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by John Marshall

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Aobana is an extremely fugitive dye–which may lead you to ask, why use it when most of us are seeking the most colorfast dyes available? That’s a good question, but in this case its very nature makes it perfect for use in preparing underdrawings on textiles–it will simply disappear along the way and leave no trace.

Hand-painted Nagoya-obi depicting aobana, Commelina communis, from John’s private collection.

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The blue extract is laboriously painted onto hand-made paper, and the saturated sheet is laid out on an igusa mat to dry.

Aobana blooms and is harvested in spring.

The seeds are sorted out and saved for next year.

aobana sorting-.jpg

The flowers are kneaded and pressed to extract the juice from the petals

aobana pressing-.jpg
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To use the dye-impregnated paper, just tear off a small piece and place it in a white saucer with a little water. You’ll find that the dye quickly disperses. You may control the concentration, and therefore the intensity of the color, by varying the amount of water you allow to come in contact with the sheet.


Ideally, you’ll be painting with the palest shade that still allows you to easily see your design once dry.  

An artist will use a mensou-fude to paint an underdrawing directly onto white silk, such as the one shown to the left, often tracing from a cartoon placed beneath the fabric on a light table.

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below: carved stencil

above right: design transferred to silk

Artists working in shibori techniques will apply aobana through carved stencils using a surikomi- or peony brush. The transferred design acts as a guide when stitching or tying off the fabric.

I created the piece to the right by first dyeing the silk with turmeric. I then laid out my sewing pattern pieces on it to determine the boundaries of my design and sketched in my imagery with the aobana. From there I followed my guides and applied rice paste with a cone (below). I wasn’t too fussy about following my guide lines since I knew that the underdrawing would be washed out later.

   After the paste dried, I followed up with my other natural colors, washed everything clean, and finished by sewing the pieces together as you see them here.

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