Monday, 26 August 2013

Soy Milk and Soot Under Dyeing for Indigo and Black Black Dye

You can get a more sublime steel blue colour with indigo if you under dye with soot. It has been done for centuries in Japan.

Noguchi san, the katazome master living a few stations from me, paste resists both sides of his yukata material and then brushes on a sizing of soot and soy milk. The finished kimono has a more sophisticated blue colour than just a plain indigo dip. He also dyes the happi coats for festivals and festival banners using this dyeing technique.

We have been playing with soy milk soot dye and getting excited about the possibilities at home but I wasn't sure of how to get the pure black colour. Today, Julie, Karin, Luisa, Liza, Serge and I made the pilgrimage to Noguchi sans magical time-slipped studio and had the master show us how he makes the blackest black for the kanji lettering on festival coats. It was a dream-like experience as always.

He soaked the soy beans in water the night before. For the initial sizing of the black, the soy beans were lightly smushed in the serated-sided mortar with a wood pestal. A cup of water was added to the mash and again lightly stirred.

Some of the mash is put in a cloth bag and squeezed. The liquid was the consistency of a thin milk. In this milk he submerged a small bag of soot and squeezed and squished that around until he had a very muddy dishwater colour. This was then painted on the parts we wanted to dye black.

When this dried we painted on a more concentrated version of the soot/soya mixture and left it to dry. And then repeated this a few times until we had the black we wanted.

We brought along some white antique linen and had Noguchi san's son Kazu paint some kanji on for us. Kazu is the seventh generation stencil dyer. He had a son early this year. I hope he will be the eighth generation.

The future eighth generation katazome master?

When the ink had dried on the cloth we outlined it with rice paste and let it dry while we had lunch.

Dyed with indigo. We were there to learn the technique today. The masterpieces will follow shortly. 

Beautiful fermenting indigo. Smelled sweet and heavenly today. We arrived back home and found our own private corners to process a day full of experiences and thoughts. To all of you have visited Noguchi san's studio with me over many many years...your spirits were all there watching with us today. 


  1. Nice memories...and a little tear.

  2. thank you for taking me along today. i loved this. (after maine and the atlantic yesterday, noguchi san's workshop today, i wonder where i'll be tomorrow?)

  3. Its so nice to see everybody in action and looking good! I was just looking up on this technique and this post answered some of my questions :) Have a wonderful week ahead!-mini

  4. yes, thank you for taking me too.

    it's a bit discouraging because those techniques come from living and working in nature. how does one get soot in the city other than in one's lungs?
    hoping little-san will be the 8th generation.