11/03/2021 Peter Durantine

Dye Magic Changes Yellow to ‘Japan Blue’

On a cool autumn afternoon outside Franklin & Marshall’s Brooks College House, dozens of students gathered around as Ken-ichi Miura explained shibori, a Japanese tie-dyeing technique. 

Miura, senior teaching professor and the director of the Japanese Program, said the practice of traditional Japanese indigo dyeing is called “Aizome,” which he demonstrated for students before they began turning their fabric tote bags and T-shirts in various designs of blue. 

According to the professor, British scientist William Atkinson visited Japan in the late 19th-century and was fascinated by the various dyed items – curtains, banners, flags – and called the color “Japan Blue.” 

  • Buckets for the dye. Buckets for the dye. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • Professor Miura lectures and instructs. Professor Miura lectures and instructs. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • The dyeing begins. The dyeing begins. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • The messy process ... The messy process ... Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • ... of dyeing. ... of dyeing. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • Letting it hang ... Letting it hang ... Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • ... out to dry. ... out to dry. Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • The finished ... The finished ... Image Credit: Deb Grove
  • ... product. ... product. Image Credit: Deb Grove

Japan Blue is derived from fermented natural indigo plants, the leaves of which are harvested from summer to mid-fall. Fabric is dipped into the yellow indigo liquid, becomes oxidized, and the color changes to blue. 

Various patterns are produced by tie-dying, partial dipping, wax-drawing and other techniques, Miura said. Artists often use the first crop in the fall to create their works in Japan Blue.

Miura became interested in indigo dye two years ago and has been experimenting with various techniques. He organized the event, in collaboration with Brooks House, as part of the Japanese Program’s fall celebration. 

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