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Indigo printing


Indigo printing revolutionised Europe’s textile industry in the 17th century, when thousands of printing works sprang up. Nowadays this handcraft is only practised by two printers, in a Burgenland workshop where everything is old except the designs. This heartens traditionalists as much as young creative talent.

In Steinberg in Burgenland, half an hour's drive south of Eisenstadt, there is 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 colouring 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 colour 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 colour bath seems, equally impenetrable are the recipes which are passed down the family for generations. One secret is the solution in the colouring bath, and the other is the colour-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, colour 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 stands out natural white in all its fine details in stark contrast to the indigo background.

The Koó family who work respectfully with their equipment, some of it 200 years old, combine old handcraft techniques with bold new applications. They export their products - double-sided print work is their speciality - to markets and museums all over the world. Thus you can purchase Blaudruckerei Koó products when at Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt for example. The Koó family inspire cooperation with young creative artists and fashion colleges, experimenting with fabrics such as silk, wool and linen. And they burst with pride, when the Japanese-Austrian design partnership named Rosa Mosa produced a shoe collection of leather decorated with their indigo print for New York and Tokyo, which sold out before it even reached the shops.

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