In Steinberg in Burgenland, half an hour's drive south of Eisenstadt, you'll find a long white house with dark blue window shutters and doors. As you step over the threshold you breathe in the ancient, earthy smell of the Küpe, a coloring bath in which indigo, a dye named after a tropical bush in India, is dissolved with water and lime.
In stone vats sunk into the ground, this solution shimmers with a mysterious blue-black surface; under it lies a bright yellow and a green layer. The typical blue color only develops after contact with oxygen in the air. When the fabric is dunked into the solution, the pattern has already been applied, because indigo printing is a form of negative printing.
As unfathomable as the surface of the color bath seems, equally impenetrable are the recipes which are passed down the family for generations. One secret is the solution in the coloring bath and the other is the color-repellent sticky bright turquoise paste which imparts the pattern on the fabric once applied with hand blocks or a hand operated roller. Along with gum arabic, color pigments, alumina and water, there are a host of secret ingredients, which ensure the success of the printing process. Only where the fabric has been sealed with paste, which is washed off after dyeing, the pattern appears in white - in all its fine details and in stark contrast to the indigo background.
The Koó family works respectfully with their equipment, some of it 200 years old, to combine old handcraft techniques with bold new applications. While in Burgenland you can purchase Blaudruckerei Koó products at Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt.
The Koó family also cooperates with artists and fashion designers to experiment with fabrics such as silk, wool and linen. And they burst with pride, when e.g. the Japanese-Austrian design partnership Rosa Mosa produced a leather shoe collection decorated with their indigo print for New York and Tokyo.
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