Tag Archives: bingata .collect

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.



Year of the Horse 午年

2014 is the Year of the Horse according to the Asian zodiac of patron animals. Each year in a twelve-year cycle has an animal mascot. This deity watches over your household employing its particular strengths. Horses are considered companionable,  bright, and hardworking and will do their utmost to help you achieve your goals in the coming year.

Year of the Horse 2014 by John Marshall natural dyes on silk

As a child I loved watching clouds coalesce into imaginary playmates and then dissipate into the background of the next image forming. For this reason, my horses are often shown prancing in the clouds.

In the image below, I carved a stencil from hand-made mulberry paper (shibugami) and used it to apply a resist of paste made with rice bran and flour to silk yardage. Once the paste dried, I used small deer-hair brushes to apply my natural dyes (primarily cochineal, California Central Valley subsoil,  and Japanese indigo), allowed the dye to cure and washed away the paste to expose the image at the top of this page.

Below is a closeup to help you appreciate the details of the finished piece.

Year of the Horse 2014 by John Marshall detail

I have a limited number of these available. If you would care to have this mascot share your home this year just click on any of the images above to go to my website for more information.


Toy Horses – Traditional Bingata

You may also want to take a look at an article about bingata with a horse as the main theme of the image used. Just click on the image to the left.


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.






Meisen-Gasuri 銘仙絣 201219

The past few blogs have dealt with a variety of forms of kasuri. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, Japanese terms are not always easily translated directly into English. Most dictionaries define kasuri as ikat (a Malayan/Indonesian word meaning to fasten or to tie). Ikat in turn is defined in English dictionaries as a fabric in which the yarns have been tie-dyed before weaving (Webster’s on-line dictionary).


Poster advertising meisen.

So now let’s take a look at meisen (銘仙). The average person on the street in Japan will recognize meisen as what we call ikat. However, meisen may also be a solid color fabric, or woven entirely with undyed, unbleached yarns. So actually, meisen is the weave and kasuri is the dye method.

Meisen is a moderately light-weight silk weave with a hard, smooth touch (sometimes with a slub) – not at all unlike what is sold as silk pongee.

Kasuri is the dye technique employed – in which the threads are dyed with sections of color that will later line up to form pattern in the meisen (or other weaves). With me so far?

Notice that I didn’t say anything about tie dyeing the yarns for kasuri as part of the definition. Binding groups of warp and/or weft threads to control  colors (tie dye) is indeed one way to produce kasuri threads. The verb kasuru means to steal away a bit of something, or as the old kanji (飛白) helps us to understand, leaping bits of blank. Basically, any method employed to dye the threads used in weaving to create a Morse-code-like pattern of long and short dashes that will later be lined up to make a pattern or image, qualifies as kasuri. This may include paste resist applied with stencils, block-printed images, hand painted warp and weft, and even silk screening.

Let’s take a closer look at the silk-screen method. Traditional forms of screen dyeing in Japan are called nassen (捺染). [If you have interest in this process I would recommend taking a class from Akemi Nakano Cohn – a long time practitioner and teacher of this art.] In nassen color is pushed through a stencil. When nassen is used to apply color to threads to later be woven, it is called hogushi-nassen (ほぐし捺染). Let’s next take a look at how this technique is applied.


Preparing warp threads by winding onto a large drum prior to dyeing.



First filament silk is reeled onto a large drum to prepare the warp threads for dyeing (left). The warp is threaded onto a special loom and very coarsely woven – notice how greatly spaced the weft is as it holds the warp threads in place (below).

Warped loom with loosely woven weft in monofiliment silk.

This loosely woven yardage is removed from the loom and rolled out onto a printing table.

Screening the warp threads.

In the screening process dyes may be brushed through the screens/stencils, or the dyes may be added to a thickener and pushed through the screens with a squeegee as seen above.

Removing the thin weft threads before returning the warp to the loom.

Once the dyeing is complete, the warp threads will be returned to the loom, but before doing so, the previously woven weft threads must be removed. [If you are interested in trying your hand at this technique, I do have a very good supply of the fine threads used to weave the temporary weft, contact me for more details.]

Warped loom ready to have the real weft woven in.

The warped loom is now ready to be woven with the new weft threads. This time they will be firmly beat into tight alignment.

The pull you see hanging from the center of the image to the left is yanked to send the shuttle flying left and right. For an example of this type of loom in action, click here to watch a YouTube clip.

If you have followed the earlier blogs dealing with other kasuri techniques, you can easily see how this printing process allows the craftsperson to greatly speed up production time. This brought down the price and soon meisen-gasuri became one of of the most popular techniques for nice, everyday wear among women.


Penguins on ice flow.


Because of the relatively quick turn-around time, patterns began to reflect images of current events and more fad-oriented popular motifs. The example shown to the right is reflective of the craze for the South Pole as exploration of the new continent progressed in the 1950s.


Goofey and Donald depicted on meisen fabric used in a haori.

Disney was also making great inroads into Japanese culture, and the country’s love of the characters may be seen in this meisen piece from the late 1940s.

Are you up for a little musical entertainment? Take a look at this video on YouTube. The song is called The Color of Life and is performed by The Six Singing Women (唄う六人の女). Most of the textiles shown in the video are meisen.

This week’s Textile of the Week, 201219, is a fanciful image full of wonderful movement of line. It is handwoven and originally part of a kimono worn as casual wear by middle and upper-class women, or as formal wear by lower-class women.


Textile of the Week, 201219, Meisen-Gasuri

For more examples of meisen-gasuri, check out the samples in Treasures from John’s Collection: Meisen-Gasuri 銘仙絣.

One final bit of history: I thought you might want to know just a bit more about the development of meisen, so I have translated the following text from Dankousha’s 1987 publication,  the Unabridged Dictionary of Colors, Dyes, and Weaves (原色染織り大辞典・談交社・昭和五十二年). The original text in its entirety is below the English section.

Meisen is one version of the flat weave. It had its beginnings in the later part of the Edo Period, at which time it was written with* a variety of characters, including 目千 (lit. “a thousand ends** per inch”), 目専 (lit. “specialty ends**”), 蠒繊 (lit. “ultra fine cocoons“), and so on. Meisen is woven in the general region of Chichibu and Isezaki using yarns called tama-ito (a thick, seasonal raw silk) and noshi-ito (silk thrums) to weave a very strong, thick cloth used in every-day clothes. From the Meiji Period onward the characters most commonly used came to be 銘撰 (lit. “precious selection“)and 銘仙 (lit. “precious enchantment“), and with them a variety of innovations in quality and methods of weaving. Up until the Meiji Period the patterns were mostly stripes. However, with the advent of the Taisho Period, new forms of dyeing appeared such as shimekirigasuri (締切絣), yokosougasuri (縦総絣), nassengasuri (捺染絣), chingasuri (珍絣), and hodushigasuri (解し絣), quickly developing into more and more complex methods and with them the ability to consider vastly more complex imagery. With filament silk as the warp, other threads were introduced into the weave through the weft – threads such as raw (spun) silk, rayon, and even nylon. Centers of production were to be found in Kyoto, Isezaki, Chichibu, Ashikaga, Kiryuu, and Hachiouji, as well as others. Up until the time of World War II, meisen was used mostly for the every-day clothes of women. In addition, it was also used for lining fabric, bedding covers, tanzen (padded garments worn by men indoors during the winter months), and zabuton covers – all of which kept demand high. However, beginning in 1955, wool and synthetics became widespread and meisen suddenly disappeared from the marketplace.

めいせん 銘仙 平織りの絹織物の一。江戸後期には目千・目専・蠒繊などの字をあてる。秩父・伊勢崎などで玉糸(節のある太い生糸)や熨斗糸(絹の屑糸の一種)を用いて織った丈夫な太織を指し、普段着に用いた。明治以後は銘撰・銘仙と書かれ、他質や織り方にさまざまの工夫が加わった。明治までは縞柄が主であったが、大正以降は締切絣・縦総絣・捺染絣・珍絣・解し絣等の絣の技術が複雑化し、模様物が考案された。他糸には経に絹糸,緯に玉糸を使用したものが最も多く、ほかに紡績絹糸・人絹糸・綿糸・ナイロン糸などを用いる。主な産地は京都・伊勢崎・秩父・足利・桐生・八王子など。第二次世紀大戦頃まで、おもに女性の普段機に多く用いたほか、裏地・夜具地・丹前地・座ぶとん地などの需要が多かったが、昭和三十年代からウール・化学繊維の普及により急速に市場から姿を消した。


*In this case I’ve translated あて字 (ateji) as “written with”Ateji is a linguistic custom in both China and Japan of assigning kanji to a word for poetic reasons, or to manufacture words that can’t otherwise be written in Chinese characters. For example, a friend of mine owns a store called SO•ME, or Dye. It would normally be written as 染め (so-me), and this is actually the only correct way of writing it. However, she wanted to add a little elegance and femininity to the name of her company, so she opted to write it 染女 (so-me), replacing the alphabetical め (me) with the kanji 女 (me), meaning woman, thus indicating a dye shop owned by a woman, and very classy sounding to boot!
So, in the examples sited for meisen, each of the names has forced kanji – kanji that are not normally read meisen but can be pushed into doing so and add a little elegance, definition, or attitude to the word at the same time.

**The character 目 is used in counting how fine a weave is. In Asia, they count the spaces between the threads within a specified square measurement, rather than the warp threads themselves. In American English we might say a weave has 500 ends per inch, which means that there are 500 warp threads within a linear inch. In Japan, if you said 500目, you would be saying that there are 500 gaps (holes/spaces) in the weave within a square centimeter.