A second life for the ‘blue gold’ that once brought riches to France’s southwest

blue thread

It took an American in southwest France to revive an ancient blue dye that once brought riches to the region and was so prized it was lauded in Chaucer’s poetry and used for uniforms in Napoleon’s army.

“We brought this ‘Pastel’ back into fashion,” said a proud Denise Simeon-Lambert, using the region’s old Occitan-language word for her tint that has wooed mega-designers like Dior and Chanel.

The US-born Simeon-Lambert is one of two business owners aiming to restore international acclaim to this forgotten “blue gold,” as it was dubbed for the wealth it once brought to local dyemakers. Today they draw customers as far away as Asia.

Yet it was by accident that the energetic 60-year-old, who grew up in France and married a Belgian, stumbled upon the concoction made from a plant also prized for its curative values.

The dye, from the Isatis tinctoria whose inauspicious English name is woad, fell out of general use in the 17th century when new shipping routes brought in the more concentrated and easier to produce indigo from India. This in turn was pushed aside in the last century by synthetic tints.

In 1994, Simeon-Lambert and her husband left Belgium and moved into a 15th-century tannery in Lectoure, population 3,700, in the Gers region.

Intrigued by the luminous shade of their new home’s shutters, she set about researching the blue in what “became a veritable passion”  — and quickly a family business.

Originally used in Greece, Turkey and Egypt, woad “has always fascinated,” said Simeon-Lambert. “The plant is green, the flowers are yellow and they produce a blue colouring.”

Now a widow, she runs her firm, Bleu de Lectoure, with her son and daughter and has boosted production to 600 kilogrammes (1,300 pounds) of dye each year but “is aiming for 2.5 tonnes”.

With the drive for environmentally safe products, there is “a strong demand from haute couture and the (textile) industry since this dye is non-polluting and doesn’t run,” she said.

They have also developed a line of art supplies, beauty products and textiles, and plan to open a second factory in the United States.

Dye workers


Read complete article here courtesy ArtDaily:  A second life for the ‘blue gold’ that once brought riches to France’s southwest.











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