Category Archives: Garments by John Marshall

katazome clothing by John Marshall

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.

Focus on Dirt (J-025 Phoenix Tatewaku)

Focus on dirt? Yes, dirt! The garment you see below was dyed entirely with colors from the earth, including real gold.

Helen Petrulio Modelling the Phoenix and Tatewaku Robe, J-025, Natural Dirt Pigments on Silk

I love this photo. Helen Petrulio came to visit my studio one day and on an impulse she modeled this garment for me as she stood under my studio skylight. Her hair, skin, and the gold leafing in the garment all seemed to capture the sunlight and hold it suspended for a brief moment. (The pigments below Helen were photoshopped in later.)
Helen has since passed away and this image serves as a wonderful reminder of her warmth and humor. She was very active in the Sacramento Center for Textile Arts and is greatly missed to this day.

For more views of the garment, click on either of the images.

Detail Showing the Difference in Colorways Between Top Layer and Bottom

One of the unique features of the small string of volcanic islands that make up Japan is the variety of naturally occurring colors of soils. The majority of these are varieties of iron oxide, featuring a full range of reds, greens, blacks, lavenders, and yellows. The variations occur because of  the other minerals with which they combine to form alloys.

Below, in brown type, is an article I wrote for the Turkey Red Journal describing how to make your own soil-based pigments. Turkey Red Journal is a wonderful on-line magazine published and edited by Pamela Feldman. If you are interested in natural dyes you’ll want to pay Turkey Red Journal a visit.

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 adhesive. While there are many sources for this protein, such as the milk in cassein paints, soy is the most versatile, forming a friendly relationship with natural fibers.

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

Make a muddy slurry by adding water, allow it 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!

Once you have a high quality pigment in hand, you’ll need to add the soy milk.
Take a handful of dry soy beans and soak them in water until fully swollen, then rinse. Fill your blender approximately one quarter full with the swollen beans, 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 mixture 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 intensity of color 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 it to cure for around two months before washing.

Happy dyeing!

Originally appeared in Turkey Red Journal

Note to Paula-
I’m adding the image below just to give you an idea of how the pigments work on paper. This is commercially made washi, the dyes were applied to the back (rough) side of the paper. Otherwise treatment and application are basically the same as for any fabric piece.


Seven Treasures and Dancing Lions by John Marshall, Natural Pigments on Hand-Made Paper


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