Tag Archives: natural dye

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.

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.

The book is $450. Shipping default is set at $18, and CA sales tax is added in. If I am shipping to you outside of California the sales tax will be refunded to you along with adjustments made to the actual shipping cost when your order ships. Thank you! -J

Fresh-Leaf Indigo Clamp Resist 生藍板締め

 Itajime Michiyuki

I’m always on the look out for new weaves, dyes, and dye techniques to add to my collection. I was happy to stumble upon this garment and recognize it as having been dyed with fresh-leaf indigo. It is clamp-resist dyeing on a very nice quality Japanese silk jacquard (rinzu).

Full front view of a michiyuki dyed with fresh-leaf tadeai indigo on silk using clamp resist (itajime)

 

Detail of the michiyuki above (the fan shapes are part of the jacquard pattern in the weave)

It’s always fun to try to figure out exactly how something was accomplished. Below is my guess as to what the block for clamp resist must have looked like based on the pattern we see.

The thin, baby-blue lines indicate the fold lines of the design. The red image indicates the shape of the block required to achieve this repetitious pattern.

If the silk is folded along the baby-blue lines indicated above, we wind up with a layered rectangle as seen below. The fabric is sandwiched between two blocks and clamped. Only the exposed areas of silk will receive a saturation of color – although because of the length of time required to soak the fiber in a fresh-leaf vat, some dye will wick under the clamped areas giving the beautifully variegated look see in the finished piece.  What fun!

Folded and clamped yardage

Of course, I could be wrong…

The red circle indicates a distinctly white (resisted) line.

In the detail above we can see a distinctly white line. This resisted area can’t be accounted for with the method I suggested above. I wonder what would work?

The red line traces the general path of the white, resisted area.

The block from the earlier attempt cut into two new blocks.

If I draw a border in from the edge of the block used in the earlier attempt to mimic the dye pattern, and then using a scroll saw to separate this border from the center section, I will wind up with two distinct blocks with which to clamp my fabric, allowing me to work in stages.

The yellow area indicates a piece of plywood used to help hold the blocks in place and to distribute the pressure when the clamps are applied.

I’ll start by fitting the two blocks together and placing them as I did above. A piece of plywood or plexiglass will help to distribute the pressure of the clamps and hold the blocks in place. Once the exposed areas are dunked several times in the indigo, I removed the clamps and while being careful not to disturb the border block, removed the center block.

The center block removed, and the border block re-clamped with a new layer of plywood.

The red, border block needs to remain in position to ensure the white area of the design continues to be resisted. I’ve prepared a new sheet of plywood, this time with holes to allow the dye to flow into the moat created by the border block. OK, this will work. But if I’m going to use two different plywood forms, then who needs the center block?

Updated version: start with the border block, front and back, in position.

This is my streamlined solution: I start with two red border blocks, one on top, one on bottom. I place a solid plywood form on top and bottom and clamp in place (I would use several more than just two C-clamps in this case). Dye the outer, exposed edges.

The solid plywood form swapped out for the perforated form.

Next remove the clamps and swap out the solid plywood form for that with the holes. Dunk several more times, and you’re all set!

I’ll let you know once I’ve had a chance to actually try out my theory – but if you get to it first let me know your results!