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Traditional Natural Dyeing
Price per Unit (piece): KRW 20,000
USD 15.62
Author: KCDF, Kim Yoon-kyong
Publisher: KCDF
Pub. Date: Dec 2012
Pages: 156
Cover: Softcover
Dimensions (in inches): 5.82 x 8.26 x 0.39
ISBN: 9788997252169
Language: English
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Publisher's Message

Published by the Korea Craft & Design Foundation, the Korean Craft & Design Resource Book series was created to provide the necessary information and knowledge regarding traditional Korean crafts and design for everyone. Following Najeon: The Korean Nacre Lacquerware (2011), Traditional Natural Dyeing marks the second book in the Korean Craft & Resource Book series.

Traditional Natural Dyeing was written after discussions with numerous experts in order to shed light on the value of traditional natural dyeing in Korea. Performing natural dyeing in traditional ways is about distancing the craft from the standardized culture of colors and environmental pollution caused by chemical pigments. It is also about restoring nature and a culture of unique colors, then revitalizing local economies based on such achievements. It is our sincere hope that this book will provide all the information anyone should need on traditional natural dyeing, not just to craftspeople and designers, but also to those who have but a passing interest in the field.



Traditional Natural Dyeing is an introductory book that covers the current state of natural dyeing, as well as its history, materials, and ways in which it is carried out in Korea. The book also examines the environmental, socio-cultural, and economic values of traditional natural dyeing and seeks to develop these fields by bringing them into the contemporary age. Extensive literature research, interviews with relevant people and consultations with experts helped ensure the accuracy of content in this book. A brief summary of each chapter is as follows:

Chapter 1: All about Natural Dyeing
This chapter examines the current situation and the future of natural dyeing through interviews with dyeing masters and visits to places where natural dyeing is being carried out. We met with Yun Dae-jung (a teaching assistant to Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 115 Dyeing Master) and Choi Ok-ja(Korea Master Hand No. 512 Fabric Processing) to talk about dyeing. Following his father, Yun Byeong-un, Yun Dae-jung, who now lives in a village called Myeongha, is the fifth generation in his family to be carrying out dyeing in a traditional way. While he has worked hard to maintain the traditional materials and fermentation method of indigo dyeing with modern tools, he has also endeavored to promote the idea of traditional indigo dyeing. Choi Okja, who lives in Andong Folk Village, has been dyeing materials for 26 years. She learned the skills of indigo and safflower dyeing through years of trials and errors after reading a great amount of literature while in Korea and overseas. She also surveyed places where traditional dyeing is done in China and Japan. Choi developed and has distributed complex dyeing methods to attain various colors with two colorants: indigo and safflower. She is also trying to restore cultural properties by reviving the production method of gamji (dark blue paper) from the Goryeo dynasty. These two Korean dyeing masters are working hard in order to develop traditional dyeing culture, which had, in the past, disappeared due to the distribution of chemical dyes.

According to literature from the past, dyeing with various colorants developed across Korea, while indigo dyeing was carried out in certain villages. Naju had the largest collection of indigo dyeing villages in Korea. Indigo dyeing in Naju was very active until the Japanese occupation era (1910-1945), and almost disappeared by the 1960s before it was revived in the late 1970s. In 2001, Yun Byeong-un and Jeong Gwan-chae were recognized as Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 115 Dyeing Masters by the Korean government, which brought indigo dyeing in this region to the forefront once again. Then, in 2006, the Naju Natural Dyeing Culture Foundation was established, which works towards the research, education, and industrialization of indigo dyeing. Naju is currently doing all it can as the home of indigo dyeing to revive traditional natural dyeing culture and to revitalize its economy through indigo dyeing.

Chapter 2: Different Colors throughout Korean History
This chapter focuses on the history of dyeing, starting from the origin of dye ing in prehistoric times all the way to modern times. As in other regions of the world, dyeing with soil and plants has developed in Korea since prehistoric times. In the Three Han States Period, people were already weaving patterns with dyed silk threads. During the Three Kingdoms Period, dyeing skills became more highly developed, and official government dyers appeared. At the same time, a system related to clothing colors was established. During the Goryeo dynasty, purple gauze fabric with patterns woven using silk thread was developed, and gamji paper dyed in dark blue was actively made. In the Joseon dynasty, clothing colors were strictly limited according to the social status of the wearer, and authorities defined the everyday use of colors, including important events such as the four ceremonial occasions of coming of age, weddings, funerals, and ancestral rites, for people to follow the rules. In the late 19th century, with the opening of Korean ports to trade, synthetic dyes were imported and traditional natural dyeing gradually disappeared in Korea. In the late 1970s, academic and cultural circles started efforts to revive traditional dyeing and natural dyeing.

It is unfortunate that original colors cannot be found in historic clothing. It is difficult to preserve textiles for a long length of time, and even after excavation, colors fade as time goes on, making it difficult to see the original colors. There remain many pieces of clothing that were owned by royalty from the Joseon dynasty's King Yeongchin, but they were dyed with chemical dyes. However, we are fortunate that Buddhist relics with their original colors well preserved were recently discovered. If we analyze not only the characteristics of clothing structure and textiles but also the original colors and dyes when excavating relics, it will largely contribute to research on color culture.

Chapter 3: Discovering Nature's Limitless Colors
This chapter introduces 12 kinds of plant colorants among those that have been used from the past to the present. There are three types of colorants: vegetable, animal, and mineral. Although mineral colorants such as soil, rock, and coal have been widely used since ancient times, they have a low fastness to them when it comes to washing because minerals cannot be absorbed and dye textiles. With animal colorants, such as cochineal and lac, they are decreasingly used as animals are more greatly protected around the world today. As a result, we selected indigo, safflower, sappanwood, madder, cape jasmine, sophora flower, Chinese goldthread, Amur cork tree, turmeric, redroot gromwell, gallnut, and persimmon to introduce vegetable colorants mentioned in books such as Gyuhapchongseo and Imwongyeongjeji. They yield beautiful colors with high fastness and are easily available while dyeing is possible with mordants and auxiliaries that do not pollute nature. There are many more vegetable colorants, but we did not deal with those colorants because there are already many other sources about them. Lee Seong-chul, Cho Mi-sook, Choi Ok-ja, Heo Buk-gu, and Hong Rucca helped us in selecting the previously mentioned colorants.

One of the difficulties that many dyeing masters we met experience is with the supply of colorants. They need good colorants in order to get good colors. However, there are a few problems because most colorants are cur rently imported to Korea as materials for traditional Korean medicine. For example, the import and sales of madder were banned by the Korea Food & Drug Administration in 2004, as its pigments cause kidney cancer and genetic toxicity. Because there are no separate rules and regulations about colorants it became difficult for dyers to use madder. On the other hand, red pigment is available only from red safflowers in full bloom, but some red safflowers sold publicly are dyed red with an artificial pigment. In order for natural dyeing to develop, efficient growing, distribution, and management of colorants are necessary.

Chapter 4: Dyeing in Blue with Indigo
This chapter demonstrated the indigo dyeing method through traditional fermentation. There are several ways to perform traditional indigo dyeing: dyeing with fresh indigo; extracting the pigment from indigo leaves and fermenting it with lye; and making indigo sediment before melting it in lye for
fermentation in order to dye fabric. In Naju, they have traditionally used the third method, and Yun Dae-jung demonstrated this method for this book. There are variables in the whole process of traditional indigo dyeing in which people grow indigo plants, make indigo solution, and ferment it. To cover them all in detail, a separate book is needed about indigo dyeing. In this book, we focused on explaining basic information on the whole process as well as the characteristics of indigo and principles of indigo dyeing.

The indigo color that Koreans used to create was the result of traditional fermentation dyeing. Currently, many people are dyeing with indigo powder and chemical reducing agent, and sometimes the colors brought about in this way are considered traditional indigo colors.

Chapter 5: Dyeing in Red with Safflower
This chapter shows a way to get clear red colors using gaeogi (cloth to contain dye). Choi Ok-ja demonstrated a traditional method to dye unprocessed silk with the red color from safflower. She introduces a way to make safflower cake and gaeogi to dye fabric. Safflower has a red and yellow pigment to it. The yellow pigment can dye animal fabric but not vegetable fabric. By using safflower, you can color vegetable fabric like cotton by soaking it in pigment solution extracted from safflower, then bring the pigment out right before dyeing silk fabrics to obtain clear red colors. This method is called gaeogi.

Today, craftspeople are searching for new auxiliaries and mordants in order to improve the fastness of safflower dyeing. Choi Ok-ja uses Japanese omae, or ripe yellow Japanese apricot coated with oxidized steel that is fumigated. In Donguibogam, it is said that making omae with green Japanese apricot is possible, but it is not known whether it was used for dyeing or not. In Gyuhapchongseo and Cheongonggaemul, there is no record of making omae. As for the omae that was used for safflower dyeing in Korea, separate follow-up research and verification is required.

This book was completed based on research by many people, with the help of crafts-people who are actually working in the field. I would like to thank Yun Dae-jung and Choi Ok-ja, both of whom were kind enough to be interviewed and offer demonstrations for months on end, while also providing a number of invaluable materials. I would also like to thank So Hwang-ok, who supervised the content of this study, and advisors Cho Kyung-rae, Choi Jong-ho, and Heo Buk-gu for all their good work. Lastly, I sincerely hope that this book will be a useful source for all those who share our love of traditional natural dyeing.


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