In Search Of Forgotten Colors
June 16, 2018 4:39 AM   Subscribe

Sachio Yoshioka is the fifth-generation head of the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop in Fushimi, southern Kyoto. When he succeeded to the family business in 1988, he abandoned the use of synthetic colours in favour of dyeing solely with plants and other natural materials. 30 years on, the workshop produces an extensive range of extremely beautiful colours.

A compilation of four short films from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
posted by carter (30 comments total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
The Red section had my jaw hanging open toward the end. Like, humans somehow figured this process out, long long ago. And when that scraper gets pushed across and THERE IT IS I was all oO!
posted by hippybear at 5:42 AM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

This was gorgeous and fascinating and a nice calm morning thing to watch. Thanks for posting!
posted by hippybear at 5:48 AM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Very calming. Mr Yoshioka is not in a hurry.
posted by scruss at 5:58 AM on June 16, 2018

So glorious! I like seeing behind the scenes in workshops of all sorts with the tools and racks and containers.
posted by Mouse Army at 6:06 AM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is really beautiful—I love how the pacing of the video evokes the pacing of the process.

Amazing, the colors that can be achieved with natural dyes.

I could watch that thread dancing in the dye bath for hours...
posted by cellar door at 6:25 AM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Worth pointing out that murasaki is also the color/dye that the world's first novelist chose as her pen name: Murasaki Shikibu. The Tale of Genji is filled with references to color; one's cultivation was considered to be shown through the taste evidenced in color choice in "twelve-layered robes" (which they also reference in the video): junihitoe.

Books are still published with the color combinations, seasons, fabric choices, and motif symbolism of junihitoe, and of modern kimono.

Loved this video, thank you for sharing!
posted by fraula at 6:27 AM on June 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

I saw these videos last week and they are beautiful, even meditative.

I have an entire dresser full of old Japanese textiles, all dyed with methods like this. To be fair, however, Mr Yoshioka is using historical techniques only the wealthiest Japanese could ever afford. For the average Japanese, indigo was the most common dye. So here is a video (from the same site) about Indigo and the Samurais.
posted by codex99 at 6:30 AM on June 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

These are going on my soothing video playlist for sure!

I love the colours you can get from natural dyes. I’m currently swatching some yarn for a review and one has been dyed with Speedwell (lovely dusty blue) and the other with Eglantine (dusty pink). I am heart-eyeing them as I knit.
posted by halcyonday at 7:25 AM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

One of the things I love about visiting older or more traditional places in Japan is the sparing use of color in interior design - objects with color just seem so much more noticeable and vivid when in a room with beige floors, beige walls, and a beige or brown ceiling. The smallest red lacquer dish or a few blue flowers in a small blue vase really stand out.
posted by mdonley at 7:34 AM on June 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

I just watched this last night and it was lovely but I wanted more! Wikipedia has a decent overview of various kinds of natural dyestuffs. I've always been fascinated by cochineal red, a New World color derived from insect shells.

I found this video via Kottke, who in turn pulled it from The Kid Should See This. That's a great site of fun videos like this one, instructional and well produced. Lots of neat things in there like the Mr. Rogers classic How Crayons are Made.
posted by Nelson at 7:51 AM on June 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

A brief part of the video shows a ceremony being performed at Nigatsu-do in Nara, near where I used to live.

It is difficult to describe how beautiful and amazing this region is, but the presence of craftspeople like Yoshioka-sensei is a part of that.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:21 AM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

A few weeks ago I did some tie-dyeing, and my 1st attempt at shibori (Japanese - more advanced tie-dye) with natural dye. I was amazed at the deep and vivid gold from onion skins and the plum from avocado and beets.

The artistry in this video is awe-inspiring. Thank you for posting.
posted by theora55 at 9:16 AM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am just a week or so from going to a fiber arts conference in Japan - for dyeing techniques like this and the shibori patterning techniques. I am super excited to go.
It’s really interesting how much hand-manipulation of the dyestuff is shown. That’s pretty different to the ways I have been taught, telling me that I am going to learn a lot. Safflower harvesting and processing is definitely on the docket.
posted by janell at 9:38 AM on June 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

That purple thread is just stunning.

Speaking of dyes and pigments, Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finley is a book that I highly recommend.
posted by lydhre at 12:01 PM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yes, that is a good book! Another good one, albeit more of a textbook than a narrative nonfiction, is Dominique Cardon's Natural Dyes. I like that it has appendices full of the actual molecules, and gets into the inorganic chemistry - structures are known, even if the mechanisms are handwavy.

And then Jim Liles's efforts to rediscover/reevaluate traditional dye processing for cellulose fibers, The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing, is pretty procedural but has nice historical overviews and discussion sections.
posted by janell at 12:14 PM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Hey, carter, the timing on this was great. Mrs. thegears is a textile expert and we were trying to find things to watch on our extended date night this afternoon/evening! Super looking forward to watching--previewing the first couple minutes has me excited. /nerdgasmfilter
posted by thegears at 1:19 PM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'll take all the colors and the B&B wallpaper, thankyouverymuch.
posted by Qex Rodriguez at 4:08 PM on June 16, 2018

I just got back from Iceland where I visited a natural dyer/botanist in her studio and OH, this is right up my alley! Thank you for posting!
posted by at 4:50 PM on June 16, 2018

Crap, NHK World's TV/Video site is impossible to search. They've been showing these lost colors and dying techniques in special 30 minute segments over the past few months. They're either not putting them up on their video-on-demand site, or their search engine sucks balls.

Anyways, you should maybe check out the schedule and maybe find nice 30 minute more in-depth documentaries about these colors and textiles and crafts and such.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:55 PM on June 16, 2018

This was wonderful, we loved watching this in bed this morning. My wife wants all the purples please.
posted by arcticseal at 12:53 AM on June 17, 2018

Also, how on earth have they not burnt down the temple in over 1260 years in that ceremony?
posted by arcticseal at 12:58 AM on June 17, 2018

Easy. It burns down, and they rebuild it exactly as it was. But the clock never resets. If it burned down tomorrow, and it took five years to rebuild, you'd be told it was 1265 years old.

Venexia works largely the same way. They have a phrase, "As it was, where it was."
posted by aurelian at 1:27 AM on June 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also, with wood structures, they're constantly mending and restoring bits anyway.

Todai-ji, the main temple in that complex, has burned down a couple of times and was also damaged in an earthquake.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:26 AM on June 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

The current building is 2/3 the size of the original, apparently. The current main structure is 300 years old, but there are other structures on the grounds (most notably the main gate) that are over 800 years old. Lots of bits have been replaced, of course, but the main supports (which are single, huge tree trunks) are still original. Part of the reason the current building is smaller is that, in 1700, there weren't enough old growth trees of that species to provide supports of the original's size.

The daibutsu's base, I think, is still surviving from the original temple 1200 years ago, but the head and upper torso has been recast twice. The rest of the body also had to be recast after the first fire, IIRC.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:08 AM on June 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

I know it's a bit of a derail, but Todai-ji is really cool, so I can't help but gush.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:11 AM on June 17, 2018

It turns out that this amazing craftsman is going to be a keynote speaker at the conference I am headed to!
posted by janell at 3:58 PM on June 17, 2018 [11 favorites]

Cool, janell!
posted by carter at 4:44 AM on June 18, 2018

Thank you for posting this! That's some really amazing work.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 3:03 PM on June 18, 2018

> They've been showing these lost colors and dying techniques in special 30 minute segments over the past few months.

There's a continuation? I was really looking forward to seeing the whole spectrum of dyes being made.
posted by lucidium at 12:52 PM on July 4, 2018

Oh, this sounds quite lovely. I think I'll be adding these to my watch list.
posted by redrawturtle at 12:51 AM on July 5, 2018

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