Vintage African Indigo Batiks — The Fabric of Life

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When my husband Tray gets home from a “picking” trip, my first question is usually, “What’s your favorite find?” Earlier this year, it was Vintage Indigo Batiks from Africa. He couldn’t stop gushing about them. And they are beautiful.

I’m a pragmatic person so I love items that have multiple purposes and indigo batiks are so inspirational. Of course, they make great shawls and wraps and are fantastic for throws. Some people like the lighter-weighted textiles for clothing and we like the heavier batiks for the throws. They bring tablescapes to life and make gorgeous tablecloths for all kinds of dishes, especially white ironstone and yellow or red Fiestaware. Many people are using batiks for pillows, bolsters and upholstery work—and it’s no wonder because the handwork on vintage indigo batiks is inspiring.

Each batik, like a quilt, tells a story that is handed down from father to son, mother to daughter. Sections of cloth are composed of individual motifs such as fish bones, little stars or hunters and each piece has its own unique tale to tell. There are some themes, like wealth and luxury, calabash flowers (a sign of prosperity), brave and fearless, yet meanings differ depending on the individual, ethnic group or region.

African Batik was originally imported in the 19th century by Dutch merchants from Indonesia where paste made from starch or mud is used as a resist instead of wax and the dye is made through a process of grinding indigo plant leaves. African batiks feature larger motifs with thicker lines and more colors than Javanese batik. The complexity of the weave, the color and the type of thread used determines the value of the fabric.

I love looking at the batiks and wondering about the families who made them and what the symbols meant to them. I like to compare the weaves and feel the different textures between my fingers. It’s interesting to look at the blues next to each other and wonder how many times each piece was dipped to get it to its perfect shade of indigo. I love that each piece is unique. I love watching customers feel the fabrics between their fingers, throw a batik over their shoulders, wrapping themselves in history. And when someone brings a gorgeous indigo batik up to the register, I wonder what stories will be told about this great, one-of-a-kind find and what memories will become enmeshed with the stories already woven into the fabric.

Simone Gers began her antiquing journey 35 years ago when she married Tray, an avid collector. They still have the first piece they bought together—a pegged farm table that was so decrepit it was behind the antique store—and they have been upcycling vintage finds ever since. The Gers own Gather A Vintage Market in Tucson, AZ, a monthly market. Simone has taught writing and literature at the college level for many years.

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