Tag Archives: indigo

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.



Leaping Horse 跳馬

Not long after arriving in Japan I met a paper-craft artist named Kunio Ekiguchi. [He is most noted in the West for his packaging and paper-craft books published through Kodansha, International.] He took me under his wing and while earning my way as his assistant, he introduced me to my katazome teacher and many others who proved to be of great help to me.

Tsutsugaki Rice Paste Resist with Indigo – Leaping Horse Noren

Wanting in some way to indicate my gratitude, I decided to dye a noren (an entry way curtain) for his new studio. Ekiguchi Sensei was born in the year of the horse and was also partial to indigo blue, so that helped me to settle on my design.

I bought a bolt of hand-woven cotton in the traditional 14″ width and went about the business of plotting the dimensions and sketching my design on the cloth. I applied the image of the leaping white horse with rice paste squeezed through a paper tube – a bit like writing with frosting on a cake. Up to this point I had never attempted a piece so large, nor had I ever dyed with indigo in vat form.

While living in Japan I had a tiny 4-1/2 mat apartment (only about nine feet by nine feet plus a toilet and hot plate counter) so there was certainly no chance of keeping an indigo vat going. However, I was able to locate a dyer in Saitama who rented out his studio.

Detail showing the white lines. The white area was created through the use of rice paste resist applied with a cone to the cotton to prevent the indigo from dyeing that area. Once the background was dyed blue, the additional horizontal stripe of leaping horses and irises was added. Notice how the image was dyed to transverse the split in the panels.

This required two trips – the first to dye the fabric with the large horse in place, which gave me a white image and a solid, pale indigo background. Back in my studio, I applied the second layer of paste to both sides, the small leaping horse and iris pattern, and then off again to the indigo studio for my second round of dunkings in the vats. I washed the fabric out in the river to remove the paste and once home, joined the tops of the panels, added tabs, and was set to go!

Detail of background image. The clusters of crosses are actually stylized irises.

Ekiguchi Sensei was kind enough to actually use my first attempt at vat dyeing as the entry curtain to his studio for over well over thirty years. Just before his death, he returned it to me so that now I have it with me as reminder of my time as his apprentice and assistant.

The trip to the indigo dye studio is a bit of a story in itself…

During morning rush hour, trains heading out of Tokyo are virtually empty.

It was about a two hour train ride to the indigo studio. Armed with my pasted fabric and stretching equipment, looking much like a quiver of arrows, I left before dawn on a Tuesday morning in the early fall. Heading out of Tokyo in the morning meant that there was hardly a soul on the train. Sitting opposite me in the otherwise empty car was a middle-aged woman, also carrying what appeared to be a quiver of arrows wrapped in a furoshiki.

Enjoying the scenery along the single track railroad.

Wondering if she was on the same field trip as I, I tried to make eye contact. She was obviously not interested in conversation, so we both enjoyed the scenery, passing through rice fields and trees just beginning to change color. Eventually I arrived at my station.

Train Station – no one to be found!

Up my would-be travel companion popped and was out of the train before I was sure I even had the right stop. Being in no particular rush, I took my time gathering my things and making my way to the only exit, but there was no stationmaster to take my ticket. The station seemed to be deserted. Eventually I was able to rouse a rather sleepy-eyed someone.


I explained where I was headed and was told there would be a taxi out front. The stationmaster told me that there normally is, but that there was someone before me and now it’s gone. Since there is normally so little business, the stationmaster thought that the cab driver would likely go fishing instead of coming back!

After waiting around an hour, the station master was kind enough to call the wife of the cabby and ask her to go get the driver for me. And two hours after getting off the train I was at the indigo studio, but again not a soul to be seen!

I wandered until I came across the area that looked as if it would house the indigo vats, and in the Japanese tradition, opened the door and called out, “Gomen kudasai!” to let them know I had arrived.

Inner workroom with indigo pots sunk deep into the flooring.

Before my eyes could adjust to the inner darkness of the studio, I saw a flash of movement, and the door was slammed in my face as someone screamed, “Haitcha dame!” (“Stay out!”). Not knowing what else so do, by now it was nearing 11:00, I sat down on the step and contemplated my sins in the warmth of the autumn sun.

It wasn’t long before a kindly looking, elderly man came out and motioned me to follow him to the side of the building. He was deeply apologetic for what he described as the rude behavior of his customer. He confided that she was very protective and secretive of the techniques she employed, and he went on to describe each step she followed in great detail! It seems that each of her works requires dozens of visits to the indigo studio, which meant that each completed piece would have several hundreds of dollars invested in it in dye costs alone.

…offered to share my lunch…

By noon, this mysterious customer joined me in the yard, and as you may have guessed, it was indeed my traveling companion. She was very gracious and solicitous, wanting to know all about what I was doing, who I was studying with, what I may have seen when I opened the door upon arrival, and so on. I had a bad case of not being able to speak Japanese but offered her some of my lunch.

Soon her work was dry enough to take home, and I was allowed, with some trepidation, to begin work on my noren. Once the once customer finally departed several members of the household came out and made a point of being very chatty with me. I wound up getting a full tour of the facility, had afternoon tea and a snack with the grandfatherly dyer and was encouraged to come back whenever I liked.

All in all, it was a very educational experience!


John’s Art – Pick of the Week: Gossamer Textiles

I’ve always been fascinated by the play of light and pattern through layers of silk. The gossamer weaves allow me to experiment with how patterns play off one another, how light is transmitted through layers, and how fabrics can appear at times to create more of an aura around the wearer rather than a blind.

Autumn light giving a glow to these silks displayed on the engawa of an estate in Tokyo.

Hydrangea Float by John Marshall, Indigo and Cocheneal on Silk Crinkle Gauze, Fashion Show in Fukuoka, Japan


The silk used in the garment to the right is a wonderful silk called crinkle gauze that I bought from Thai Silks in Los Altos, CA. I love working with it. It takes the natural dyes beautifully and is very forgiving.

I’ve used one large stencil several times to create the affect of a garden of hydrangeas on an early summer morning, presented here at one of my shows in Japan.

Very few dyes were used–just indigo, cocheneal, and a tiny bit of barberry to take the indigo to green for the leaves.


Sparrows and Peonies, John Marshall, Back View

Sparrows and Peonies is a piece a created with a much heavier look than Hydrangea Float above. In this case I was attempting to capture the feeling of a walk in a peony garden as the light falls and the sparrows begin to settle for the night.

It may be hard to tell from the photos and angles, but both garments are from the same cut. The hydrangea piece is simply one layer of almost weightless gauze, and the peony piece is three layers of silk.

The innermost, lining layer of Sparrows and Peonies is a lightweight jacquard silk, the core layer is a lightweight china silk, and the outermost layer is of a ro-like gauze.

Sparrows and Peonies by John Marshall, Bottom Detail



Knowing that the core layer would be covered by the dark colored gauze, I was careful to keep the white outlines of the design in high contrast to the other colors used, working mainly with indigo, concentrated cocheneal, and soot. The topmost layer is a mixture of cocheneal with indigo, dyed as a solid color. It was important to keep the color gradations in the top layer to a minimum to allow the pattern beneath to show through. Over this solid color are gold-leafed sparrows. The gold sparrows roughly correspond to other sparrows in the core design so that as the model walks, the fabrics shifts, giving the illusion of flight.

Sparrows and Peonies by John Marshall, Detail Highlighting Affect of Layering

Shouki 鍾馗様

I bought my first set of Boys Day decorations when I was in fourth grade.

For those of you old enough and familiar enough with Sacramento to remember back before Highway 80 cut through town and wiped out a large part of Japantown, there was a wonderful store on P Street called Yorozu, run by the Okada brothers. I remember getting on the bus to take the long ride into town by myself, with my jeans pocket full of what seemed to me to be a small fortune in money earned from mowing lawns. I still remember the intoxicating sandalwood-like smell of the store and the exotic treasures on display.  Eugene Okada was very patient with me, letting me look at everything and  pose questions whenever I could find the gumption.

Shouki FaceI went home with my first set of miniature nobori and a shiny suit of armor with a prancing dragon on the helmet. The center banner had a wonderful image of a scowling character, with wild hair and bushy eyebrows. His name is Shoki (鍾馗様) and he is patron saint of students and civil servants.

Since then I have enjoyed collecting other images and dolls representing Shoki.  It seems that Shoki was a very good student and studied hard to become a physician in ancient China. The most common story has it that he passed his exams in flying colors but was considered too ugly to work in the court and committed suicide in disgrace. I heard a slightly different story as a child, and it is still the one I prefer.

Shouki Noboribata with Demon in Flight

Shoki came from a very poor but honest household. China was the first civilization to have civil-service exams for its citizens, and Shoki worked diligently to earn his spot. The night before the exams were to take place some roving oni (鬼 small demons) came upon him slumped over his desk, exhausted from his studies. They decided to pull a prank on him and set about disfiguring him horribly. When he showed up to take the exams he was barred from the hall by the indignant officials, ending all chances of becoming the physician he longed to be.  Not long after that Shoki died in sadness and defeat, but he vowed to take his revenge on the oni in the next life. It is for this reason he is called the Demon Killer and is almost always shown with a scholar’s cap and an eye out for the mischievous oni. Shoki has become the protector of students who diligently apply themselves to their lessons, as well as civil servants. I like to give him as a gift to friends battling cancer or other challenges to help in fighting their demons as they confront them.

For this week’s Treasure from John’s Collection, I have chosen two of my favorite Shoki noboribata. The first, shown above and right has a very regal, no-nonsense sort of look to him, bent on his mission to systematically rid

“Oh, no you di’n’t!”

the cosmos of this plague. And the second, to the left, somehow seems a bit less high-brow, but no less serious. With that face and posture, can’t you almost imagine his saying, “Oh, no you di’n’t!

While the first image has the oni clearly in view, in the second image we can just imagine by his focus where the oni is located.

Both are dressed in the Japanese-imagined version of how he would have been dressed in ancient times across the sea.

Each banner is designed to be seen from both sides and so are painted to match identically.  Both banners have been hand painted with no use of rice paste resist or other aid to the dye process. Natural minerals have been used as the dyes–primarily sumi (墨 lamp black), ai (藍 indigo), gunjou (cobalt 群青), and bengara (iron 弁柄 ). In my dyework I always mix soy milk as a binding agent. This keeps the pigments from crocking (rubbing off), but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

If we take a close look at the akaoni (赤鬼 red demon) depicted in the first image (see detail below), you’ll notice how the dyes seem to look a bit uneven through wear. This is what crocking will do. Even though the dyes will hold up well to outdoor abuse, it would not be wise to wash them.

Iron rust pigments and lamp black pigments are visibly sitting on the surface of the hand-woven cotton.

By the way, the store Yorozu moved to a new location after closing on P Street. They are now located on Riverside Blvd. at Broadway, an still have many treasures to offer.

If you are not familiar with using soy milk and pigments, you may want to take a look at Salvation through Soy, a booklet describing its use. Just click on this text.

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