Dyeing with Indigo – The Japanese Way

Meet Kitta and Sawa

JapaneseDyeDay 15JapaneseDyeDay 15

They are the custodians of the last ryukyu indigo farm in Okinawa, Japan using traditional fermentation techniques. From harvesting the indigo crop to hand sewing the finished garments, Kitta and Sawa show care at every stage of the whole process.  They have also reintroduced madder which is no longer farmed in Japan and are advocates for the revitalisation of natural dyeing as an industry. JapaneseDyeDay 15

We were lucky enough to have them visit Perth and hold a special workshop for us on dyeing with their ryukyu indigo and madder.     The workshop was hosted at Trudi Pollard’s Studio, a local designer of eco couture. Check out Trudi’s collection of solar dye pots! JapaneseDyeDay 15

And just one example of her beautiful work: JapaneseDyeDay 15

We dyed Japanese linen which had been prepared by soaking in soya liquid for the madder (a little like the dairy method I have been using) and wet for the indigo.  We also added some fair trade Cambodian silk to the madder which did not need mordanting.JapaneseDyeDay 15 Madder roots have been used for dyeing red colours for centuries. The dried root looks like this: JapaneseDyeDay 15  The madder was prepared for dyeing by heating for a couple of hours before adding vinegar,JapaneseDyeDay 15 straining,JapaneseDyeDay 15 And then heating further before adjusting the pH to 10 (we used soda ash)   JapaneseDyeDay 15   We then added our fabric to the pot for 20 mins stirring all the while    JapaneseDyeDay 15 and mordanting it with alum in between dips. JapaneseDyeDay 15

The fabrics all went the most deep tangerine colour. .JapaneseDyeDay 15

The indigo vat had been brewing for a week or so at the studio being carefully tended to (even wrapped in an electric blanket!).   Kitta and Sawa use local sake and malt as the base, and wood ash and lime to control the pH. The vat had a wonderful glow and shimmer when opened, and a distinctive smell that I can only describe as somewhere between rotting fruit and alcohol.JapaneseDyeDay 15

We massaged the linen under the water (those gloves didn’t last long and I later went for the blue hand look!)

JapaneseDyeDay 15

//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsAnd then aired them, where the greenish colour in the vat turned to a true blue.JapaneseDyeDay 15

After a few dips, the indigo was clearly getting weaker so we reverse the order for fabrics going in the vat for a second dip.

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Sawa adjusted the pH of the vat and then we left it to rest for another day.  Apparently, with care, the vat will last around 3 months.

The day was rounded out by a beautiful Japanese lunch and some videos of the farm accompanied by Sawa’s guitar playing which turned out to be just what everyone needed to have a wee siesta!

When I got home I also wanted to test out some overdyeing to see if I could get different shades with dyes I can get locally.

Madder on silk, overdyed with pomegranate and then sour grass.

Madder results

Ryukyu indigo overdyed with pomegranate and sourgrass

Indigo results green

Indigo overdyed with eucalyptus trying to get a purple was not as successful but perhaps bottlebrush flowers or red ironbark would be a better option.

Indigo results purple

Kitta and Sawa’s story and the care they put into sharing their knowledge throughout the day just left my heart glowing.  These beautiful colours came home with me and I am currently plotting how best to honour their provenance.


10 thoughts on “Dyeing with Indigo – The Japanese Way

  1. What an authentic colour experience, full of grace and gentleness… I felt a little weepy reading Kitta and Sawa’s story – such an inspiring journey – the small self-taught beginnings and then growing a business but keeping true to creating garments truly by hand – proving that it is indeed possible to make a living quietly, gently and thoughtfully creating useful things in an age where most of us are exhausted by trying to ‘keep up’ with the pace…

  2. Pingback: Indigo – the Australian Way | this is moonlight

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