Momma & Me: Indigo Blues & Slow Stitching

Detail quilt top #3

Sunday was my birthday and I had a writing assignment in my Loft Literary Center class to write a 26 sentence story.  I had never heard of such a thing but the idea is to begin each sentence with the letters in the alphabet, i.e. A, B, C etc.  The hardest for me was “X”, and I spend several days reading the dictionary for a descriptive word associated with my story beginning with the letter “X”.  I used artistic license to make it work.  This story is my birthday present from my Momma in heaven, whose guidance and inspiration remains with me everyday.

As the warm yellow light streaked across the dark cold blue colored sky at daybreak, Momma and I were already outside gathering our garden shears to harvest indigo plants.

Before the late morning sun of the Autumn Equinox could capture the moisture from the indigo, we needed to immerse the tender plants into a simmering pot of water.

Contentnea Creek clay had been pulled from the riverbanks like thick nasal snot to make pots for indigo dyeing in Eastern North Carolina since my great-grandmother learned natural dyeing from her grandmother.

Dawn was bursting forth like Sheman’s March to the Sea, when Momma prompted me to stop sky gazing and move faster to gather the indigo she was cutting.

Each velvety bushy plant was cut about six or eight inches from the black sandy soil made famous from growing tobacco.

Flowering plants wore crowns of dark pink petals that were left to seed for next years crop.

Green indigo plants have a pungent earthy smell that reminds me of damp earth after a summer afternoon rain.

Hot water was simmering up wisps of steam when we returned from the dye garden with my red wagon full of freshly cut complementary colored green plants.

Indigo is the only natural source of blue dye and one of the oldest dyestuffs in the world.

Judiciously, Momma quickly placed the limp plants in the simmering water, while gently pushing the indigo cuttings under with a tobacco stick.

Kindling needed to be added to the smoldering fire under the round bottom pot to keep the temperature constant.

Lovingly, Momma instructed me on how to place the dry brittle Dogwood tree twigs around the fire pot.

Momma stated to sing “You Don’t Know What Love Is Until You Know The Meaning Of The Blues” in a soft painfully sweet but sultry voice that dripped of molasses on a hot Southern day.

Now it was her turn to pass the accumulated knowledge that comes from growing up and living the Chitlin’ Circuit Blues from our grandmothers and great-grandmothers to me.

“Oh!” Momma abruptly shouted in the middle of her singing. “That’s enough heat.” “Now we let the pot slowly simmer until it sings blue gray bursts of bubbles.”

People always ask why I love indigo dyeing, and I never know how to answer.

“Quilting!” is the true response but cutting up and stitching pieces of blue cloth into a quilt when your life is in pieces doesn’t make sense to most people.

Remote rural living more than anything helped the women in my family hold fast to the tradition of indigo dyeing cloth to make quilts.

Several generations of my great-grandmothers, washed and ironed laundry and were paid in trade cloth instead of money.

The story goes that Rainy Summer needed cash money, so she dyed strips of cloth using indigo, made a loom from two smooth tree limbs, warped it with peanut twine and wove the strips into rag rugs to trade and sell.

Unexpectedly, the indigo dyed strips of cloth were available to be stitched into blankets of multiple layers and quilted with tobacco twine during the Great Blizzard of 1899 as the hawkish wind roared through my family’s tin roof wooden Shot Gun house so loud it sounded like a group of children screaming.

Vivid indigo blues became part of the story of my family that expressed our sorrow, love, joy, heartbreak and daily struggles.

Winter nights became warm and cozy with baskets overflowing with strips and pieces of indigo dyed and over dyed cloth collected and recycled from every available scrap.

Xenic acid is what makes the fermentation process possible when the wet yellow-green indigo dyed cloth comes out of the dye pot, oxides and turns blue while you gasp in amazement.

Yesterday was my second birthday celebration since my sweet Momma died, and remembering the times we shared dyeing cloth, stitching, singing and sharing stories brought the twisted knot of grief to my broken heart and happy tears to my eyes.

Zealously, I cherish my memories as I continue my journey creating indigo blues and slow stitching while singing the Blues.







Published by Carola Jones, Artist

Indigenous Artist, Writer, Designer | Internet Techie | Pow Wow Dancer | Lover of Dyeing Cloth Especially With Indigo, Madder & Marigold | 4th Generation Hand Embroidery & Sewing Enthusiastic | Working Traveler | NC Toisnot & Mattamuskeet Tuscarora & FL Seminole | Algonquin Gullah Mixed Blood

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