A tradtional Japanese red dye

10 August 2007

Many traditional women’s under kimonos were red, a lovely soft red. Some one asked how to achieve that red on a silk/cotton cloth.
This was traditionally a red from SAFFLOWER (Japanese-benibana, Carthemus tintorius).
It looks like this red although he says it is an aniline dye (an old vague term but does indicate synthetic dye). Very little is written about how to dye with it except in the appendix of Wada’s book, Shibori, page 285.
The red color is rather fugitive and not used much outside of Japan because of other more fast natural red dyes; madder, kermes, lac and cochineal. The ephemeral nature of the dye appealed to the tradtional Japanese. The petals of the safflower contain many dyes; yellow and red are the predominate ones. To get to the red dye the yellow one must be extracted first and removed. Then one can extract the red dye for use. On the other hand this one dye source, safflower petals, can produce a whole range of colors from yellows,saffron, oranges, pinks, reds and browns. Dried safflower petals can be purchased at some Chinese herb shops.
Natural dyes have no affinity for any fiber one must use a mordant to bind the dyestuff to the fiber. The mixed fibers cotton and silk can both be dyed with safflower. I would probably use a alum-tannin-alum mordant to make sure that the cotton dyed well.
Not a dye for instant gratification. But red.


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