Dyeing with Fresh-Leaf Indigo, Limited Edition

Well, it’s finally edited, printed, bound, and ready to go! I have been working on this book for years now and am quite pleased to be able to offer it to those of you interested in natural indigo.

View showing cover and spine

The cover is Japanese silk I’ve dyed with the fresh-leaf indigo from my garden in Northern California, laminated to a wood core.

Detail of cover along with the stencil used to apply the paste resist

Above is a detail of the cover design. First, the silk–a Japanese jacquard–was dyed using a cold, fresh-leaf vat. The stencil to the right was then used to apply the rice-paste resist to the silk. The image of the tadeai indigo leaves and blossoms was dyed with the aibana saved from a reduced vat, and the entire piece dunked several times in the dry-leaf, reduced vat to build up color. Once the paste was washed out, additional tints of non-reduced indigo pigment and a touch of iron-rust pigment from my well were added to the leaves and blossoms, respectively.

Yardage with paste, stretched overhead in traditional Japanese manner

Aibana covering top of reduced vat

Accent applied over paste using aibana from top of vat

Yardage suspended over vat–first dunk

Second dunk in indigo vat

Yardage with paste and aibana accent after fourth dunk






Table of contents

The two pages of What’s Inside will give you a pretty good idea of all that is included.

Open to page 30/31–fountain pen added to give sense of scale

The image below is an example of the types of samples included with the directions. It was created with rice-paste resist pushed through a stencil I carved in the 1980s. Aibana pigment was applied as accents and the cotton yardage was then dunked twelve times in the dry-leaf, reduced tadeai vat before the paste was rinsed out. A final coat of soymilk was applied to prevent crocking, strengthen the silk, and help keep the silk resistant to soiling.

Detail of sample on page 31, Okinawan Landscape

Below are several sample pages illustrating the range of blues possible with fresh-leaf indigo on a variety of fibers. Each page is printed on heavy-stock, acid-free paper. The pages are dye-cut,  kimono silhouettes. The bound book is 12-1/2″ by 6-3/4″.  After quite a bit of research and experimentation, I developed a method of binding in which the pages have been laminated to silk at the spine and stitched to create an enduring hinge. The book will easily stay open without curling pages, inviting regular use.










Last page of book

The page above is placed at the very end of the book. It states the edition number of the one hundred copies I’ve prepared. It also includes a coupon for seeds when you are ready to plant (the coupon will be returned with the seeds).

If you are interested in ordering the book, or have any questions, please feel free to contact me at John@JohnMarshall.to, or you may purchase the book through PayPal by clicking on the button below.

The book is $450 through August of 2015, after which the price will change to $550. (Feel free to inquire about payment plans.)

Fresh-Leaf Indigo Clamp Resist 生藍板締め

 Itajime Michiyuki

I’m always on the look out for new weaves, dyes, and dye techniques to add to my collection. I was happy to stumble upon this garment and recognize it as having been dyed with fresh-leaf indigo. It is clamp-resist dyeing on a very nice quality Japanese silk jacquard (rinzu).

Full front view of a michiyuki dyed with fresh-leaf tadeai indigo on silk using clamp resist (itajime)


Detail of the michiyuki above (the fan shapes are part of the jacquard pattern in the weave)

It’s always fun to try to figure out exactly how something was accomplished. Below is my guess as to what the block for clamp resist must have looked like based on the pattern we see.

The thin, baby-blue lines indicate the fold lines of the design. The red image indicates the shape of the block required to achieve this repetitious pattern.

If the silk is folded along the baby-blue lines indicated above, we wind up with a layered rectangle as seen below. The fabric is sandwiched between two blocks and clamped. Only the exposed areas of silk will receive a saturation of color – although because of the length of time required to soak the fiber in a fresh-leaf vat, some dye will wick under the clamped areas giving the beautifully variegated look see in the finished piece.  What fun!

Folded and clamped yardage

Of course, I could be wrong…

The red circle indicates a distinctly white (resisted) line.

In the detail above we can see a distinctly white line. This resisted area can’t be accounted for with the method I suggested above. I wonder what would work?

The red line traces the general path of the white, resisted area.

The block from the earlier attempt cut into two new blocks.

If I draw a border in from the edge of the block used in the earlier attempt to mimic the dye pattern, and then using a scroll saw to separate this border from the center section, I will wind up with two distinct blocks with which to clamp my fabric, allowing me to work in stages.

The yellow area indicates a piece of plywood used to help hold the blocks in place and to distribute the pressure when the clamps are applied.

I’ll start by fitting the two blocks together and placing them as I did above. A piece of plywood or plexiglass will help to distribute the pressure of the clamps and hold the blocks in place. Once the exposed areas are dunked several times in the indigo, I removed the clamps and while being careful not to disturb the border block, removed the center block.

The center block removed, and the border block re-clamped with a new layer of plywood.

The red, border block needs to remain in position to ensure the white area of the design continues to be resisted. I’ve prepared a new sheet of plywood, this time with holes to allow the dye to flow into the moat created by the border block. OK, this will work. But if I’m going to use two different plywood forms, then who needs the center block?

Updated version: start with the border block, front and back, in position.

This is my streamlined solution: I start with two red border blocks, one on top, one on bottom. I place a solid plywood form on top and bottom and clamp in place (I would use several more than just two C-clamps in this case). Dye the outer, exposed edges.

The solid plywood form swapped out for the perforated form.

Next remove the clamps and swap out the solid plywood form for that with the holes. Dunk several more times, and you’re all set!

I’ll let you know once I’ve had a chance to actually try out my theory – but if you get to it first let me know your results!

Rokutani Baiken, Living National Treasure 人間国宝 六谷梅軒

Auspicious Gourd Pattern on Silk Chirimen (Japanese Crepe)

End of bolt for the design called Cluster of Guords, showing artist’s label, Baiken Rokutani

This is a marvelous example of extremely fine stencil
carving by Rokutani Baiken, who was declared a Living National Treasure in 1955 and passed away in 1973.

Master Ise Stencil Carver Rokutani Baiken
重要無形文化財 伊勢型紙錐彫 保持者

1907(明治40) 三重県鈴鹿市に生まれる
born 1907 in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture
1919(大正 8)  父・芳蔵のもとで修行
began studies under his father, Rokutani Bouzou
1939(昭和14) 独立
became independent
1942(昭和17) 小宮康助の勧めで極鮫小紋の研究
began research into extremely fine, sharkskin-pattern stencils while working for Komiya Kousuke
1955(昭和30) 重要無形文化財保持者「伊勢型紙錐彫」に認定
designated as Living National Treasure (preserver of the hole punch style of Ise katagami)

Close up of both sides of the bolt

As you can see from the back, the entire bolt was first dyed a solid color in a vat of fresh-leaf tadeai (Persicaria tinctoria), after which the paste was applied to the front side through the stencil carved by Rokutani Baiken. Once the paste dried, several more coats of the dye were brushed on. Eventually the paste was washed away revealing the detailed imagery of “one-thousand gourds”.

Detailed description of bolt

The paperwork attached to the bolt gives us quite a bit of information.

Ise Katagami
One-Thousand Gourds
Custom has it that the souls of the gods take refuge in this type of gourd, and keeping one about helps to bring to fruition all your aspirations. Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s battle standard was this gourd. With every battle won he added one more gourd to the standard, so that in time he was reputed to have one-thousand gourds dangling – scaring away anyone who would seek to challenge him.

人間国宝 六谷梅軒 彫刻
Carved by Rokutani Baikan, Living National Treasure
二代目 六谷梅軒 彫刻
Carved by Rokutani Baikan II

Additional information elsewhere on the bolt indicates that the fabric was woven in Japan using Japanese silk.

Bolt label

The characters in the upper right of the label read 千成, sen-nari, which  means “a large cluster”, but by way of a pun it also means “one-thousand successes” and so is used for felicitous occasions.

Artist’s signature and stamp

The wording in the rectangular area above reads Living National Treasure, Rokutani Baiken and bears a stamp in red with his full name. The gourd shape bears a stamp of just his first name, Baiken.

Baiken Rokutaini II

Baiken Rokutani II

Baiken Rokutaini II was born in 1937 as Hiromi Rokutani and took his father’s name in 1996.

1937 (昭和12年) 三重県鈴鹿市寺家町に生まれる
(本名 六谷博臣)
born in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture (birth name: Hiromi Rokutani)
1953 (昭和28年) 中学卒業、同日より父について修行
graduated middle school in and began instruction under his father
1963 (昭和38年) 伊勢型紙技術伝承者養成事業第一期生として4年間錐彫部門専修
undertook training in the traditional techniques of Ise katagami carving and became a specialist in punch style after four years
1992 (平成4年) 三重県指定無形文化財保持団体、認定会員
became recognized as a member of Mie Intangible Treasure Preservation Society
1993 (平成5年) 伊勢型紙技術保存会会員、理事に選任
became a member of the Ise Katagami Arts Preservation Society, and elected as director
1995 (平成7年) 伊勢型紙技術保存会会員、副会長に選任
member of the Ise Katagami Arts Preservation Society, and elected as president
1996 (平成8年) 還暦を機に父の雅号「梅軒」を襲名
took his father’s name “Baiken” on the occasion of his 6oth birthday


Shibori Landscape Dyed Using Fresh-Leaf Indigo

It isn’t often that I am able to come across a dyed piece employing more than one type of indigo. The kimono below appears to be using not only cold, fresh-leaf indigo, but also reduced, fresh-leaf indigo, and perhaps composted indigo as well. It is also an excellent example of shibori used as a medium for artistic expression.

Back view of kimono showing off the dynamic movement of the pattern

The entire bolt of fabric was first dyed using the cold-water, fresh-leaf indigo method of vat dyeing. It is the pale, robin’s egg blue seen as the background color above. The next step would have been to make use of a shibori style called mokume (wood grain). This involves a series of running stitches, sewn in parallel and close proximity. The thread is pulled up tight, which creates a series of closely packed, random pleats.  The second phase of dyeing again involves dunking this now-pleated fabric into an indigo vat. Based on the medium blue seen in the “grain” of the pattern above, or behind the trees below, the second vat makes use of dye with a higher pH (which is what takes the color away from the cyan range and into the blue-gray range). This shade of blue-gray is easily achieved with simple fresh-leaf indigo, to which has been added an alkaline, such as chalk; or with dry-leaf indigo that has been cooked and reduced, which also has a high pH.

Detail of upper, back section of the kimono focusing on the multiple layers of color and technique–stitched mokume (wood grain), stitched outlines (nui), and kanoko (deer spot)

The next and final dye step is to stitch around the outline of all of the landscape imagery and pull in tight. In so doing, the yardage becomes scrunched into two general divisions–the area with the wood-grain pattern, and the area without. The wood-grain section will need to be capped off to protect it from any further coloring, leaving only the scrunched, landscape area exposed.

The orinui (baby’s teeth) pattern seen above as parallel dashed lines, is prepared by plying a running stitch along a fold in the silk.

The exposed area is now dipped multiple times into a reduced vat. This particular shade of deep blue may be achieved through cooking dried indigo leaves, or by using sukumo (composted leaves) in a fermentation vat.

Detail of trees and foliage–notice how well the various techniques and shades of indigo work together to draw you into the artist’s vision

If you look closely at the foliage above, you can see that there are many shades of blue. This was achieved by scrunching and/or tying off sections repeatedly as each successive dunk into the dark blue deepened the color and the impression of movement.

Detail showing how the pattern was dyed to traverse the seam

All dyework is done in yardage form. Matching imagery at the seams involves careful calculations and a clear understanding of how the pattern is to appear in the final garment, an understanding the designer must communicate to both the dyer and the tailor.

Front as it would appear when worn

The image above will give you an idea of how the kimono will look from the front when worn–notice how well the sleeve, body front, and kake-eri (false collar) all match up nicely to create a single, columnar canvas.

Detail of the front, inside of the kimono

The okumi is the front panel of the kimono. The wood grain above appears on the inside (lining side) of the okumi–a detail only to be appreciated as the wearer walks and the panel flaps open slightly.



Japanese textiles, dyeing, weaving, culture, John Marshall, katazome, somemono, natural dye