The door to the world of Betty de Paris opens with the quickening of the heart as the visitor feels for a gap in the intense blues that hide the treasures inside! Once inside the flagstone interior of the one time carpentry and joinery atelier, we are overwhelmed. The eye adjusts to a soft and new kind of light filtering through multiple mottled glass windows.
But almost immediately we are stunned by the riot of blues, from the palest aqua to the deepest lazuli off set by whites and corals! We know we are in a very exciting and special space.
The atelier is packed to the rafters with all manner of things which we know to be critical to the process. Centre stage are large indigo vats into which, at the beginning of a new batch, Betty pours libations of natural wine as a substitute for the traditional sake, which she says she can not get in Paris. There is a myriad of gadgets and gizmos, plants, jars and containers, scales, notebooks, pens and pencils, paint brushes, ropes, pullies, ladders and dye stuff all around the vats. Betty tends to the vats round the clock, checking the temperature and other technical factors which allow her to influence the outcome.
At once we can recognise that Betty is no ordinary woman and this is no ordinary dye house but rather a place of alchemy. We feel that something powerful happens here.
The work is physically hard and is much more than a labour of love, it is a vocation. Recently Betty has started to grow her own organic indigo in Correze with seeds she brought back from Japan. The wellbeing of the crop is on her mind as she plans her journey for the harvest in a few weeks time.
Betty’s space is filled with rare books and manuscripts. She is writing a book and is keen to discuss her Japanese manuscript with her master, who has arrived in Paris for a week, as he does every Summer. He is 86 years old and Betty is stoical about the reminder of their shared time. But for now all is good and they discuss the intricacies of their subject. Both are scholars who have devoted their lives to their art.
Undoubtedly, Betty’s deep knowledge and dedication to indigo and natural dyeing is well recognised and for all the well placed accolades there is nothing of “the grand” about Betty. Betty’s self effacing humour, frequent joyful laughter, sprightly energy and kind nature put us instantly at ease and we feel that we have known her for a long time and that she is one of us! But in reality Betty is special, in the way only some people are. She knows how to accept and has contentment.
At the end of our stay we leave behind the world of indigo, madder and calico and emerge into the sunlight.
But the magic remains. The courtyard is filled with rare trees, much loved plants and treasured indigo saplings, around seating for tea, nuts, berries and special treats that the Master has brought with him from Japan. The courtyard, reminiscent of a Japanese structure, releases us gradually onto the hubbub of Paris outside!
The master joins us for supper in a neighbourhood cuscus joint. He is flying back in a couple of days so time is short and there is something more to learn. The enduring bond between master and disciple is impervious. It is, after all, based on a life long quest for answers, of giving and of receiving; on mutual respect, affection and love of the art of indigo dyeing.
We are fortunate to have Betty de Paris on the Juniper & Bliss advisory board.
See the capsule collection of indigo dyed bedding by Betty de Paris for Juniper & Bliss.