Category Archives: color

Is Japanese Indigo Dyeing, Dying?

By Ziyan Gong

Indigo dyes have been around for centuries and are known to be one of the oldest dyes. In the 3rdcentury BC, a Chinese book refers to indigo dye in a proverb. The word indigo means a “dye from India” so it is believed to have originated in India. Indigo comes from a variety of plants such as Indigofera, Storobilanthes, and Polygonum. In Japan Polygonum is used to make natural indigo. In order for the indigo plant to be used as a dye, it has to be fermented and reduced. This way, it becomes water soluble and can produce that deep indigo color.

Japan has always been proud of their indigo as it produced a magnificent deep blue color. Almost 80% of the clothes in Japan were dyed using indigo at one point.   However, after the industrial production of synthetic indigo dyeing, natural indigo dyeing drastically decreased since the colorant in natural indigo and synthetic indigo is identical. A few centuries ago, indigo dyeing workshops were called kouya and were all over Japan. However, now almost all of the kouyas have been closed and only a few are left, preserving the tradition. The Folk Art Movement in Japan has definitely helped to preserve the tradition. Even though the end result is the same, natural indigo dyed objects are more expensive because Japanese people cherish and appreciate the value and time that the traditional process takes. Because indigo dyeing was once the pride of Japan, I believe that it will not lose value any time soon and that the craft will be kept alive. Many designers now, including Anna Sui are taking notice and purposely using natural indigo dyes in their collections. Other niche markets such as many denim fanatics continue to use natural dyes and traditional construction techniques. For example, jean store Blue & Green sell jeans that are exact replicas of olden Levis, and other jeans that are made of “Japanese denim” dyed in traditional methods.

For more interesting blog posts, visit Pingmag for a very touching interview of Tadashi Higeta, born in Mashiko-machi, Haga-gun, who is now an 8th generation Indigo dyer and weaver.  Also, there is an interesting article on indigo dyeing in Japan on the Blue & Green blog.



Hill, D. (2008). Is there a future for natural dyes? Coloration Technology, 18-25.

Kawahito, M. (2001). Natural Indigo Dying in Tokushima, Japan. Natural Dying, 25-31.

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Thermochromic Fabric: Could It Save Lives?

by Carida Diaz

Growing up, I always had a fascination with those t-shirts and scrunchies (and countless other random summer accessories) that changed color in the sun or when you touched them. This magical material was always so mysterious and intriguing to me, but I never really knew what it was called or how it worked. Fast-forward a decade later, and I’m researching “thermochromic fabric” (fabric that chances color according to temperature)for my Textiles Science class.

When thermochromic reactions are found in fabrics, a unique type of dye acts as the thermochromic agent. This agent is typically composed of one of two main elements. When thermochromic dyes are made up of liquid crystals, the crystal molecules re-orient their helices according to their temperature causing our eyes to register a change in color. When the dye is made up of a micro-encapsulate thermochromatic system, it contains countless microscopic capsules that contain a hydrophobic solvent that contain a dye precursor and a color developer. When the temperature rises, the chemical reaction between the two causes the fabric to change color.

Thermochromic fabric has been used for a few things, most of them purely trendy- like the Hypercolor brand shirts that were popular in the 90’s and recently made a comeback at your friendly neighborhood American Apparel. However, I recently stumbled upon a function for this particular substance that could potentially save lives.

Two students pursuing their Master’s NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts , Sue Ngo and Nien Lam, recently developed a prototype for a type of garment they have entitled “Warning Signs”. Warning Signs combine carbon monoxide sensors with thermochromic fabric in order to create a graphic appliqué that changes color when it detects a spike in the level of air pollution. Ngo and Lam have designed these appliqués in lung and heart shapes that respond to this pollution chase with the appearance of a smattering of blue veins.   

Though still a prototype, the Warning Signs opens up a whole new realm in which the  nature of thermochromic fabric can be utilized. It addresses a serious issue and provides a creative and novel solution. While its a little disheartening to imagine a world in which all clothing was required to incorporate this technology, it is also quite groundbreaking. Imagine if car seats changed color when they detected a carbon monoxide leak in your garage, or your jacket developed a pattern when the air around you was no longer safe to breathe. These airborne toxins are usually invisible to the human eye, but with this type of technology we would all be more immediately able to respond in what could potentially be a life-or-death situation. This type of application is full of possibilities, and it will be interesting to see how well it catches on.



Popova, Maria. “Warning Signs: Clothing That Detects Carbon Monoxide | Design for Good | Big Think.” Big Think | Blogs, Articles and Videos from the World’s Top Thinkers and Leaders. 24 Jan. 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. <>.

Gaimster, Julia. “Textiles and Trimmings.” Visual Research Methods in Fashion. [S.l.]: Berg, 2011. Print.

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Color The Way Nature Intended

by Jennifer E. Kim

Naturally colored cottons are different from white cottons for they do not need to go through the dyeing process to achieve coloration. They come in 8 to 12 different colors, some being beige, red, earth brown, chocolate brown, and green. They are cultivated and taken care of without the use of pesticides, and grown separately from other cottons to prevent cross-contamination. By not using chemical dyes, as well as reducing the use of pesticides, the naturally colored cottons have become popular for being ecological and environmentally safe. But there are some problems with the cottons, which  has to do with the length and the strength as well as the cost. Compared to the white cottons, the naturally colored cottons are shorter; they are ¾ of an inch, while the white cottons are usually an inch. The only solution to this is to continuously grow cottons from the best plants, as well as take extreme care in growing and cultivating the cotton. Due to the hardship and the workload  that is required to produce the cottons, the price for them is about $2.42 per pound, as compared to 70 cents for undyed cotton.

One of the  well-known cultivator of the naturally colored cotton is Sally Fox. Sally Fox started to be interested in naturally colored cotton as she came across brown cotton seeds. As she planted and grew them, she discovered that her brown cotton also had green cotton as well. From there, she carefully examined the them and began to breed them in different ways, which allowed her to create six shades: “Coyote and New Brown, both of which are reddish browns, milk-chocolate colored Buffalo, sage-colored Palo Verde, Green Fox Fibre ®, and a dark forest New Green”. These are registered under trade name Fox Fibre, which was “the first commercially spinnable, naturally colored cotton”. Fox’s study and work in cotton breeding led her to create Natural Cotton Colors Inc., which “expanded the range of natural cotton clothing and home products available in the United States and abroad”. In regards to business, Fox Fibre has sold their product to Levi Strauss, who would use it to make shirts and jeans, to Esprit, who used it to make striped T-shirts that were about $38 each, and to Fieldcrest Cannon, who would use it to create home accessories.

Photo Source:


Draft_lens17898414module149870150photo_1304366301wweblogo.gif (GIF Image, 240×207 Pixels) – Scaled (0%). 16 Dec. 2011. <;.

“EBSCOhost: CURRENTS; Cotton as New as Today And as Old as Yesterday.” 16 Dec. 2011. <;.

“EBSCOhost: Seeds of Success.” 25 Oct. 2011. <;.

Fox_work_1_190.gif (GIF Image, 190×190 Pixels) – Scaled (0%). 16 Dec. 2011. <;.

Kate Fletcher. Sustainable Fashion & Textijles: Designe Journey. London ; Sterling, VA : Earthscan, 2008. Print.

“Lemelson Center Invention Features: Sally Fox.” 25 Oct. 2011. <;.

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