Category Archives: Katazome and Bingata Pictures and Panels

katazome and bingata fabric

Indigo Noren at the Morikami

On October 16, 2017, an exhibition opens at the Morikami Museum in Delrey Beach, Florida, called Out of the Blue: Japanese Indigo Textiles. I am contributing a number of pieces from my personal collection of Japanese textiles and have also contributed a noren I dyed with the show in mind to help set the mood. I thought I’d like to share what has gone into producing it.

Indigo Dyers at Work, by John Marshall

Natural indigo from my garden was used to dye this piece illustrating the primary techniques used in Japan to dye with indigo: vat dyeing yarn, vat dyeing yardage, and painting directly onto yardage. The weave is called Miyako-joufu (宮古上布), a high quality hand-spun and hand-woven ramie from Okinawa Prefecture. The character 藍 (indigo) is outlined in sashiko-style stitching.

The piece will be displayed in one of the museum doorways. Noren panels are normally joined together several inches down from the top.  However, in this case I skipped the faggotting to accommodate a taller population and to help reduce some of the stress on the fabric through traffic by leaving the panels open all the way. 

Compare the fellows working in this block print to the men with their fabric stretched the full width of the finished noren above, running behind the 藍 character.

I’ve always enjoyed creating props for teaching. My studio is filled with them. I saw approaching this project as an opportunity to educate. I sat down and just rummaged. I rummaged through my fabric stash, through drawers of block prints, and through my library. Here and there I came across images of people  at work, I narrowed it down to just a few images of dyers immersed in their trade and had my starting point.

Stencil of standing dyer.

Selecting six or eight of  these images, I scanned them, re-styled them a bit and worked to give movement to their lines and character to their faces as I carved my stencils. Actually two sets would be required. Noren have an unusual need to be seen from both sides – coming and going. With the exception of any written words, the noren must not have a  wrong side to it. So a set of images facing one way would be needed for one side and a second set facing the other way for the opposing side.

Care must be taken in pasting each side of the fabric since some distortion will always occur as the first side dries and pulls in the fiber.

Once both sides have been pasted and the paste allowed to fully dry, I suspended the yardage over my dye pot and hoisted away as I lowered the yardage into the deep navy blue medium. After each dunk the dye must be allowed to fully oxidize. The paste must be inspected for any deterioration and repaired if necessary.  The second dip yielded a slighter darker shade and so on until I reached a moderately rich blue after six dunks.

Dipping the pasted yardage into the vat for the fifth time. The pot is actually an old soy sauce container from China.

The wet yardage was transferred to a protected area of my garden to hang in the shade and a gentle breeze. Once dry, it was ready for a different approach.

Vat-dyed fabric hanging in garden until dry.

Detail of stretched image to the right. The rice paste is the yellowish area protecting the fabric beneath from the blue. The shinshi stretch selvage to selvage.

Monochromatic indigo can be quite beautiful and become nuanced with age, as can the chance variations you find in indigo dyed with shibori techniques. Appreciation for this quality can be found in many cultures. The Japanese excel at going one step further and adding a multiple range of deliberate shadings. To prepare for this next step I found it desirable to first apply a coat of soymilk – a protein polymer that helps to seal in vat-dyed indigo and act as a bonding substrate when painting directly with pigment.

Since the fabric is pasted on both sides, it doesn’t matter which side the shinshi are applied to. Clamps, harite, hold the arrangement mid-air between posts.

To make the soy easier to apply, the yardage is sewn end to end to create one long piece and then stretched mid-air using traditional equipment – harite (張手) and shinshi (伸子) – somewhat along the lines of a hammock.

With the fabric sized and stretched to a convenient work height, pigment may be easily applied to both sides using a surikomi brush.











The blue pigment may be applied right over the top of the paste. As long as the paste is doing its job the image will remain well protected. Once I was satisfied, I set the fabric aside to cure for a few weeks and then washed away the paste.

As one of the final steps I went back and did one more application of paste to some of the areas that had been protected by the resist earlier. This allowed me to add highly detailed patterning to the blank areas of the clothing using antique Japanese stencils. In addition I added some direct-painted patterning to areas such as the tenugui the man below is wearing on his head.

Can you see the other way in which the shinshi may be used in the image above? They’ve been spaced along one selvage edge giving the worker a nice handle with which to dip the yardage, and at the same time fan the folded layers open while immersed in the vat to give even exposure to the dye. The man standing has just pulled his project from the vat and the man crouching is just now inserting his.

Noren often have the name or logo of a shop boldly displayed in a prominent position. Selecting the character for “ai” (藍) to serve this purpose was an easy task and I already had a font I designed for a similar purpose years ago. You can see the edges of the character in the image above which I’ve chosen to further highlight with sashiko stitching around the edges – not part of the original plan, but it gave greater prominence to the character.

To read more about how the pigment was prepared click Preparing Indigo Pigment from Fresh Leaves and Fermentation.

To read more about how to paint with the indigo pigment click Painting with Indigo Pigment.



Painting with Indigo Pigment

This article originally appeared in Turkey Red Journal, 2006

Dreams of Incarnations (or Holy Cow)
Vat dyed indigo on cotton with painted indigo and other natural pigments.

We are all familiar with the long and rich legacy indigo brings to the human experience of color in nature. But how many of you, as dyers and as artists, are familiar with painting with indigo? All forms of natural indigo fall into the category of pigment dyes. Pigments are topical dyes, and include most mineral dyes, such as Japanese ganryo (顔料), and naturally sourced paints, such as carmine (cocheneal). By virtue of the fact that they are topical, pigments are very easy to apply in paint form to just about any surface, including textiles. Pigments do require a binder of some sort, which is very different than a mordant, to make them permanently grab hold of your fibers. Iʼll be using soymilk.

The Binder: Soymilk is made from soybeans. Soybeans contain the
highest percentage of protein of all legumes. To make soymilk, simply soak a handful of dry beans in tepid water for about three hours, or until fully swollen. Rinse and place in a blender. Fill the blender 4/5 full of cold water, push the high or liquefy button, and churn until the soybeans appear to be fully mashed.

Soymilk ready to be strained.

Froth will form on the surface of the liquid. Pour the contents through a rag and into a bowl. The liquid that flows through the cloth is your soymilk, the crumble left in the rag may be tossed in the garden as compost. The soymilk consistency should be about the same as 2% milk (slightly translucent). Add water to thin if necessary.


Jizome brushes (jizomebake).

The Sizing: I always recommend a layer of soymilk sizing be applied to all weaves before beginning to paint. You may do this with a sponge or a spray bottle, but if you want consistent and streak-free results, I recommend the brush traditionally used for this step, the Japanese jizomebake . Applying soymilk as a sizing will prevent wicking and allow for much richer color, while at the same time reducing crocking.

Aibana (藍花) – the bubbles formed on the surface of an indigo vat.

The Pigment: You will need oxidized indigo. The most accessible source for most of you will be the froth of bubbles that form on the surface of your indigo fermentation vat, the aibana (藍花). This is the reduced indigo that has come into contact with the air and oxidized. Simply scrape it from the surface and use it wet or dry. Another reliable and consistent source is ganryo pigment from Japan made from Japanese indigo. This is basically an indigo lake. You may also make your own indigo pigment as described under Preparing Indigo Pigment from Fresh Leaves and Fermentation.

Various Japanese brushes useful in applying the indigo.
Starting at the lower left: mensou-fude, fude, various sized surikomibake.

The Paint: Add a little soymilk to the pigment, and you are ready to paint. Any watercolor brush will do to apply the pigment, as will sponges, crumpled paper, or bare feet. I use Japanese brushes called surikomibake (摺込刷毛) and mensou-fude (面相筆) for most of my work.


1. Fabric stretched in an embroidery hoop and sized with soymilk. Beginnings of bird outline sketched with pale indigo.

2. Layers of indigo/soy mixture are built
up to create darker tones as the image
takes shape.

3. Completed bird on branch.

4. Detail of head.

From this point on, work with the indigo/soy mixture much as you would paint with watercolors. The sizing will give your weave a stiff, paper-like surface upon which to work. (If properly applied, the stiffness will go away once the work is completed.) Images 1-4 below may help as a rough guide, starting with the lighter shades and working up to the deeper tones as layer upon layer is applied. I tend to work with a moist or nearly dry brush, rather than a wet one.


The Final Steps: The one drawback to using a natural protein is that it requires curing. Curing involves oxidation of the protein, which takes it from a water-soluble protein, to a non-water-soluble protein-polymer. Once cured, the indigo will not crock and will remain washable. It does no good (nor any harm) to steam the dried soymilk. The safest and easiest method is to simply let the fabric sit exposed to warm dry air. I recommend a minimum of four weeks curing for quality work, but some artists will pare this down to just a few days and still have very good results.

Once the soymilk dries you may handle it with ease, even sewing with the fabric if you like. However, it will remain somewhat stiff until you wash it once. Washing does not remove the soymilk, it simply softens the fabric. However it should not be washed before it cures.

Moojo. Vat indigo on woven nettle with detail showing painted indigo lines.

Indigo painting may also be combined with vat dyeing and resists. In the figures below I have used rice-paste resist along with multiple dunkings to create my imagery. In both cases, the rice paste has been applied with brushes to mimic a batik-like affect. As a final step I have painted in deeper lines and details with my indigo/soy mixture and a mensou brush (a 00 watercolor brush is a fine substitute).



Old Friends. Vat indigo on Russian linen with detail showing paste highlights applied before dipping and minimal painted indigo details (eyelid).

Shibori vat dyed silk handkerchief – tsujigahana style with detail at right showing painted indigo accents

Equally interesting results may be achieved by combining the painted indigo with tie-dye, shibori. This combination is what is referred to as tsujigahana.


Detail of Holy Cow (see beginning of article, above) showing a combination of natural pigments, including indigo, applied using soymilk as a binder.

Shiodoki 潮時 – Tide and Time

“Tide and time wait for no man,” is a common quote in the West. The Japanese have a similar expression in shiodoki (潮時), which literally means “tide-time.” However, the nuance is a bit different than the Western expression – a bit closer perhaps to our expression to strike while the iron is hot. Shiodoki connotes just the right timing in a givensituation, referring to the point at which a fisherman must launch his boat to optimum advantage.

Having chosen this theme, I started having fun with puns and associations. Below is what I came up with as my finished piece, The Goddess of Ebb and Flow.  I will have this doll on display at the instructors exhibit at Convergence in Long Beach, July, 2012.

Shiodoki 潮時 Front

The face is constructed of wood and paper clay, with an overlay of powdered seashell (gofun 胡粉) mixed with pigments. The surging waves that make up her hair were done with spray insulation over a chopstick armature. The textiles are all fabrics I have dyed using natural dyes on silk, katazome with rice paste resist.

Shiodoki 潮時 Back

From the back you can see two kanzashi hair ornaments. The one to the upper left, above, is constructed of cloisonné and coral, and the one to the lower left of the hair is in the form of a jellyfish. The jellyfish is constructed of the plastic lid to a slurpy for the hood, an oven light bulb for the stomach pouch, Austrian crystal for the tentacles and oral arms, and Chinese cloisonné for the interior eye spots.

Time and Tide Kimono, Natural Dyes on Silk by John Marshall

The primary kimono is traditionally dyed and sewn, with padding at the hem, and the design dyed to match at all seams.  The weave is rinzu (綸子) – a jacquard woven with a pattern of waves, over which I dyed a pattern of surging waves and the inner workings of a stop watch. The lining is safflower-dyed momi (紅絹).

Detail of Center Back Crest 「潮」

Above is a detail of the back, showing the crest. The crest mimics the one found on the fisherman’s robe, below. The character shio (潮) means tide. Notice the seam down the center back.

Maiwai Depicting Urashima Tarou on His Way Home from the Dragon King’s Palace

Above is a miniature version of a fisherman’s robe called a maiwai (万祝) and can most easily be seen in the back view of the figure at the top of this page. It is falling off her shoulder and trailing behind in a casual air. In this case the proportions have been distorted slightly to allow for better drape on the doll. The fabric is silk crepe dechine with a traditional cotton lining.

Detail of Urashima Tarou Maiwai

The image on the maiwai depicts Urashima Tarou as he leaves the Dragon King Palace at the bottom on the ocean. [Urashima Tarou saved a sea tortoise from the tortures of young children along the shore. He was later rewarded for his kindness by being escorted to the Dragon King’s Palace, where he was luxuriously entertained. Eventually he grew homesick and was given a special tamatebako box to take as  parting gift.] Shown above is the Dragon King Palace in the background, Urashima Tarou with his fishing pole in hand, and the tamatebako on his back, as he bids one final farewell to his hosts and he rides the ancient sea tortoise back to his homeland.

Below is an diagram of some of the iconography used in this piece.



Detail Showing the Rabbit on the Moon

A. Surging waves form the coiffed hair. Spray foam insulation, spray paint, and mica.

B. Fisherman’s float used to hold nets up when cast into the ocean. Hand-blown glass.

C. Jellyfish kanzashi (hair ornament), constructed of the plastic lid to a slurpy for the hood, an oven light bulb for the stomach pouch, Austrian crystal for the tentacles and oral arms, and Chinese cloisonné for the interior eye spots.




D. In the West we traditionally perceive a man on the moon in the shadows of the craters, whereas in Asian cultures the shadows are seen as a rabbit pounding mochi (rice cakes). And of course, the moon has a major influence on our goddess’s activities. Paper clay, glass, and porcelain.

E. Han’eri (decorative collar) gold leafed with pattern of rock crabs. Gold on silk.

F. Obi woven with a pattern of a dragon, king of the ocean. Silk.


Detail Showing the Pearl That Controls the Tides



G. Crystal orb that controls the tides (also often depicted as a pearl). Crystal.

H. Maiwai fisherman’s robe (described above).

I. Kosode kimono woven in silk with a leno weave (karamiori) pattern of surging waves.


Detail Showing Time Caught in the Tide




J. Time acting as an anchor, trapped in the gripping flow of the waves. 1950s Buluva clock.


The base of the doll is a redwood burl.




For a schedule of John’s classes and programs, check out the calendar of events on his web page.






Focus on Layering

This week the Textile of the Week, 201109, focuses on a technique called oborobingata in which layers of paste are employed to create a soft mood. The piece I dyed below, Felicitations, is not the same oboro technique but did employ many layers of paste to create the sense of drama I sought.

Felicitations by John Marshal, Natural Pigments on Silk Tussah

Click on the image above for more images and details.


The first step was to apply the rice-paste resist through the paper stencil.


This was followed with the application of the natural-dye pigments using the pasted lines as a guide.


As with the oborobingata piece, fusenori paste was used to blot out and protect the now dyed crane.


Next the large circular arrangement of bamboo was applied, overlapping the crane in both paste and colors.

Again, fusenori was applied over the newly dyed bamboo, and so on until all of the elements of my design were pasted, dyed, and protected with fusenori.

With each new application of paste, I toned down the colors used to dye that section, so that little by little the images seemed to float on separate planes as they recede into the background.

Unlike the imitation bingata piece seen in fabric sample 201107, with which a different stencil was required for each color and each shade dyed, stencils for Felicitations had only one function and that is to apply the outline of the image to the silk. It just so happens that I am using many stencils because I elected to layer them.

However, since the dyes are applied by hand with brushes, I can use far fewer actual colors than required if the dyes are applied with stencils and by blending them as I work achieve a far greater range of gradations of colors and delicate shadings. Below are the only dyes I used to achieve all that you see above.

The Traditional Bingata Pigments Used to Dye Felicitations

Traditional bingata pigments used:
Red–cocheneal pigment (carmine) 玉虫
Yellow–arsenic trisulphide (orpiment)  石黄
Blue–azurite 群青
Green–iron oxide
Navy Blue–indigo pigment 本藍
Vermillion–mercury sulphide (cinnabar) 金朱黄口

Some of the dyes used, such as arsenic and mercury, may send up red flags for you, and rightly so. However in the normal course of this dye process the dyes will never come into direct contact with the dyer’s skin and the pigments become completely encapsulated in a protein polymer (soy milk).

Once the dyeing process is complete, the textiles dyed in this manner may be safely washed. The pigments coupled with the soy milk form a very strong bond with the fiber and are very resistant to fading with time.

The elements depicted in  this wall hanging are all felicitous images. The crane and the tortoise suggest a long and fulfilled life; the pine, bamboo, and plum (sometimes referred to as the three sisters) represent aging with wisdom and dignity, the ability to remain flexible in mind and spirit, and the grace to maintain one’s delicacy and tact in all situations.