”What kind of Indigo Dye do you practice on the Indigo Dye Sashiko Thread?”
We received the question above on the Instagram photo in the Japanese language. The description on our Natural Dye and Indigo Dye are pretty simple, and we realize that it would be necessary to explain the Indigo Dye methods we practice. Any form of misunderstanding on what we do is the last thing we would like to have. So here is the Indigo Dye we practice on our indigo Dye Sashiko Thread (In 2018), and our belief in Indigo Dye.
*This blog is a translation & edited from the article “About Indigo Dye” in Japanese.
Natural Indigo or Synthetic Indigo Blue
There are numerous numbers of methods to dye thread Indigo color. We roughly understand there are 4 main categories in dyeing methods using Indigo.
*Please kindly advise me if I am mistaken in the description. We are Sashiko artisans and not the Natural Dye Artisans. Simply, we enjoy Natural dye to create the color that matches the Japanese vintage fabric. We read the books and learn from the professionals. However, we aren’t perfect.
Natural Indigo doesn’t dye the materials by just dissolving the Indigo Dye into the water.
When you use the Natural Indigo, the dye process requires “reduction (the word in chemistry)” with alkali agents. After this chemical reaction, the material touches the Indigo liquid, and then it gets beautiful blue (or green) in the process of the oxidation reaction.
1. The Japanese Traditional Dye – Hon (Sei) Aizome
The Japanese before the year around 1865 made this chemical reaction happen by using the natural lye from wood ashes. Now, as long as I know, only a few percents of Indigo industry uses this Natural lye to proceed the process. This is one of the most difficult & challenging Indigo Dye.
The master of “Sukumo” makes the Natural Indigo Dye so-called Sukumo by growing Tadeai (knotweed indigo = Persicaria tinctoria), dry the leave, then ferment them. After a good fermentation of the leave, the master of “Indigo Dye” mixes the Sukumo, Lye (wood ash), bran, and lime. The initial process of fermentation creates some odor, but when the process is completed, only a good natural smell will be sent.
We call this Japanese Traditional Indigo Dye with Natural Lye “Hon-Aizome” or “Sei-Aizome”, in rough translation to English “Authentic Indigo Dye”
In the 18 century, the industrial synthetic dye took over its role because the Japanese Traditional takes a lot of time and cost a fortune of money. Also, the Japanese government prohibited the Indigo farming during the World War II, the culture of this Indigo Dye once ended. However, even in that difficult era, masters in Tokushima kept the seeds of Indigo and passed down the tradition to today.
Personally speaking, this is what I love the most. I may love it more than Sashiko.
We have tried it, enjoyed it, but discontinued since it took so much time and cost. If we were a group of Dye Artists, we would have continued. However, again, we are a group of Sashiko artisans, and we needed to invest time and money into what we do.
2. Natural Dye with Reducing Agent
This method also use the Natural Indigo Dye including Sukumo and Indigo leave made in India. The difference is how to make the chemical reaction happen. The Japanese traditional way uses the lye from nature to make the Alkali agent. It takes a long time to prepare, and control the fermentation. The second method of Natural Indigo Dye is to use the same Natural Indigo Dye above, then use the synthetic reducing agent to make the similar chemical reaction occur.
This is the way we, Sashi.Co & Keiko Futatsuya, practice as of 2018.
As I mentioned above, we have challenged to create the Sashiko Thread with the Japanese traditional way. However, it was way too challenging to keep the liquid alive and keep the color stable. We learn that the Natural Indigo Dye with Japanese traditional method requires another lifetime commitment.
People use hydrosulfite and sodium hydroxide.
We prefer not to use these strong chemicals to get the indigo blue color. Considering the troubles of controlling the liquid and the color, safety of hands and environment, we decided to discontinue the Indigo Natural Dye in 2016. Then, we come across the unique reduce agent produced by one of the famous Japanese natural dye manufacture (maker). Ever since we have been enjoying the beautiful Indigo colors.
It is with Natural Indigo Dye.
The color of Sashiko thread is beautiful. It is easier to control the Indigo liquid, and we can come up with variety of Indigo Dye Colors.
3. Mix of Natural Dye and Synthetic Dye
Indigo is a very popular color.
Some dye manufactures invested money and time into making an original Indigo dye, with mixing the Natural Dye and Synthetic Dye. This unique and original dye doesn’t require any chemical reaction under dyer’s control. It is ready to use by just mixing the dye. What the dyer has to do is to dissolve the dye into the water, and make a liquid to dye.
We tried this method several times.
However, we couldn’t have the result we expected. So we decided to discontinue this.
4. Industrial Synthetic Dye
Mass production of denim, especially jeans, was supported by this industrial synthetic dye. In 1865, the German Chemist worked on the synthesis of Indigo, and the easiness comparing to the Natural methods took over the market.
I have the very limited knowledge and experience in the (industrial) synthetic dye, I should not mention anything specific here.
The Coron Sashiko Thread #15 (Indigo Blue) is dyed with the synthetic Dye.
Other Indigo Dye Process all over the world.
The culture and history of Indigo Dye can be found in many regions all over the world. I know the very biased part of Indigo, and we try to come up with the colors we would like to use on our Sashiko projects. Please share your knowledge if you have one. I am happy to add information on this page regarding the Indigo Dye Sashiko Thread.
Definition of Natural Dye
Our Indigo Dye Sashiko thread
Well… I have said above.
We sell the Natural Dye Sashiko Thread, including the one we talk about here, the Natural Dye Sashiko Thread.
When we started working intensively on Sashiko mending with the vintage fabric and Boro, we couldn’t find the best suitable color from the synthetic dyed Sashiko Thread. After trying a variety of Sashiko thread, we reached to the conclusion of us dyeing Sashiko thread by ourselves. We started learning how to do it by try and error, starting some “easier” natural dye such as Madder and Tangala. It has been about 8 years since we started the journey. We are happy with our result with a variety of Natural Dyes.
The color for the vintage fabric & Boro, which the time flow made its unique color, required the natural color which also make its unique color by the time flows.
Our Natural Indigo Dye Sashiko Thread is in the category of (2) above.
We didn’t want to use the strong chemical materials, yet we didn’t have enough resource to focus on the Hon-Aizome. Some people may call it a “compromise”. However, we are okay with the result we have with the Natural Indigo Dye. After all, what we need is the color matching the project we are working on.
We call our Indigo Dye Sashiko Thread “Natural” because we use the Natural Indigo Dye material. Our decision of calling our thread Natural is either we use the Natural Dye materials or not. With this definition, we set the line calling our thread Natural by (2) and (3) in above description of each Indigo Dye methods.
Some people call an item “Natural” when a bit of Natural material is part of the process.
Some people call an item “Natural” when all of the materials and process are completed with natural materials and natural process.
Our decision is to keep producing the beautiful Indigo Dye Sashiko Thread with reasonable price with using only the Natural Indigo Dyes. I hope you understand how we dye the Sashiko thread with Indigo & also our philosophy toward the dyeing.
We will leave the correct answer to the definition of Natural Dye to the Dye professionals. It isn’t out of the field to discuss. We are merely making Sashiko thread to match the color to upcycle, repurpose, and enjoy the vintage fabrics.
Regardless, please do not forget the respect the Tradition and the praise for the skill and technique of the artisans. We all want to share the beauty of hand-crafting, and culture behind it.