Motion Detector No. 12: Blue Miracle – Blue Print Becomes Cultural Heritage

Museum Europäischer Kulturen

In its "Motion Detector" the MEK displays objects from its collection that are relevant to current topics. For Motion Detector No. 12, we’ve chosen the inscription of the craft of blue print to the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO as an opportunity to reflect on this cultural technique.

Blue is the favourite colour of many Europeans. But this has not always been the case: Only in the wake of colonization did the colour gain more importance especially in textile dying. Indigo (from „Indian”), the „king of colours“, was massively imported by the Dutch East India Company from the 17th century onwards. Subsequently, the (forced) production of Indigo for the European market was introduced in the Americas and Asia. In this period the craft of blue print also came from Asia to Europe and spread swiftly from Amsterdam throughout the continent.

The Blue Print Technique

Blue print is a special technique of resist printing by which a white pattern on blue ground is created: A dye-resistant paste is applied onto a cloth with a wooden, patterned hand block. Afterwards the fabric is stretched onto a special iron frame and immersed into the indigo bath – the more often, the more intense the colour. When the cloth is removed it is yellow-green at first – what happens next, is called „the blue miracle“ in the dyer‘s language: Only through contact with air does the indigo oxidize and turn into a deep and full blue. Now follow the washing-out of the paste and the cooking, drying and smoothing of the fabric. 

Individual Recipe instead of Mass Production

Blue print is not suitable for industrial mass production. Therefore, today only around 25 workshops, which still practice blue print, exist throughout Europe. The recipe of the paste is individual to every workshop and a carefully kept secret. In earlier times, the making of the hand blocks was a respectable craft in its own right. Some of the hand blocks still in use today are a few hundred years old. But through the increasing cooperation with fashion designers, new patterns are also created.

Intangible Cultural Heritage of the UNESCO

On 28 November 2018 – after a joint nomination by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and Germany – blue print was inscribed by the UNESCO to the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The "Motion Detector" has established itself as a new format through which the Museum Europäischer Kulturen regularly addresses contemporary issues. The "Motion Detector" is located in the foyer of Arnimallee 25, right next to the entrance.

The Motion Detector "Blue Print" will be shown till July 14 2019 at the Museum Europäischer Culturen.