Pigments on Metallic Weaves

Dyeing on silk is luxurious enough, but can you imagine dyeing on pure gold, silver, or platinum? Well, take a look at this…

Fukuro-obi – Natural Pigments over Platinum-Leafed Washi

This is a detail from a fukuro-obi I recently purchased from Ichiroya. Ichiroya.com is an on-line used-kimono dealer. They are very knowledgeable and have many treasures. They are a great wealth of information and a fantastic resource for image ideas. In addition to all that, they are very nice people!

Detail Showing Use of Pigments

This is a fairly contemporary piece, most likely from the 1970s (mid-Showa Period). It is in excellent condition. The photo can’t even begin to convey the luster of the platinum nor the subtlety of the colors of the pigments used.

Notice how the powdered seashell (as well as the pigments in the clothing) has been applied to allow the metals to continue to express themselves.

Based on the soft, subtle hand of the silk, I would guess that the dyes have been applied with soy milk. However, a more common adhesive in this type of work would be nikawa. (Nikawa is the same binder used with the shell medium known as gofun and used on high quality doll faces in Japan.)


I’ve decided to include a sample I dyed, just by way of contrast, using natural pigment on 18k gold laminated to hand-made paper and woven with silk. The process is not quite the same as that used above. The images above were all hand painted, and my sample is a rice-paste resist katazome piece.

Holy Cow! 18k Gold on Paper with Silk 14″ x 12″


This type of dyeing is one of the options I offer my students in the more advanced katazome classes in my studio. The classes being offered this summer are listed on my web site, just click on this sentence to go there.

Detail of Holy Cow!

If you are interested in weaving your own gold or silver fabrics, you may want to take a peek at the gold-leafed papers and gold wrapped threads on my web site. Just click on this gold.

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Peonies 牡丹

One of my all-time favorite flowers is the peony, especially tree peonies. This is the grand and regal variety you see embellishing delicate Chinese vases and elaborate paintings of Japanese gardens. I often use them as a theme in my work.

Treasure Island Triptych 104″ x 132″ Natural Pigments on Brazilian Linen

You may view more, and larger images of the triptych by clicking on the image above.
Years ago I had the opportunity to present a solo show at a wonderful location in Tokyo–an old Tokugawa Era building in a park-like setting called Sho’u’en (蕉羽園), sponsored by Kosansha. The inside of the building was being re-gold leafed in anticipation of an international publisher’s convention (Kodansha is one of the world’s wealthiest publishers and they own the building). I would be the next program in line.

Window with view to outside and painted peonies below.

In anticipation, I went to Tokyo to check out the space, take measurements, and bask in the potential. One of the walls in the room was painted much like a folding screen, gold with a colorful landscape of flowers. I decided to tie into this theme and to fill the large tokonoma with a piece designed just for the spot (above).

I offer many interpretations for the imagery, as the mood strikes me, but the one I’m sticking with (for today) is as follows: Ships in Japan are often symbols for good tidings, an emissary of knowledge, culture, and treasures of all sorts. Lions are often shown with peonies–the lion as the grandest of all beasts, and the peony as the most stately of flowers–each capable of holding their own. My lion is winged, as St. Mark is often depicted in the West, representing Truth. The ship is leaving, having dropped off its passenger. As it turns out, there were already Many Truths occupying a very important niche in the Island’s ecology, frolicking among the Flowers of Indigenous Beauty. What will be the outcome of this intercourse?

Weary of Packing (Don’t mess with me!)

Fast forward two years, the day of installing the show. In the last minute rush in seeing to all the details involved, I somehow managed to leave the right-hand panel of the triptych at home in California. Well, what can you do but charge on?


As it turns out, I measured the tokonoma wrong in the first place

Installing the Reformed Triptych in the Tokonoma of Sho’u’en

and only two panels would fit in the space. I was so glad that it wasn’t the center panel left behind!

Two dear friends are shown helping me with the show (right), Sunny Hara and Cheryl Lawrence.

As mentioned above, this piece was dyed entirely with natural pigments. The vast majority of that dye (by volume) was made with rust. To prepare the dye, I just first gather it from a hand-dug well on my property. We have a high magnesium content in our water. The magnesium-laden-water is filtered through the soil and collects on the side of the well when the water table drops as the summer advances.

Heavier Iron Rust Particles Allowed to Settle to Bottom of Vessel

This pigment is so pure and fine that it doesn’t require any further grinding or processing. I mix it into a paste and then add more water to create a dark solution. I allow it to sit for quite a while to allow the heavier particles to settle to the bottom of the container. (To the left it is back lit to exaggerate the difference in concentration.)

The rust/water mixture is divided into two different containers. Care should be taken to not unsettle the concentration of pigment at the bottom of the glass.

Iron Rust Solution Shown in Two Different Concentrations

Soymilk is now added to each solution to act as a binding agent to hold the color to the cloth. The soymilk also helps to protect the fiber from direct contact with the metal, and to encapsulate it and help to retard further oxidation.

The thinner solution was used to dye the pale rose background of the triptych above. The darker solution was used for highlights and for blending with other colors to darken them.

By examining the warrior piece below, perhaps you’ll gain a better appreciation for the range of shades available. Some indigo and yellow iron rust has been added for contrast.

Ujigawa-Gassen by John Marshall, Natural Pigments on Silk

Iron rust comes in many forms and colors. It has been mined for thousands of years for use in everything from cave paintings to cosmetics. Below is a yellowy rust I made by pouring rainwater over old iron nails and allowing it to evaporate away. A rusty powder was left behind on all of the surfaces which I gathered for later use.

On the left is iron rust as collected from old nails, on the right is the same pigment baked in the oven.

The range of variations in colors may be increased by simply super heating some pigments.

Gives new hope for the honey-do sitting in the front yard, doesn’t it?

Pigment Storage Facility

Bingata Fake 201106

201106-Bingata Fake


One of the great joys of collecting textiles is being able to make comparisons and hone my powers of observation. It allows me to appreciate exquisite craftsmanship and also to imagine the workings of the artist’s brain as the ideas developed and came to fruition.


I find especially fascinating the workings of making a fake. When I use the term fake, I assume the creator fashioned a piece with the intent to deceive–either the customer or the viewing audience.

There are also imitation pieces, which are presented as such and reflected in the pricing of the textile when new. And there is yet another category in which a work will reflect the beauty of another technique without the intention to pull a fast one. I’ll deal with the later subjects in future blogs, but for now the sample of the week is dealing with outright fraud–and I love it!

Sample 201106-Bigata Fake $12 plus postage and tax.
($12 even as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.)

As part of my Textile of the Week Series, I want to be able to supply you with companion pieces to help in making comparisons. Next week will be a very fine quality imitation piece with government certification stating that it is an imitation made by members of the Craft Guild of Japan. The last week of the month will be a truly beautiful hand-dyed bingata piece on chirimen silk. So here we go…

Mitsukoshi Department Store Labels

I purchased the piece presented here from a very reputable dealer and paid quite a hefty price. I am quite certain that the on-line seller had no intention of deceiving anyone–what they were offering, and what I bought, was based on the labels that came with the bolt.

Mitsukoshi is a very old and very reputable department store, with branches world wide. The core around which the fabric is rolled has the Mitsukoshi mark on both ends. However, rolls can be easily substituted. It also has a Mitsukoshi tag (the paper slip sticking out the side), but these can also be easily stolen and added to any bolt.

The label reads “Ryuukyuu Bingata–100% silk”.

At the beginning of the bolt we find lettering stating that this is Ryuukyuu bingata, that is, authentic bingata produced in Okinawa (generally considered to be more expensive than bingata produced in the rest of Japan). As it turns out, the silk itself is a very high quality weave, it just isn’t bingata and it certainly isn’t from Okinawa. Anyone not familiar with bingata, but familiar with quality silk would be taken in. In my case, I was trusting the label and not taking time to actually look at the images the dealer provided. Here is what I should of taken note of:

Circles Indicate Areas Discussed Below

Poor Attempt at Mimicking Shading

This is a rather poor attempt to reproduce the shadings seen in bingata-style dyeing. If you will look closely at the detail shot to the left, you will see that it is simply a cluster of coarse dots, and not at all the delicate shading of a truebrush stroke.

Poor Registration

To the right is also a poor attempt at trying to look like hand shading, but even worse, notice how radically the registration is off between the orange and the rust. This cannot happen in bingata since the rice paste is protecting the background and both the rust and the orange would be applied to exactly the same area along the edge of the resist.

Notice how the rust-colored branch doesn't match up with the purple.Here again, poor registration. Since it is the stencil and the paste that determine the lines of a bingata-dyed textile, you cannot wind up with accidental mismatches such as this.

In this detail, some of the white seems to have been filled in with a lavender dye. This actually is a technique employed in bingata, it is just that in this case you can see how uneven the area is covered indicating that the purple wicked or had some bleed-through.

In the end, there is just nothing quite like being able to hold the fabric in both hands, and examine it from the front and the back, satisfying several senses at the same time.

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Tree Peony 牡丹

Tree peony from my garden.

There are two major groups of peonies; tree peonies, and herbaceous peonies . The herbaceous die back to the ground each year and the tree peonies leave a small trunk with buds. These are considered two very different varieties of plants in Japan. The tree peonies  are called botan (牡丹) and the herbaceous are called shakuyaku (芍薬).