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Whisper Plant-Dye Silk Scarf | Maito

Japan: Natures' Pure Colors in Silk

To understand the secrets of the natural, pure and vivid colors of Japan and the Whisper Silk Stoles-Scarf you must first look to nature herself, because she is the keeper of the secrets.

It Starts With a Recipe ...

Japan Plant Dye Artist Mr. Maito With Bright Green, Orange, Indigo Blue, Pink Silk Scarfs

A recipe to capture the bright colors of nature’s life force.  A recipe that combines human ingenuity with the ingredients of the earth:  twigs, buds, bark, leaves, grasses, roots. And bringing nature’s vivid colors to life is what makes Maito Design Works,  Mr. Maito pictured here, together with Yumezaiku Dye Studio, unique.  Though Japan’s hand-dye culture may invoke images of dull earthy browns and grays, literature from Japan's Nara and Heian periods (710-1185) contain lengthy descriptions of a vibrant,  color-rich past.  A past that speaks of bright, vivid colors in everyday life and celebration.  Heian Period literature, “Tale of the Gengi,” in fact, references about 80 different names of colors!  Today, a renewed interest in Japan's color-rich dye history motivates contemporary, plant-dye artisans to draw from the past and experiment with new combinations as well.  

Deception - a little bit is still too much

It might be easy to add just a little bit of artifical, synthethetic, or chemicals dyes to imitate the pure colors of nature.  But this is not authentic, or truthful, or real, is it?  According to Mr. Maito, some dye studios claim 100% natural, when in fact they are adding things to artifically enchance a color. But to Mr. Maito and studios, authentic craftsmanship and quality actually mean something. By remaining true-to-craft these studios instead draw on years of personal experience, and built on  knowledge of Japan's natural dye gained through the generations.  By this they were able to achieve the bright colors by using only 100 % natural ingredients – an authentic recipe that brings nature’s colors, and Japan’s bright colors, to life.

The Story and Mystery of Pure Sakura Pink

Pink Sakura Flowers in Japan Used to Dye Silk Scarf

In Japan, the pink bloom of the Sakura (cherry) tree signals the arrival of spring.  In the past, however, a sakura-like pink dye, was typically derived from other plants.  Some dye from this plant or that bark could cleaverly mimic the soft, sakura pink color, but dedicated craft-artist remained frustrated by these impersonators.Though color can be extracted from the Sakura, Cherry Tree, the dye contains a lot of orange and beige, making it seemingly impossible to extract only the pink color - the color of the beautiful pink blosoms in the spring. Compoinding the challenge, a beautiful pink dye obtained one year from a tree may not produce the same color the next year. Why? For many dye artists, extracting the soft color from the tree itself resulted only in failures. Believing it impossible, many dye-artisits just gave up.

But Yumezaiku Studio did not.

The Search Begins

 So where was the dye hiding?  Finding the tree’s hidden color and perfecting the “recipe” meant asking the right questions: questions about the climate, the yearly weather, a colder-than average-winter or a warmer-than-average spring, the humidity, the late or early bloom of the sakura flowers - these were only some of the answers needed in order to solve the mystery of the elusive dye.  To compound the challenges, a Sakura tree, of course, only blooms once a year, so finding the answers to these questions took incredible amount of time, energy, persistance and...patience - those qualities that best describe a true craft-artist.  Other questions then also had to be addressed: What part of the tree would produce the color – the bark, the leaves, flowers, roots?  What methods and techniques would consistently and reliably draw it out? Does the extracted color need to set, cure? In the sun? In cold? In heat? And many more.

Secrets Kept at Last Revealed

Many thought it could not be done, but Yumezaiku Dye Studio is the first in Japan to reliably produce soft, Sakura Pink using 100 percent material from the Sakura tree.  The gentle sakura color was finally found hiding only in the tiny twigs that were closest to the maturing cherry buds. Yearly weather, the nuances of a particular tree, water used in the dyeing process, the craft-artists' hand-swish of the silk material through the dye, and many other factors all played a vital role in the quality of the Sakura color that was at last consistently produced.

To extract the color, the twigs are alternately simmered, then cooled, in a process lasting around 40 days.  The resulting solution is then aged up to another 90 days.  The textiles (such as 100 Percent silk) are then, one by one, hand-dyed to produce the Studio’s signature color of spring:  Sakura Pink