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Calling kakishibu a “dye” is a bit of a misnomer. Made from the fermented juice of unripe astringent persimmons, the color comes from the tannin molecules linking together and forming a coating. More than a coloring agent, kakishibu also has strengthening, antibacterial and waterproofing properties. Kakishibu was used in China and Korea, but reached its ultimate utilization in Japan. It was used as a wood preservative, waterproofer, insect repellent, folk medicine, and on washi (Japanese paper), fans, parasols, clothing and in sake production.

Japanese artists and craftsmen use kakishibu on wood, washi and textiles. For textiles, cellulose fibers are well suited to kakishibu, especially bast fibers. However, it is also satisfactory on silk and even some synthetics and synthetic blends. Yarn can be dyed and woven, knit or crocheted. Cloth can be dyed by immersion dipping, or surface designs can be created by brushing. Katazome (stencil patterning), tsutsugaki (paste resist drawn with cones), shibori and other techniques are well suited surface design options.

Long looked at as one of those “charming-folksy-but-largely-not-applicable-today” things, kakishibu is enjoying a revival in a more eco-aware world. Japanese craftsmen are producing clothing for chemically sensitive skin. Builders are utilizing kakishibu as an interior wood finish to combat sick house and dyers are embracing kakishibu for its beauty and user friendliness - no dyer contact with chemicals and no disposal problems. Largely unavailable and known in America primarily among hand papermakers, kakishibu is poised to become an exciting addition to the textile artists palette.

Strips of kakishibu dyed fabric
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