Thursday, June 25, 2015

My cherry blossom scarf

Sakura-dyed silk scarf.
Photo by Maurice Marietti

A marvel of dyeing and weaving

Upon returning from a recent trip to Japan, my son and his family gave me an exquisite silk scarf. Dyed with cherry blossoms, the scarf is ethereal. Its silk warp is so fine it is nearly invisible and it is so light, it's like wearing a cloud. It is spectacular. 

The silk threads in the warp are so fine they are nearly invisible. Grouped in three's, these warp threads stabilize the heavier silk weft threads that produce the wave-like pattern. But the color puzzles me: I wonder how they extract and fix the dye from cherry blossoms?

Flower blossoms aren't unknown as a dye source and some, such as marigolds, coreopsis, and chrysanthemums, produce nice strong colors. However,  the dye colors derived from most plant material, including blossoms, is heavily concentrated in the range of yellows and tans. (Note, this is a gross simplification and excludes complex dyeing processes and dyestuffs less readily available, which may well be part of the cherry blossom dye extraction process.) 
Close-up of woven silk scarf pattern. Photo by Maurice Marietti

I was interested in learning just a bit more and started with the documentation from the maker, Hanagoromo, that accompanied the scarf:
"No artificial stuff....100% from cherry bloss [sic] All commodities of 'Somekobo' are made in a unique way, and dyed with extraction of cherry blossom. We don't use any artificial stuff. The color from cherry blossom is soft, beautiful and attracts people...."
Close-up detail of silk warp and weft. Photo by Maurice Marietti
Not a lot to go on there. Next I turned to the Internet, where I expected citations and references to the dyeing process. Perhaps because I neither live in Japan nor read Japanese, I found next to nothing.

Hanagoromo's website has beautiful photos of their products and a little more information, but not much. The products are "Sakura dyed" ('sakura' is cherry blossom) and "100% natural dyed pure natural color," it states, and includes the following (Google-translated) description:
"In "Around dyed workshop flowers", only 100 percent cherry dye staining in a unique method to express the hue of the petals, and we have a production.
"Without using any chemical dye, the color that is dyed using only 100% natural dyes extracted from the cherry tree, it brings only natural thing, a soft, gentle shades."
I don't know anybody who has used them as a dyestuff and was unable to find much of anything in my online research.  but I have come to the conclusion that the dye is probably extracted like other blossoms commonly as dyes. Soak them. Maybe mash them. Probably let them ferment in the liquid for a period of time. Add a mordant to fix the dye and dye the fabric.

I recognize now that my biggest stumbling block was 'pink.' As I consider the color of the scarf, I realize that I was overlaying a visual memory of the intense pinks of blooming cherry blossoms on the color of the scarf. 

The scarf isn't pink at all. It's really a very soft peach--more orange than red and lots of orangey-tan in the color.

Now it all makes sense. It may not be the right conclusion, but it's mine for the moment.

Have any of you used cherry blossoms for dyeing? If so, I'd love to hear about your experience!

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