Sunday, January 3, 2010

Japanese dyes

A few months ago these boxes of dyes were fetched down in the studio and I photographed them meaning to identify what was what, a difficult job considering it is all in Japanese. It seems puzzling to me that such a lot are brown but that could be due to age. The english equivalent of plant material would retain some colour, and dried material is not much good for dyeing with anyway, so in that respect these samples show the wide range of material used, their viability has probably been lost. Jill Goodwin's book of dyeing is perhaps still the best you can find in the way of dye books in this country, and it would be interesting to do the same for these Japanese dyes.

This photo is self explanatory, the poor old moths that cocoon their young in silk, only for the silkworm breeder to come along suffocate the larvae inside the cocoon and take the silk. The central silk is called a 'hankerchief' from which you can unwind the silk for spinning.

The wide variety of plants, insects and bark for dyeing

Some familars here, cochineal, the red beetle which you grind to make a lovely corally red, though of course all dyeing is dependent on the material dyed. The three top Al/A2/A3 are indigo plants (indoferas range)


Mineral dyes used for paints; though that tamamushi looks like an exotic beetle, and apparently pearls are also ground down for painting with.


Notes on minerals;

Haku means foil or gilt, so Kin (gold) Gin (silver);
Gofun = oyster shells. Ikkyu means best quality. Moriage gofun means gofun used for 'raised' white paint - eg petals. The use of gofun is unique to Japan and is found in both paintings and prints, In China and Korea lead white was used.
Karuishi = pumice stone
Matsu yani = pine resin
Konjo = prussian blue - ultramarine?
Hakkin = platinimum
Arabia goum = must be arabic gum (used in potpourri)
Chan = resin?
Mitsuda/mitsuba = bonewort?
Myoban = alum
A1 = indigo
odoko = copper pyrites, chalcopyrites
rokusho = verdigris?
saikuchi = metal or resin again?
Shika Nikawa = nikawa is glue
Shingyu kawa
Shinju = pearl
Tetsu fun = metal?

Links; with thanks to Printmaterial - A history of Sashiko in Japan

The York exhibition of Sashiko, ended 03/1/2010


  1. Thelma,
    What treasures! This looks like a fascinating collection. I envy you. It would be so interesting to see what colours they would produce and I wonder which mordant the Japanese favoured? I assume they would have used them for dyeing silk but a friend has just visited the sashiko exhibition in York and she said most of the textiles there were cotton and all dyed ,after stitch resisting, with indigo. So very interesting. Thanks for sharing. Lesley

  2. Hi Lesley, Yes they are interesting, tried to name some of the plants, or insects even, locusts/grasshopper/cicada but gave up in the end. Alum is one of the mordants probably. There are also pine resins as well, used for glue I suppose, LS makes his own glue for that delicate match between paper and silk.
    The little iridiscent tamasushi beetle has a shrine in a temple somewhere. I will look up that Sashiko exhibition in York, though it doesnt look like travelling for anyone at the moment.

  3. What a fantastic collection! Do you have, in your collection some of these dyes and pigments:

    beni,ukon,ai,aigami,suo,kibada,euji, kuschinashi, inorg,ki-wo,shi-wo,airo,shu,benigara,tan,zumi....not positive about spelling....:-((((

    Thanks a lot


  4. Not sure, ukon I recognise, but it is difficult to list them all, though if you click on the photos you will see that they enlarge and you can read the writing.