verdant, and every square meter is used for growing something.
A day begins with a mandi in one of the constantly flowing springs that provide public bathing places throughout the landscape.
The landscape is lush and green and quiet, except for the sounds of nature. It’s cool at night and moderate during the day. For me it was a great relief from the heat of Yogyakarta. There are coffee and rubber plantations up and down the mountainsides, and of course here and there you will see indigofera tinctoria.
Iful is studying marketing at a local college in Ambarawa and has his heart set on building up the business to the point where he can have a separate workshop for dyeing and textile production. Now his family shares their home with every aspect of production. He chose the word, “tinctori” as his brand name.
Iful cuts the strings tying the resist for the shibori on ulap doyo, a fiber grown and hand woven by the Dayak Benuaq tribe in Tanjung Isui, east Kalimantan. It is work commissioned by Rumah Rakuji http://www.rumahrakuji.com/
The cloth will be immersed in hot water from a few minutes to release the wrinkle before drying and ironing. Later it will be sewn into pillows by Rumah Rakuji.
A batik artisan applies the wax for a scarf on kimono silk for The Language of Cloth.
The family living room makes a cramped space for every aspect of the business: drawing, waxing, tying, and cutting.
An order from a customer specializing in handwoven — from Kalimantan. Iful does the shibori and dyes the cloth in indigo and sends the prepared cloth to the designer for sewing into pillow covers.
Iful’s brother in law, Nur Rohim specializes in dyeing a range of natural dye colors besides indigo.
Bundles of indigo plants dug from the germinating field, to be transported to fields in the area where they will grow into mature plants for harvesting.
Indigo plants can be harvested up t0 4 times, each time cutting them about 12-16 inches from the ground.
Hanging some itajime shibori samples to dry.
These are the woven—from Kalimantan after they were untied and boiled.
The cutting begins.
This is the third time these plants have been harvested. They will sprout new growth from below the cut to be harvested one more time in a few months.
Iful’s family has enough planted in the area to be able to harvest 3-4 times each month.
The entire plant is used in the process, as the stems contain as much indicin, the active component that produces the blue color, as the leaves.
The harvest is carefully weighed, bundle by bundle, so that the correct ratio of water and lime can be calculated for processing.
The load of freshly cut indigo is tied down for the trip back home for processing.
The process cannot wait. The indigo must be hurried along into the fermentation vats before they start to decompose in the sun.
Every member of the family participates in the process. Here Nur Asonah, Iful’s mother, carries a heavy load from the truck to the processing tanks at the side of the house.
Iful’s father, Mohammad Muhdi supervises every step. He knows intuitively how much water is needed in each of three tanks, and how much indigo can be loaded into each.
Each of three tanks can hold 250 to 300 kg of indigo plants.
Each tank is carefully packed by Pak Moahammad.
When the right amount has been stacked in the tank, a grate of bamboo is put on top to hold it down under the water to be added.
Blocks of wood are wedged between the bamboo grates and the secured bamboo poles.
Next the tanks are filled with water.
The indigo will be left to soak in the water for 48 hours.
Each of three tanks is carefully packed with indigo and secured with the bamboo grates, and filled with water.
The next morning after only about 12 hours, the water is bubbling with activity and has turned green.
The family can go about all the other aspects of the business in this down time of waiting for the indigo to do its magic.
The water gradually becomes greener and more active in bubbling.
By the end of the second day bubbles are appearing blue and Pak Mohammad knows it is time to continue to the next step.
The grates are lifted out and the indigo rises to the top. He removes it from the water. By this time the smell indicates that there is definitely some fermentation happening.
Meanwhile Bur Nur Asonah prepares the lime by mixing it with water and straining the mixture. even though it rained that day, the indigo cannot be made to wait or it will be ruined.
The lime liquid is added to the tanks one by one.
almost immediately the water turns from yellow green to blue as the lime is added.
The water is then oxygenated for about 20 minutes until it is frothing with beautiful blue bubbles.
This is now the indigo liquid. The solid indigo will settle to the bottom overnight, leaving a clear brownish liquid to be drained off.
Notice that there are two spouts exiting the tanks, one about 10 centimeters higher than the other. The upper one is to drain the waste water off. The bottom one will be used to drain off the indigo liquid.
After the water has been drained there is a thick liquid indigo material at the bottom. Each 100 Kilograms of indigo plant yields approximately 5 Kilograms of indigo paste.
The blue of fresh indigo is intensely vibrant. There is no other blue in the world like it.
Pak Mohammad drains two of the three tanks into the third, from which the indigo liquid will be drained.
The thick indigo liquid is drained from the lower holes and strained.
It is then poured into a tank with a sand bottom covered with filtering cloth.
Water slowly seeps out of the thick liquid leaving the finished product, a thick indigo paste.
Here Iful is preparing a vat with handfuls of indigo paste “pasta indigo” as it is called here in Java.
Tintori is one of several growers and suppliers in the Ambarawa area. Tinctori indigo is very much in demand, especially now with so much interest in natural dyes throughout Indonesia.
Seeds drying for the next generation.
Pak Mohammad Muhdi and Ibu Nur Asonah welcomed me into their home very graciously, accepting me as family and sharing their hospitality and knowledge generously. I am grateful for their kindness.
Tinctori can be reached at
Facebook: Saiful Nurrudin
This is one of Iful’s recent scarf designs combining batik with shibori.