By Sarah Corbett
Blue (indigo) printing was a flourishing art form in Slovakia 50 years ago; 5 years ago the last remaining traditional artisan (Stanislav Tmka) in this ancient technique passed away aged 75.
During the 1950’s there were many artisan dyers working with indigo blue pigments and using hand printing processes to create cloth for elements of the national costume.
Economic migration to cities led to a decline in folk dress being widely worn, and the tradition was left only in rural areas, often the most isolated geographically and most likely those within linen producing regions.
The blue cloth is in fact a white cloth which is resist dyed with indigo, leaving white designs. The technique came from India in the 17th Century.
A solution called ‘Pap’ is used on printing blocks to apply designs. The basic white cloth is prepared with water, lime and soda. The fabric is then starched and the designs in Pap are applied. The pap creates a resistant area. The cloth is then immersed several times into a bath of indigo dye.
The patterns of the cloth were a language which told of the origin, values, spiritual concepts of the wearer.
The modernisation of culture and clothing has, along with the passing of the last of the artisans has marked the passing of an era. Crafts and skills such as this should wherever possible be recorded to prevent these culturally significant creative talents from fading without trace into history.
The art of preserving these cloths in Slovakia is not a simple one, many people are buried in the clothing which was made from their finest blue cloth. A woman will wear a fine textile as a christening wrap, a wedding shawl, a church going shawl and ultimately a shroud.
A persons possessions including textiles are often burned following their death, and older textiles are cut into strips and woven into rag rugs.
Many important examples of the blue cloths of Slovakia are held in Hungarian museum collections.