Indigo-dyed Nantong blue cloth represents a fast-disappearing traditional art form from ancient China. Indigo is the probably the most frequently used herbal dye. The Chinese have a long history of using indigo for fabric dying, and in addition indigo is also commonly used in Chinese herbal medicine.
The patterns in blue cloth are based upon hand-carved stencils. A mix of soya bean flour and slaked lime are applied through the openings of the stencil on to the 100% cotton fabric to block the dye to go through. When dry, the fabric is then dipped numerous times into the large tubs containing the indigo dye until the right color is achieved. Then, soya bean paste and lime slake are scraped off when the fabric is thoroughly sun dried, and white patterns emerge on the blue cloth.
Nantong blue cloth originated in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in Nantong, northern Jiangsu Province, where China’s modern light industry started. Textiles have since been a cornerstone of the city’s industrial economy. Mr. Wang Zhenxing, in his 70s, together with his three sons is one of the very few families in China who still employ the traditional method to make blue cloth.