Bookmaking Part 1: Natural Dyeing

[Part of a series on my bookmaking internship at Kyujanggak this Spring.]

I already wrote about natural dyeing in a previous post, but I’ll just include a few additional images and notes here since I spent the first several sessions of my bookmaking internship naturally dyeing hanji and silks with gardenia seeds (치자), alder tree (오리나무) , and indigo (쪽).

For some of the book covers, we dyed sheets of hanji in gardenia seeds (above) that had been soaked and boiled. No mordant was used.

The top left shows the gardenia seed dye bath; the top right shows hanji after being submerged in the dye.

The following week we rinsed each sheet in water about four times, hung the sheets to dry, and then dyed some of the sheets in alder tree dye (오리나무) which had been prepared the week before.

After the alder tree-dyed paper was dry, we fixed it with a mordant (potassium carbonate) by submerging each sheet in the mordant bath and then rinsing clean in water.

Dyeing the sheet first with gardenia seeds and then again with the alder tree gave the paper a warm, aged color, similar to many traditional Korean book covers.

We also dyed both silk and hanji in an indigo vat. We started with this powder from Japan (bottom left) and used the recipe (bottom center) to prepare the indigo dye (bottom right).

After an initial attempt at indigo dyeing mysteriously failed (the silk we tried to dye did not hold any color!), we made a second attempt the following week using the above recipe, translated below:


100mL water at 60 degrees C

+ 50mL indigo powder

+ 4.5g sodium hydroxide (NaOH)

+ 6g sodium hydrosulfite (Na2S2O4)

+ 900 mL water

Then heat the mixture until temperature reaches 70 degrees C, stirring continually.

Once ready, cover with plastic film to prevent contact with air which would cause further chemical reactions. Keep at room temperature, leave overnight, and use the following day.

The indigo dye concentrate was poured into a huge pot (over a stove) and hot water was added. Once the bath reached between 60-70 degrees C, it was ready. Silk was submerged in the vat for a couple minutes, then quickly transported to a tray of water in the sink, where it was rinsed several times over, then hung to dry.

(apologies for the super blurry image above left; as you can see I did not participate in the actual indigo dyeing myself and was told to stand far away to avoid chemical fumes that might harm my pregnant self or my baby.)

We then took a break, at which point we resealed the indigo vat, but some mysterious chemical reaction took place anyway and when we went to brush dye the hanji, the color turned out a little different.

indigo dye hanji
Brush dyeing onto hanji (which is on a piece of interfacing, which is on a piece of plexiglas)

Still, we ended up with some pretty decently dyed silks and hanji, most of which turned out good enough for my book covers.

indigo dyed silks and paper
Quite a range of blues…

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