Textile of the Week: 201105 Ganryou
This week I’ll be sharing with you a dye used in creating many textiles in Japan. It is a category of colorant called ganryou (顔料). There are two characters used to write the word: gan (), which may also be pronounced kao, meaning face; and ryou (), which means ingredient or substance. [This is purely conjecture, but the term makes you wonder if perhaps the word is used because these are the same pigments used in many cultures for body painting since ancient times.]
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Small Selection of Commercially Available Pigments from Japan
I use pigments extensively in my work. They are fairly easy to produce, come in a wide range of colors, and in the case of the mineral pigments, are particularly light fast (dirt, after all, doesn’t fade).
201105-Ganryou Dye on Chirimen Silk
Sample 201105-Bingata Fake $14 plus postage and tax. ($12 even for subscribers. For more information about subscriptions, click on this text.)
Mineral pigments are basically taken directly from the ground with little processing other than some washing to get rid of the worms and horseshoes, or some grinding to break up the particles. Lakes are pigments derived from other sources such as plants or insects. In most cases they are cooked and the color removed with the help of a mineral, such as limestone (生石灰). Pigments by definition rest on the surface of the fiber. For example, indigo is a pigment and does not penetrate to the core of the fiber the way, say, onion-skin dye would.  So that with time and wear, some of the core fiber is exposed, giving indigo-dyed denim its characteristic charm.

The sample this week is a delightful example of intense and well executed pigment application. It came to me as a full bolt intended for use as a more casual kimono. It is not uncommon to mix pigments with juice dyes when working on a piece. However, in this case, all the colors are ganryou. The primary color is rust, called bengara (弁柄). When I make bengara for my work, I scrape it from the inside of the hand-dug well on my property. This yields the finest possible particles of iron rust, filtered through dense soil and left behind through evaporation.
Close-up of Ganryou-Dyed Fabric Sample
You may think that iron rust is, well, rust colored…but in fact, iron oxide comes in many colors, including yellow. In addition to the rust red, bengara, there is also a dark chocolate shade. This is made by taking the yellow iron, umber, and baking it to give (insert drum roll…) burnt umber!

Indigo pigment is also used, and may appear as black in the piece on your monitor screen.

I can’t be positive of the source for the yellow green in the sample. There are many ways to produce this color. However, since umber must have been available to make the burnt umber, and adding just a tiny bit of indigo to the mineral will yield this exact shade, then they get my vote.
Back of Ganryou-Dyed Sample Showing Bleed Through
Now lets take a look at the reverse side of the sample. The portion of the dye that makes its way to the back of the fabric is called bleed through. You find this term used with fine-quality prints on paper as well. The greater the bleed through the deeper and more natural looking the color appears on the front side. Cheaply printed work merely sits on the surface. In textiles, quality work requires a number of applications of the same color to build up depth, and the bleed though you see above is indicative of this effort.
Indigo Pigment in Dish with Surikomi Brush Resting on Top
Continuing with our sleuthing, along the selvage edge we find dark spots that seem to have no relation to the design. The dyes are mixed in a small ceramic dish called a kozara (小皿). One of the characteristics of pigments is that they are not dissolved, and so settle out to the bottom of the dish. A small brush called a surikomibake (摺込刷毛) is used to apply pigments–it helps to force the color down into the weave. Since the pigments settle, the artist is called upon to regularly stir the dye to keep it well mixed. This often leaves too much
Dye Stains Along Selvage
dye on the brush, and the artist will commonly use the selvage edge of the bolt to wipe off the excess. This is not considered a good habit, but one of which I am certainly guilty!
There are a couple more clues to help you know that this is a hand-dyed piece. Notice how the brush marks are very pronounced in this shot. This indicates not only that the dye was brushed on, rather than mixed with a paste and applied as in the technique called nassen (捺染), but that the dye is indeed a pigment. If it were a non-pigment or synthetic dye, the brush lines would tend to wick into the cloth and become blurred, which is not the case in the sample to the right..
Notice the brush lines and the tiny holes
in the end of this bolt.
Can you see the tiny pin-prick holes indicated by the circles above? These are the scars in the fabric left by the clamps used to pull the cloth taut. The clamps are called harite (張り手) and have a row of needles that bite into the yardage and allow the artist to stretch the piece, hammock like, between two stationary objects (such as trees).
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