the colour of sleep

A stormy wet day here on the west coast, the air drenched with November rain. A good day to work inside, to lay out a quilt using the indigo-dyed fabric from an October weekend with the dye vat. I’ve been thinking about how to use the finished cloth. This piece is a length of fairly coarse linen and I used a kumo technique on half of the fabric, placing small round beach stones on a series of diagonal lines. The other half I just twisted and bound with hemp string. I love the result and didn’t want to cut it.


I hoped to find a piece of deep red flannel for the back but the fabric shop in Sechelt didn’t have quite enough so I bought a brighter red instead. It’s very soft, as is the organic cotton batting I bought for the middle layer. Smoothing and arranging the layers together was very satisfying and already my hands are yearning to quilt this one. I’m not sure quite how I’ll do that. I thought maybe a grid of red sashiko stitches and who knows, maybe that’s what I’ll try. But I also have a box of shell buttons in varying sizes and I’m thinking about how they might fit into the quilting process.  Texture and intention often suggest how one should approach the actual quilting. The linen is heavy and so small stitches might be difficult to do. The flannel will be kind of slippery. And because I don’t intend this to be a bed-cover but a more decorative piece, I can get away with quilting that isn’t entirely meant for strength. Here’s a view of the layers basted together:

laid out

I love blue. I love the blues that are the result of indigo dyes. I’ve yet to get the really dark indigo that I know is possible through careful dips and oxidization periods. I used Procion dye for an early shibori quilt and yes, it’s a darker blue but somehow it’s not as moody as natural indigo. (I have a tub of woad too but haven’t yet tried it.) I’ve been reading about colour psychology and most of it seems silly to me. On indigo, for example: “It suggests fairness and integrity, being an authoritative color. Indigo has a lot to do with structure and implies a need for organization. It has to do with rules, traditions and religion.” I remember when I read Victoria Finlay’s book on colour about ten years ago that blue was one of the most expensive pigments and was reserved for moments such as painting the Virgin Mary’s robes.

I’ve read that blue is one of the best colours for restful sleep because the ganglion cells in your eyes’ retinas are sensitive to blue and associate it with calm, keeping your blood pressure low and reducing your heart rate. My bedroom walls are soft yellow but I have an indigo block-printed cover on my duvet, and in winter I make our bed with blue flannel sheets. Sometimes my sleep is restful, yes, and sometimes it’s filled with drama and extravagant adventure. So who knows. In Robert Bly’s beautiful “The Indigo Bunting” (a bird I’ve never seen though there were snow buntings where I lived in Ireland), there’s a stanza I love:

There were women in Egypt who
supported with their firmness the stars
as they revolved,
hardly aware
of the passage from night
to day and back to night.

My indigo quilt will have stars, diagonal lines of them created with stones and elastic bands resisting the dye, and maybe when it’s finished, I’ll hang it over the bed, a charm to take the sleepers below from night to day and back to night. I’d be happy to dream of those women, holding up the sky, hardly aware, which is sort of the way things work sometimes. Women, stars, the colour of sleep.

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