Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Not Your Ordinary Kimono . . .




Today I am sharing with you a Safflower and Gromwell Root Dyed Juban: Kyokechi with permission of my friend, Stephen Szczepanek, www.srithreads.com. This to-die-for piece is mid to late nineteenth century, and measures 58" x 46". I learn so much by visiting this site regularly, and I also see such beautiful things as I am certain I would not see outside a museum somewhere far away. Isn't it great how we can educate ourselves so much for free on the Internet?

The aigi or juban are the Japanese names for an under-kimono. What makes an under-kimono splendid, especially one sewn from 'recycled' silks as this one is? Aesthetics are the chief criteria for judging beauty, as well as the amazing botanical dyes used throughout this piece and the saffron used on the juban. It has a strong sense of spirituality. In my mind, this piece would not have been worn by an ordinary person, but by someone who had a higher ranking in society of the area at that time. Remember that this garment was meant to be worn UNDER another garment. One of the things that fascinates me about society of the past was how much detail and workmanship was put into things that generally never showed on the surface. This is definitely such an example. The beautiful play of the pieced, orange colored benibana (or safflower) dyed chirimen (Japanese term describing a dull crepe fabric made with a course yarn - crepe silks) against the beautifully rich gromwell root (or shikon) dyed purples is incredible.

The benibana passages on the back of the juban are done in the itajime or kyochechi method where carved boards and clamping create a resist pattern on the cloth.

ikewise the bottom of the juban is created from beautifully complex stencil resist silks, with the indigo silk trim at the bottom being a textured woven cloth.

The lining is made of benibana (safflower) dyed silk.
Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.[1]) is a highly branched, herbaceous, thistle-like annual, usually with many long sharp spines on the leaves. Plants are 30 to 150 cm tall with globular flower heads (capitula) and commonly, brilliant yellow, orange or red flowers. Each branch will usually have from one to five flower heads containing 15 to 20 seeds per head. Safflower has a strong taproot which enables it to thrive in dry climates, but the plant is very susceptible to frost injury from stem elongation to maturity.

Traditionally, the crop was grown for its seeds, and used for colouring and flavouring foods, in medicines, and making red (carthamin) and yellow dyes, especially before cheaper aniline dyes became available.

In colouring textiles, safflower's dried flowers are used as a natural textile dye. Natural dyes derived from plants are not widely used in industry but it is getting more important world wide because of naturality and fashion trends. The colourful matter in safflower is benzoquinone-based Carthamin, so it is one of the quinone type natural dyes. It is a direct dye (CI Natural Red 26) and soluble. Yellow, mustard, khaki, olive green or even red colours can be obtained on textiles, but it is mostly used for yellow colours. All hydrophilic fibres (all natural fibres, such as cotton, wool, etc.) can be dyed with this plant since it can be classified as a direct dye. Polyamide can also be dyed without a mordant agent because of its wool-like chemical structure. Polyester, polyacrylnitryl and others which are hydrophobic synthetic fibres can be dyed only in the existence of a mordant.

Safflower is one of humanity's oldest crops. Chemical analysis of ancient Egyptian textiles dated to the Twelfth dynasty identified dyes made from safflower, and garlands made from safflowers were found in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun.[2] John Chadwick reports that the Greek name for safflower occurs many times in Linear B tablets, distinguished into two kinds: a white safflower, which is measured, and red which is weighed. "The explanation is that there are two parts of the plant which can be used; the pale seeds and the red florets."[5]

Safflower was also known as carthamine in the 19th century.[6] It is a minor crop today, with about 600,000 tons being produced commercially in more than sixty countries worldwide. India, United States, and Mexico are the leading producers, with Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, China, Argentina and Australia accounting for most of the remainder.

Other names include Sallflower, Beni, Chimichanga, or Carthamus Tinctorius.

Root of redroot or gromwell root

1. Clears Heat, Cools the Blood, Relieves Fire Toxicity while Venting Rashes. Encourages rashes to surface, often for fire toxin with very dark purple rashes.
2. Topically. Clears damp heat, damp heat skin lesion, vaginal itching, burns.
3. Moisten Intestines, Unblock Bowels. Heat in the blood with constipation.

Japanese Gromwell (Lithospermum erythrorhizon Sieb. et Zucc) was highly prized as the only dye which showed purple which was regarded as noble color. It was used as skin healer to treat skin problems such as dry skin, boils, burns, and piles. Unfortunately, the appearance of synthetic dye and drug put an end to these practices.

Lithospermum purpurocaeruleum or Purple Gromwell is a plant species of the genus Lithospermum. It has been cultivated in Japan since the Nara period for its root, which can be used for herbal medicine and to make dyes.

One Japanese word for the plant, murasaki (紫), inspired the pen name "Lady Murasaki" for the author of The Tale of Genji and is also the source of the general Japanese term for the color purple, murasaki iro (紫色).

The dyes made from its root also had other names, such as shikon (紫根), but all of them were difficult to work with because of their requirement for an alum-rich mordant and the resulting colors' extreme vulnerability to photobleaching. During the Heian Period, sumptuary laws restricted murasaki-dyed clothing to the Empress and her ladies in waiting
The benibana passages on the back of the juban are done in the itajime or kyochechi method where carved boards and clamping create a resist pattern on the cloth. The bottom of the juban is created from beautifully complex stencil resist silks, with the indigo silk trim at the bottom being a textured woven cloth.


I was fascinated by the thought of the amount of labor that went into the making of such a garment, from the growing and gathering of the plants that created the dyes, to the work that went into the cloth itself to create that, and then the actual dyeing processes used and the hand cutting and stitching. So much time and energy spent to create just one single garment.

I recently bought a small package of dried Safflower to be used in cooking.  Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius is a highly branched, herbaceous, thistle-like annual, usually with many long sharp spines on the leaves. Plants are 30 to 150 cm tall with globular flower heads (capitula) and commonly, brilliant yellow, orange or red flowers. Each branch will usually have from one to five flower heads containing 15 to 20 seeds per head. Safflower has a strong taproot which enables it to thrive in dry climates, but the plant is very susceptible to frost injury from stem elongation to maturity. I am trying to imagine just how many Safflower seeds are required to dye, say one yard of cloth. It makes me really appreciate the nature of natural dyes. It was used historically to make red (carthamin) and yellow dyes, especially before cheaper aniline dyes became available.

The colourful matter in safflower makes it one of the quinone type natural direct dyes and it is soluble. Yellow, mustard, khaki, olive green or even red colours can be obtained, depending on the textiles used, but it is mostly used for yellow colours. All hydrophilic (natural) fibers, such as cotton, wool, etc.) can be dyed with this plant since it can be classified as a direct dye. Basically what this means is that it does not require a mordant to set it.

Safflower is one of humanity's oldest crops. Chemical analysis of ancient Egyptian textiles dated to the Twelfth dynasty identified dyes made from safflower, and garlands made from safflowers were found in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. Safflower was also known as carthamine in the 19th century. Other names by which it is known today include Sallflower, Beni, Chimichanga, or Carthamus Tinctorius.Today it is a minor crop today, with about 600,000 tons being produced commercially in more than sixty countries worldwide. India, United States, and Mexico are the leading producers, with Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, China, Argentina and Australia accounting for most of the remainder.

As for the Japanese Gromwell (Lithospermum erythrorhizon Sieb. et Zucc), it was highly prized as the only dye which showed purple which was regarded as noble color. It has been cultivated in Japan since the Nara period for its root, which has been used to treat skin problems such as dry skin, boils, burns, and piles. Unfortunately, the appearance of synthetic dye and drug put an end to these practices.

One Japanese word for the plant, murasaki, served as the inspiration for the pen name "Lady Murasaki," author of The Tale of Genji and is also the source of the general Japanese term for the color purple, murasaki iro. The dyes made from its root also had other names, such as shikon, but all of them were difficult to work with because of their requirement for an alum-rich mordant and the resulting colors' extreme vulnerability to photobleaching. During the Heian Period, sumptuary laws restricted murasaki-dyed clothing to the Empress and her ladies in waiting.

If you liked learning about this incredible garment and the dyes used to create it, you can sign up for free to receive the newsletter from SRI Threads weekly.  It is definitely one of my most treasured sites for educating myself about ethnic textiles. They also have a wonderful blog you can find through the site.  Very worthwhile. I read every bit of it each week as I enjoy a cup of tea. It is not only beautiful and educational, but for me, there is a wonderful sense of spirituality captured in Stephen's writings.

1 comment:

Jamie Kalvestran said...

I love the idea of natural dyes. I am hoping to experiment with some this summer. Love the post!