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Hungarian blue-dye fabric (kekfestes)

Blocks used to print blue-dye fabric

A popular form of Hungarian folk art, blue-dye (kekfestes), or resist indigo dyed fabric, is also a very specialized craft with only a handful of workshops still in operation.  Blue-dyeing was originally brought to Hungary by German immigrants who came to resettle the southwestern parts of the country after the Ottoman occupation ended.  Today this fabric is popular for use in clothing and for quilting and other crafts.

One of the blue-dye workshops still in operation in Hungary is run by the family of Master Artisan Janos Sardi in Nagynyarad, a village in southwestern Hungary.  Located near the city of Pecs, Nagynyarad is one of many villages in the area that still has a distinctive German character.  It is only the older residents who speak the Schwabian dialect of German as a native language, but German is commonly spoken as a second language by people of all ages and close cultural ties are maintained with Germany. 

The blue-dye workshop, which is attached to Mr. Sardi's family home, consists of several small spaces, each serving a different function in the process.  First the cotton or linen fabric is washed and prepared for dyeing.  Then, depending on the type of item to be made, the resist is applied to the cloth with either a machine with large rollers, or with handmade printing blocks such as those pictured above.  Many of the blocks in the workshop are antiques collected over the years; others were made by the family for specific commissions.  Mr. Sardi told us that the printing machine was made over 100 years ago, and there are only three in operation in Hungary today.  After the resist is applied, the cloth is placed in the dye vats until the piece obtains the desired color.

There is also a small shop on the premises, where customers and visiting tourists can by cloth by the meter, or block-printed items like tablecloths and aprons that have a border print.  There is a blue dye festival in Nagynyarad every summer, which showcases  the work of Hungarian blue-dyers and also the work done by craftspeople using blue-dyed fabric.  As patchwork quilting becomes more popular in Hungary, blue-dye fabric is a natural way to add a Hungarian touch to an imported craft. 

Blue dye workshops:

Blue-dye festival: Takes place in Nagynyarad, Hungary every year on the last Saturday and Sunday of July. Visit Nagynyarad's homepage at http://www.nagynyarad.hu for information about the town in Hungarian.

Samples of blue-dyer's original work, Nagynyarad, Hungary