Indigo Dyeing Seen Wandering a Museum in Budapest

Submitted by Markita Hall-Gumble

Plano ASG member Markita, recently had the opportunity to spend some time in Budapest, Hungary.  And in typical ASG fashion, she found “all things fiber” the city had to offer!  Enjoy a virtual walk through history of indigo dyeing as Markita takes us on a tour of the Goldberger Textile Museum. 

The Goldberger Textile Museum pays homage to the more than 200 years of industrial and social history of the previous Goldberger textile factory and surrounding area in Óbuda.  The Goldberger business was started by Ferenc Goldberg in 1784 and run by six subsequent generations. 

The largest section of the museum is devoted to the process of indigo vat dyeing.  Indigo (which is derived from one of the species of the indigo plant) was initially purchased from India until synthetic Indigo was developed.  And since this process requires a lot of water, banks of the Danube in Budapest was an ideal location.

A Bit of History
In the early 20th century, this part of the city was a thriving Jewish
community. Even though this was the golden age of Jewish creation and
development Jews were required to live in a specific area.

How Did the Indigo Dyeing Process Work?

The fabric (initially linen but later cotton) is pretreated, then a design is stamped on the fabric with a resist.   The resist is a secret formula but made of gum Arabic, water, nitric acid, lead and other chemicals. 

The fabric is then dipped into a vat of heated indigo dye, multiple times. Interestingly, the cloth comes out of the dye bath green, and only when oxidation occurs does it turn the “indigo blue” color. The fabric is then rinsed to wash away the excess dye.

What About the Designs on the Fabric?

The patterns added to the fabric were not only done in white but also in blue, green, yellow and orange painted with different colorants.  National tastes were reflected in these variations.  While Hungarians preferred white or light blue patterns on a mid-blue fabric, the Germans, Croats, and Serbs purchased the tiny yellow, blue or green patterned dark material. 

A Bit of History
In the second half of the 18th century, blue dyeing became widespread in

Hungary. This fabric was most widely used in casual clothing, but occasionally also in formal clothing. Because the blue fabric became less dirty than other
materials it was quite popular with the working class.

At the end of the 18th century, beginning of the 19th century, oil dyeing which had been an independent profession, began to spread to all the large blue dyeing manufacturers. Oil dyes, which are mixed with vegetable oil, were applied directly to pre-treated fabrics and were more durable. Notice the different colors and patterns in the sample in this picture.

How Did the Fabric Content Evolve Over Time?

In the 1920’s, Leo Goldberger realized that artificial silk would be the fabric of the future, so he bought the exclusive rights to use “Bemberg yarn” in Hungary.  After several years of experimenting, they marketed “Parisette” in 1929.   It soon became a success not only in Hungary but across the globe.  It was followed by other Goldberger-Bemberg fabrics: Mousseline Amourette, Crepe Pastorale Goldona and Crepe Germain and today is the Bemberg rayon many of us use to line our dresses and jackets.

How Were the Patterns Transferred to the Fabric?

It was very interesting to see the craftsmanship involved in the process of hand carving complex patterns on blocks of wood which were then used to create beautiful designs on the fabric.

By the 1930’s the invention of a photo mechanical process of creating the designs on a printing cylinder meant that new patterns could be created in a matter of hours instead of two or three weeks.  In 1923, 650 patterns were marketed, but in 1930, with this technological advancement, that number grew to 1500 in 18 thousand color variations as pictured below.

The Rest of the Goldberger Story

Leo Goldberger was a talented, assertive businessman, who always recognized opportunities, thus he had great influence.   He instituted Goldberger-Bemberg fashion shows which were held every day during ‘Magyar Hét’ (Hungarian Week) at the Corvin Department Store.  

Although he had a direct connection to the Governor, he was arrested first by the Gestapo on 19 March 1944. His wife and daughter made every endeavor through the Hungarian Nazi Headquarters to save him, but sadly, he died as no. 65354, a prisoner of the concentration camp in Mauthausen (Austria) at the age of 67.

His factory was socialized, but it preserved the memory of the illustrious factory for many years. The factory operated in the 1960s under the name Budaprint until 1989.  Though his daughter tried to revitalize the company and looked for investors, it went bankrupt, ending the operation of the more than 200-year-old factory.

Hungary was “liberated” from the Nazis by the Soviets at the end of WWII, but not before an estimated 600,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered, even as the soviets were approaching.  The part that surprised me, was that the soviet occupation did not end until 1991.  Two years after the fall of the Berlin wall. 

The museum is located on the Buda/Old Buda side of the Danube and is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 AM – 6 PM.  One of the many historical attractions this beautiful historic city has to offer.

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11 thoughts on “Indigo Dyeing Seen Wandering a Museum in Budapest”

  1. Thanks for sharing, Markita. Very interesting. My book club plans to read ‘The Indigo Girl’ which is a true story and sounds fascinating.

    1. I have read “The Indigo Girl” I found it a little to romanticized. But interesting facts on harvesting indigo both in the Caribbean and Southern United States. More depth on current natural indigo is the recently book “Indigo: Cultivate, Dye, Create ” Hardcover – September 4, 2018 by Douglas Luhanko (Author), Kerstin Neumuller (Author)
      Also fascinating is Buaiso . A current Japanese Indigo farm

  2. what a fabulous read this is. So enjoyed the history of the textile industry, but was taken back by the brutal death of Mr. Goldberger at the hands of the Nazis.
    The subsequent take over of the business by the Soviets and its final demise was a tragic end for a six generation business .
    Thank you ? Markita

  3. Thank you, Markita! The wood carved patterns are a new spin that I had not heard of before. Great job seeking out this fascinating history.

  4. I enjoyed so much reading your article. I attended an indigo dye workshop in Kerrville last summer. The fabric does come out of the vat a very pretty green but oxidizes quickly and becomes blue. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

    Susan Humphrey, ASG AT-Large Member
    Abilene, TX

  5. Very interesting experience for you Markita and for your readers because you shared such a special segment of history. Nazi destruction was so real and hateful–it’s still a shock to come upon another depiction of their cruelty. Thank goodness for the museum and all that it shows us. I’m grateful for your sharing this.

  6. I enjoyed the history. I purchased fabric for quilt squares in Hungary a few years ago but didn’t know more of the history. The fabric is still in my stash waiting for the right pattern and inspiration.
    I may now be inspired!

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