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Sometsukasa Yoshioka 染司よしおか, A Botanical Dyer’s Atelier: Post #6, Purple

Written on June 23, 2009

Today’s post will highlight the natural dye that produces purple, or murasaki as seen at Sometsukasa Yoshioka, the fifth generation dyeworks in Kyoto, Japan, which specializes in botanical dyeing of the highest caliber.  The force behind this amazing color studio is Sachio Yoshioka, who is introduced in the first of what will be eleven posts.  If you scroll down you can see the previous posts on Yoshioka.

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On one of the days I visited Sometsukasa Yoshioka, the chief dyer at the atelier, Fukuda-san, who has more than 40 years experience in dyeing with Yoshioka, was dyeing purple using shikon or gromwell root.

Below you will see him pummeling the saturated roots in order to break them down to best extract their amethyst-colored dyes.

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The prepared root is placed in a ramie bag which will be set into hot water to extract its color, much like using a tea bag.  Once enough of the dye is extracted, the dyeing begins–and it must happen the same day that the dye is extracted from the roots.

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Here we see Fukuda-san agitating the dyed chirimen or crepe silk; great care must be taken that the cloth be constantly in motion as this aids in even dye coverage.

The actual piece of cloth being dyed that day is shown in the first image at the top of this post: it was destined for use as an under-obi called an obiage. After dyeing the cloth in shikon, it was mordanted in camellia ash in order to heighten the purple color.

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The color produced by dyeing with shikon is a soft, rich, red-tinged purple.  In country dyeing the color produced by gromwell root on cotton is a much darker, brooding purple, a result of dipping the cloth multiple times to build up a dense, purple color.   If you look at the purple areas on the han juban, or under kimono shown here you will see that the tone of purple is quite deep, and this is characteristic of antique gromwell root dyeing.

Yellow will be shown in the next post–have a look back soon.

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