Washi Paper Dying: Ita Zome

During my visit to my mother’s chigiri-e class in Hilo, Hawaii, we were treated to a special demonstration by one of her students, John Tyler, who showed us the art of a particular type of Japanese paper dying called: Itazome 板染め – the first kanji is “ita” meaning board and the second is “so-me” meaning to dye. To read a post on chigiri-e, a Japanese paper art please click here.

John is a member of the paper society: The Friends of Dard Hunter: It is composed of people who are involved in various aspects of hand paper making, bookmaking, archival work and other areas that revolve around hand made paper.  The annual meeting was at the Arrowmont Craft School in Gatlinburg, Tennessee this year.  There were a series of one- or two-day workshops held before the formal meeting.  The ita zome workshop was a one-day workshop taught by an artist from Canada.

I never knew such a society existed and who would have thought they would teach such a traditional Japanese art form in Tennessee!  The world is definitely a smaller place!  How wonderful that one can learn these traditions all over the world.  That weekend John learned the art of Ita zome.

This method is used with washi, 和紙, Japanese paper. The first character, “wa”, in this instance means Japanese and the second character “shi” means paper.  With new technology, there is a wide variety in washi, from colored paper with Japanese prints to simple white rice paper.   For dying purposes, John used the plain natural washi.

Gathering around the table where John prepared the necessary materials for paper dying, all the participating students were eager to see the demonstration.  There on the table were little containers containing different colors of ink, alcohol, water and black sumi (Japanese ink)  all neatly arranged.  On hand was a variety of washi with different thicknesses and different fibers.

With care and precision, John folded the paper in a particular series to form a small rectangle, about half the size of a credit card.  Then he clamped the rectangle shaped paper together using two short pieces of wood from a disposable chopstick: one stick on either side, binding them together with rubber bands.  The sticks acted as the “ita” (board) as it has the role of clamping and holding the paper together.    Once folded tightly, John gently dipped the corners and edges into the various containers of liquid.  The paper slowly absorbed the color through it’s fibers producing a natural bleeding effect.  The use of water and/or alcohol affect the way the pigments travel through the paper fibers.  They can help create different effects, used separteley or used together.

Once he decided that was enough dye, he gently removed the boards and bands and carefully, unfolded the paper to expose the beautiful patterns created by the dye.  Like all paper, washi is very strong when dry but weak when wet and tears easily.  The folded paper must be opened to dry.  During the unfolding it was fun to anticipate the result.  And oh how beautiful they were!  The colors and bleed patterns were so dynamic!

Depending on the way the paper is folded and how much dye is absorbed, it creates a unique pattern and design on the washi. Therefore, there will never be two that are exactly alike!  The photos show John during his demonstration and all the ita zome washi. Thanks John for a wonderful experience!

The above photos include John giving us a demonstration, the types of dyes, unfolding the dyed washi, various results of John’s art and the Hilo Chigiri-e class.

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