The natural pigment sets I offer for sale come from a variety of sources. Some I make myself, some I order from Japan. All are safe if used properly. All are designed to be used with soymilk.
Natural Dye Sticks
These are concentrated dyes formed into convenient stick form - much like sumi-sticks!
Simply place a little soy milk in a small porcelain dish and grind out a little dye. You may also touch a drop of soy milk to the tip of the stick and, as the dye softens a bit, mix your dye on the stick itself. Eventually this will form a little cavity making it very easy to use with no waste. The sticks are most commonly used when you need only a very little dye, such as when adding highlights to a piece, or when making corrections to your work once the dyeing is done.
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carmine red  
cochineal lake
vermillion red  
toludine red pigment
red (cochineal)
rich deep blue (top quality Prussian blue)
deep navy (Japanese indigo)
rich yellow (arsenic trisulfide)
(blue flower - Commelina communis)
    Aobana is a very fugitive dye, making it perfect for preparing under-drawings directly on your fabric.
    A small portion of hand made paper saturated with the juice from the petals of the blue is placed in a dish and water added to pull out the color. A  brush is used to apply the dye to the cloth.
    It is also available in synthetic versions.
pigment set
ocher yellow
iron oxide pigment
natural indigo stick
assorted colors
rust red  
iron oxide pigment
Japanese indigo lake
(how to make your own pigments)

by John Marshall©

Can't get that Georgia red clay out of your new white jeans? You've just discovered a wonderful natural colorant, right under your very own...knees.

Pigments are a great source of natural colors, boasting a long and illustrious association with textiles. Traditional bingata dyeing of Okinawa, to site just one example, stands out proudly.

Bingata utilizes a paste resist process (katazome or tsutsugaki techniques) to define the pattern or images. Areas are often undercoated with vegetable dyes, applied cold, and then overlaid with pigments. Pigments do not make use of mordants. Instead, they are encouraged to make a lasting bond with the fiber through a protein based medium. While there are many sources for this protein, such as the milk in casein paints, soy is the most versatile, forming a friendly relationship with natural fibers.

To make your pigments, any pretty colored dirt or rust will do. Avoid those that glow in the dark, collected near restricted areas.

If dirt, make a muddy slurry by adding water, allow to stand for just a moment and pour off the top three quarters of the mixture. Most of the rocks and nails will have settled out into the bottom one quarter.

Thin the mixture a little more, stirring thoroughly, allow to sit, and again, pour off the top three quarters. Continue in this manner until you have a rather thin mixture, free of pebbles, worms, and assorted vegetable matter.

Allow to sit over night, then decant as much liquid, which should be fairly clear, as possible without disturbing the sediment. Allow the sediment to dry. It can be stored away indefinitely for future use.

See how many different colors of dirt you can collect on your journeys!

To make a rust pigment, have a nail drive. Yes! Encourage every youngster and oldster in the neighborhood to save for you every tortured nail they come across, found in the road or in their bike tire, it matters not. Take an old coffee or paint can, filled with water, drop the nails in and forget about them for a few months. What have you got? Rusty nails!

Cover the can, shake well (add water if most of it has evaporated) to make orange colored water. Pour off the liquid, allow to sit for just a moment to allow the chunks to settle, and decant the top three quarters. Allow to dry and you have a high quality rust pigment.

Use your imagination, why stop at iron when there is a world of copper and other metals to explore?

Once you have a high quality pigment in hand, you'll need to add the soy milk.

Take a handful of dry soy beans, soak in water until fully swollen, and rinse. Fill your blender approximately one quarter full with the swollen bean, adding clean water to the fill line. Blend on high for around three minutes and then strain through a cloth to remove the crumbles. What you have left is unadulterated soy milk. Aim for a consistency similar to 2% milk.

Add a little soy milk to the pigment, thinning the solution gradually with the soy until you have a solution of whole milk consistency. This is your dye.

You will achieve best results if you layer the pigment in thin coats to achieve the tone you are after, rather than caking the colors on. What cakes on, cakes off.

The soy pigment mixture will need to be set, but not through steaming. Simply leave it alone to cure. The longer you allow it to rest before molesting it further, the better quality washable and dry-cleanable product you will have. If using a resist to create patterns, allow to cure for around two months before washing.

Happy dyeing!

Originally appeared in Turkey Red Journal
Prussian Blue 
ferric ferrocyanide
cobalt blue 
China white  
powdered seashell
lamp black  
click on the image below for information about instant indigo.
powdered seashell
A different range of beautitul earth tones may also be purchased from other dealers. Please check out my blog for sources.
(working with indigo as a pigment)

by John Marshall©

Many artists have had the opportunity to experience the joys of dyeing with indigo. Very few techniques or dyes can rival the depth and character achieved through repeated dunkings into a vat of this ancient color source. But, have you ever considered painting it on?

A healthy vat will have a collection of rich purple-blue bubbles and film across the surface. These oxidized bubbles are known as aibana (藍花) or indigo blossoms. Gently remove the aibana from the surface of the vat and allow it to dry in a shallow glass dish. This is one of the purest forms of indigo available and will be used as a pigment in the following steps.

Prepare a mixture of soy milk by soaking 1/4 cup dry soy beans in two cups tap water for three hours at room temperature. Beans will swell. Drain off soak water and rinse beans under running tap. Drop beans into blender and fill 3/4 full with water. Set blender for liquefy, run for 2-3 minutes. Strain mixture through moistened handkerchief placed over bowl, pulling up sides of handkerchief, gently squeezing out liquid.

The consistency of the soy milk should be comparable to 2% low fat milk, water may be added to thin if necessary. Add the soy milk to the dry indigo a little at a time, first making a paste (if the indigo doesn't want to dissolve at first, add a few drops of rubbing alcohol) and then gradually thinning to watercolor consistency.

You are ready to paint directly onto your fabric as you would any other direct application dye. You may cover sweeping backgrounds in a medley of indigo moods or apply minute details to an intricate pattern. This method also works well for touching up "boo-boos" in vat dyed work.

The soy milk acts as a binder, holding the indigo to the fiber. Allow the painted soy/indigo to dry completely before handling. The strength of the bond increases with time as the soy milk cures. The soy milk liquid doesn't keep beyond a day, so only prepare as much as you intend to use in one session.

I prefer this traditional Japanese method to vat dyeing and have been employing it successfully for decades. I hope you'll enjoy it too!

John Marshall©2000

originally appeared in
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