July 15, 2011

Natural Dyes: Japan and After

I've read somewhere on India Flint's blog about dyeing on the move. Before I left for Japan I packed some vintage kimono silk to take with me to dye. I didn't expect to have the opportunity to do much dyeing on the trip, but I took it anyway. Sometime preparing is as much fun as the trip itself. In my case I had fun before, during and after the trip! Read on and you will see some of the dyeing I did on my trip. 

The first day on the tour we stopped at a small town called Kiryu in Gunma. Our guide told us about a small natural dye shop. In his opinion the shop was small, untidy and hippy-like, but when we arrived and met with the so called hippy who owns the shop I was speechless. He was so cool and full of character. In his excitement to have 18 foreigners mostly women in his small shop he told us about his natural dyeing process and how he discovered the way to stop the colour fading after it dyed. Of course we didn't understand a thing he said. We got it translated to us by the guide and I don't know how much was lost in translation!  


I didn't care what he said I was mesmerized by the man and his shop! It was small and untidy as I was told, but I like untidy shops. They mean bargain-able...! 


At home you would think these were spice jars. But these jars contain all kind of dye samples. Apart from the samples in the jars there were bags and bags of dyeing material all over the floor and when I had a peek behind the noren into the back room I found more bags of dye stuff there too. So cool!


This is part of his shop. He had an old weaving loom sitting right in the middle of the precious space of his shop. Lots and lots of handmade items and yarns for sale. The highlight for me would have to be the man himself! Oh, I did get some silk yarn for dyeing! 


When we visited the silk museum also in Gunma we had a chance to dye. The workshop was part of the silk museum. At home I have a dye pot in the corner of my laundry, but here there was a purpose-built kitchen for dyeing. The two stainless steel tables can be adjusted to suit your height. On one end of the table there was a sink with hot and cold running water and the cookers were at the other end of the room. In the photo above the teacher was telling us what to do (in Japanese).  


I was so busy dyeing during the workshop that I didn't get to take any action photos. Precious time dyeing with 17 other tour mates! Above is the result of our dyed scarves. The yellow and green one is mine. It was a two-step dyeing process. First in sappanwood (?) dye solution then shibori and dipped in iron or alum mordant to get the green or purple. We only had two choices of dyes that day. Pomegranate and sampanwood. 


I had a chance to have a photo taken with the lovely ladies volunteering that day. They were so lovely and polite. They didn't pull their hair out working with the noisy tourists. I would have...!


We had lunch with them afterward. All the volunteer ladies were specialized in different dyeing techniques. They were doing a lot of batik dyeing. This lovely lady was showing us a  beautiful scarf she made. She told me she dyed the silk dress she was wearing too. Very impressive.


Now for my dyeing adventure during the trip. It started off at the Narita Hilton. I used some used green tea bags provided in our room. I emptied two or three bags on the wet silk rolled up tightly with rubber bands and stored them in a Ziploc bag. All the other bundles consisted of leaves found along the way. I finally found white vinegar at a 7-eleven the following week. After that the bundle with vinegar did smell like pickles in the hotel room! These ziplock bags were in my luggage for 3 weeks and I had to unwrap and wash the silk before I left Japan. 


Here are the result of my dyed silk. They weren't brilliant, but I had fun in the process. I also kept my tour mates amused looking out for dyes stuff for me. One of them risk her life and steal mulberry leaves from Tomioka Silk Mill for me! I have a feeling that next time some of them travel they would be dyeing too! Thanks India for yet another expert tip on dyeing.


These are the silks I dyed since my return to Australia. You can see I was influenced by the Japanese dyeing method shibori. I love the soft colour I got.  From the left I used: privet berries, camellia flowers, more privet berries and the last one on the right is winter oak leaves with iron mordant. 


The first batch I dyed after my return. I got a bit of post Japan blues when I first got back so I dived into dyeing to get over my blues and it worked. I got grays instead of blues hehe! 


Mr Notjustnat was pruning the neighbor's bush coming over our wall. I didn't know what it was at the time. He told me I should try dyeing with them. I asked Mr Google what they were and got the answer right away that these are privet berries. 


I packed the berries between two layers of silk and smashed the berries to pulp. Rolled and steamed them for about an hour. The result is what you see above. 


The best natural dye session I did had to be indigo dyeing at the Japanese Textile Workshops. It still seemed like a dream to me that I was dyeing there. Indigo dye was the one thing I really wanted to do in Japan and my wish was granted just a few days before I left.  


Apart from the beautiful roses prominently placed at either side of the front door, the indigo  vat has a pride of place there as well. The same afternoon we were there one of Bryan's students was there to join in with indigo dyeing. I think she had much more fun dyeing and practicing her English with us than her usual lesson. 

My Japan journal is almost coming to the end. The next post will be the last of my Japan journal and it will be on Japanese hospitality. It's something close to my heart and I want to share it with you. Blogging about it is the way to thank everyone in Japan who went to great lengths to ensure that I had a good time while visiting their country.  Don't miss it!


25 comments:

kaiteM said...

So much beautiful dyeing to see and amazing dyers to learn from, a very interesting post Nat.

Queen Of The Armchair aka Dzintra Stitcheries said...

Wow Nat this is all so fascinating learning about the dyeing and that little shop with the man...all so cool!!!

Needled Mom said...

I have a smile on my face as I imagine your friends searching out dying elements for you! Your dying is really beautiful. I love the softer colors since your return and those grays are stunning.

Your hippy guy looks like he was quite the character, but I LOVED his shop!!!

I can't wait to read about the hospitality.

Els said...

Wow Nat, what great stories!!(ánd experience!!)

Simone de Klerk said...

Nothing to add to this wonderful post! I must say, I do love the blues that turned grey!
And oh, those pots with dye samples. You could have probably searched through that shop for a whole day!
It must all have been heaven, what you show us, Nat!

deanna7trees said...

you really were determined to dye on the go and you did a great job. love that black and white one. so many interesting stories and i love the way you tell them.

Terry said...

The journal has been a wonderful way to share your trip and it's adventures. I can omagine you searching for vinegar to set the dyes.

All the dying adventures are interesting as are the results.

Jeannie said...

What a wonderful post. I can understand wanting to dye on the go. We all pick up sea shells, why not dye possibilities! Thanks for sharing your trip. I loved the dye apothocary shop.

Grand Purl Baa said...

Wow Nat! Look at that! I LERVE the blue berry dye you did. I love everything you did. You are clever clever and game and creative and well .... look at the results. WHat a big adventure you are on, always.

Nancy said...

I've really been enjoying reading you journal! Thank you for sharing your travels.

Kim said...

What a trip!
You are so adventurous to try all this different dying.....what excellent results!

Happy Sewing

Janet said...

You have your husband well trained now. The colour the berries have given is beautiful. I loved reading more about your dying adventures in Japan.

Astrid said...

Oh Nat, what an experience; dyeing in Japan! I love reading your journal and see the photos! What caught my eye is mulberries for dyeing... Do you use the berries or the leaves?

onesmallstitch said...

I'm going to have to read this again and again. thanks for sharing your WONDERFUL experiences. your travelling dyeing is a joy and wonderful that your companions shared in the fun. can't believe that the volunteer lady wore a hand dyed silk dress to dye with the "noisy tourists"!

Michele Pacey said...

I agree with Kim! You have such an adventurous spirit Nat, it's very inspirational to hear about the many and various dyeing processes you've experimented with, during and after your trip. i like to bring along crafty work whenever I go places too but I've never tried dyeing on the go! that's awesome!

Bev C said...

Hello Nat,

Oh this is a great happy post. I love how you sent your travelling companions of to get things for you!!! Your Privit dye is stunning,nothing is safe from being tried at your home.
happy days.
Bev.xoxo

kathyd said...

thanks nat .. that is such a cool trip.

Martine said...

thanks Nat for this, i love your dyeing stories.........
XXXm

Lynda Howells said...

that's Nat for this informative and beautiful post. l wish l had known you when we were both inPNG..we would have had such fun togetherxxlynda

Lynda Howells said...

sorry that is meant to say...thanks not that's. xx

Erika Lee Sears said...

wow i just love how they all turned out.

Lis said...

What a beautiful post Nat and I love the idea of travel dyeing! You have been very busy since you got back and I can see the influences of your time in Japan, you are creating some lovely fabric. That man in the dye shop, so wonderful! Thank you for all your time and care in sharing your trip.

Anonymous said...

I Natima, I've been sick, but it has been lovely to catch up on your blog, very enjoyable way to recover.

Lynda.

Marie said...

I would not have even thought of dying fabric on a trip...but, what a great idea and I am sure it added an element of fun.
I think the indigo dying process would be my favorite thing too!
What beautiful fabrics you have dyed. Thank you for sharing <3

sheila at shecological said...

Hi Nat, I came upon your blog from your daughter Kit's blog. I met her at the craft night she held in Sydney. She is such a great person, I thought I would check out your blog. I never would have guessed that the first thing I would see is two of my favorite things: natural dyes, and Japan! I am so envious of your trip and it was so fun to see and read about the cool things you did. Maybe we will meet at a future craft night and I can hear more about it.

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