Translated by Hilary Keyes
Dyed Black By Mud! Dorosome Handicrafts From Amami Oshima
Written by Keisuke Yamada
"Dorosome" is Amami Oshima Island in Kagoshima prefecture's treasure method of dyeing fabric. The chemical reaction that takes place in this longstanding tradition creates a distinctive rich black color.
Found in the south of Kagoshima prefecture, Amami Oshima Island is well-known for its elegant naturally dyed traditional textiles. These gorgeous fabrics are dyed with mud.
Today we would like to introduce to you Amami Oshima's traditional dorosome by paying a visit to the artisans of the Kanai Kōgei industrial arts center.
What is Dorosome?
Dorosome (泥染め) or mud-dyeing, is an all natural fabric dyeing technique that can only be found in Amami Oshima. However, to be clear, there are several other steps you must follow before you reach the mud-dyeing stage of dorosome. A lengthy, labor-intensive process, the final result is a beautiful, natural black dyed fabric.
How did they Start Using Mud to Dye with?
Though whether this is a true story or not is uncertain, this is the story that has been passed down through the generations as it was told to us by the dorosome craftsman Mr. Kanai.
In the past, the people of Amami Oshima had to sent tributes to the old capital of Japan. But, they were asked to send a lot of these dyed fabrics; so many in fact that they didn't even have enough fabrics for themselves anymore.
So then, in order to keep a supply of dyed fabrics for themselves, the people of Amami Oshima began secretly hiding their own dyed goods in the rice fields. When the government officials who came to collect the tributes left, the townspeople took their fabrics out of the rice fields and discovered that the vivid red they had once been dyed had turned to a rich black color.
Upon realizing that putting the red fabric in the rice field turned it black, the townspeople began intentionally dyeing their fabrics that way, and have continued to do so ever since.
The First Steps: Te-chi Tree Dyeing
From now, let's look at the steps in the process that lead up to dorosome in more detail.
To begin with, we need the yeddo hawthorn tree, known as the te-chi tree in Amamiōshima. Remove some branches of this tree, then chop them into finer pieces and boil them in a large iron pot. The above photo shows the yeddo hawthorn trees.
For one round, the artisans use about this much yeddo hawthorn.
The hawthorn, after being boiled in the iron pot, has produced a red liquid like this.
This is where the silk threads for the fabrics are dyed with the te-chi stain.
Using a ladle, the te-chi stain is transferred to a bucket.
In order to perfectly dye the silk threads, they are kneaded and separated over and over while soaking in the red liquid so as to not leave a single spot untouched by the dye. This sort of work requires both delicacy and strength which are built through years and years of experience and intuition. This process is referred to as "te-chi kisome", or hawthorn wood dyeing.
The silk threads are saturated in the red stain.
Once they have been fully soaked, the threads are wrung out and hung up to dry.
The silk threads will be soaked in the hawthorn dye roughly 30 times before they head to the dorosome stage of the process. Only as a result of this time and labor-intensive process can this gorgeous red coloring be achieved.
Now it's Time for Dorosome
Now begins the even more unique process of dorosome. Please pay close attention to the techniques used here, which can only be found in Amamiōshima.
But, just how is it that mud can turn these red silk threads black? The secret is in the yeddo hawthorn itself.
When the tannic acid found in the hawthorn encounters the strong iron content of the Amamiōshima mud, it undergoes a chemical reaction, turning the red fabric black. The rice paddies found in Amami Oshima have a thick layer of iron-rich mud at the bottom which makes this color change possible; some might call these dyed fabrics a blessing from nature.
Amami Oshima's mud is also quite fine compared to that found elsewhere.
Even when you scoop it up, the fine nature of this mud will have it soon dropping back down into the rice field. Thanks to the fineness of the mud however, the silk threads can easily absorb the iron and turn into that distinctive black color.
After wringing them out once more and setting them out to dry, the process is complete. With the te-chi dyeing taking about 30 rounds and the dorosome taking 1, to get the unique black silk threads, the whole process is repeated about four times over (or 120 times back and forth).
After the Complex Process: Ōshima Tsumugi Weaving
Thanks to that lengthy process, the black silk threads can be used to make Amami Oshima's incredible traditional woven handicraft, "Ōshima Tsumugi Weaving". They become the chic Japanese patterns of this woven cloth. It is easy to see that the delicate designs and softness of these beautiful black fabrics are all thanks to the work of many different craftsmen and artisans. You can sense the appeal of "dorosome" and "Ōshima Tsumugi Weaving" over and over again.
Address: Kagoshima, Amami Oshima, Tatsugōchō Toguchi 2205-1
Closed: Sundays (Unless otherwise scheduled)
Credit Cards: -
Other Languages: -
Nearest Station: Only accessible by car
Entrance Fee: Dorosome or Indigo Dye Experience 2500 yen per person
Phone Number: 0997-62-3428
Website: Kanai Kōgei (Japanese only)