The first guest post on Kimonogeisha.com!
After our call to be part of Kimonogeisha, we have received various interesting posts from other kimono fans from all over the world. Melissa from readysetkimono.com has the honour to be our first guest poster ever with her post about the aizome dyeing technique. If you also want to share your content, pictures or reviews of events, fashion shows or anything else kimono related, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Antique aizome kimono that used katazome technique
History of aizome
Aizome (藍染) is known as indigo dyeing in English and it has a long 1400 year history as a dyeing method in Japan. Aizome is a suitable dye for many kinds of fabric including silk, hemp, and cotton. Because it’s so versatile, it was commonly worn by all classes in Japanese society from the Shogun all the way down to the common laborer. It became especially popular with the lower classes when the Shogun imposed sumptuary laws banning bright and outlandish colors for clothing during the Edo period. Aizome’s blue color was still allowed and it became a popular way of adding color to your wardrobe. It was so popular that when Japan opened up to the west during the Meiji era, British chemist R.W. Atkinson saw so many aizome dyed garments that he called the color Japan Blue.
Antique obi that used aizome dyed thread in the weaving
What kind of kimono can be created?
Aizome uses only two colors, blue and white. The contrast between the dyed blue sections of the cloth and the undyed white sections of the cloth is what gives aizome garments their striking look. Aizome can be used to create both sakizome (先染め) or woven kimono (when the threads are dyed before weaving) and atozome (後染め) or dyed kimono (when the fabric is dyed after it is woven).
For atozome kimono, there are two different techniques that are used. The first is katazome (型染め) which means paste resist or stencil dyeing. In this method, a stencil of the desired design is created and placed on the fabric. A paste made from rice is applied and left to dry. When the cloth is dyed, the places with paste resist the dye and remain white. When the dyeing is complete, the paste is washed off leaving striking patterns of white in its place. Katazome can be used to create large intricate patterns, or small, detailed, repeating patterns.
The second method that can be used is shibori (絞り) or the tie-dye method. In this method, the cloth is tied and secured in a certain pattern. When it is dipped into the dye, the tied parts of the cloth resist the dye. Shibori produces a very soft, 3-D effect with no hard lines.
Handkerchief being brought out of the dye after the first dip. Note the green colour.
Washing off excess dye after the third and final dip in the dye. This handkerchief was dyed using the shibori method.
Aizome produces a wide range of shades depending on how many times the cloth is dipped. Anything from almost white to the deepest blue can be achieved. When the fabric is first brought out of the dye, it actually looks green. The dye has to oxidize in the air for it to take on its distinctive blue color.
Creating the dye
It can take a year to produce aizome dye. The long process is necessary in order to make the dye water soluble. The process starts in March when the seeds for the indigo are planted. The mature plants are harvested twice, first in July, then again in August. From there, it is made into sukumo, a dried, fermented, ingredient that will eventually produce the dye. It is up to the skill of the ai-shi (the sukumo maker) to create a high quality product. Making sukumo begins in September and takes about four months. Every five to six days the sukumo is sprinkled with water and mixed so that it ferments evenly.
sukumo ready to be made into dye
Vats of aizome dye ready for use
By December, the process is completed and the sukumo is shipped out to the dyers. The dyer will mix the sukumo, ash lye, lime, sake, and water. The mixture needs to be stirred several times a day for a few weeks, slowly adding more lime to slow down the fermentation process as needed. When a cluster of metallic bubbles forms on the top of the dye (called the ai no hana or indigo flower) then the dye is ready for use.
Diorama from an aizome museum showing the process of katazome dyeing using a stencil.
If you would like to learn more about aizome, please check out the three part series at
Part 1: http://readysetkimono.com/2014/11/22/aizome-%E8%97%8D%E6%9F%93-indigo-dyeing-part-one-2/
Part 2: http://readysetkimono.com/2014/11/29/aizome-%E8%97%8D%E6%9F%93-indigo-dyeing-part-two/
Part 3: http://readysetkimono.com/2014/12/05/aizome-%E8%97%8D%E6%9F%93-indigo-dyeing-part-3/
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