Suminagashi: The Traditional Art of Paper Marbling
You may have seen marbled paper before, but have you heard of suminagashi, the traditional Japanese paper dyeing method? Recently it has risen again into the public imagination, so let’s take a look at this classic technique from old Japan. Of course, trying it out is interesting in and of itself, but there’s also an incredible depth to each and every unique item made with this technique.
One of the prefecturally-designated intangible cultural assets of Fukui, sumi-nagashi is a traditional dyeing technique with over 1,000 years of history. It employs the patterns that appear when dyes like ink or paint are poured onto the surface of water. Though done in the same way as Western paper marbling, sumi-nagashi was developed independently and perhaps even influenced the development of the same technique in the West.
The History of Sumi-nagashi
The origin of sumi-nagashi dates back to the 9th century Heian period. It’s said that one of the amusements of the court was to pour ink onto the surface of a creek and enjoy the changing patterns created by the water’s flow. Much later in the Edo period, after the production of Japanese paper was firmly established, people began transferring these volatile patterns onto sheets of paper. Nowadays, this method is used to dye patterns onto the silk of clothing like kimono, too.
A Guide to Sumi-nagashi
Dip a dye-soaked brush into water, and once the dye has spread across the surface dip an oily brush (one dipped in pine resin, etc.) into the center of the circle created by the dye. By repeating this process, you form circles within circles of alternating bands of dye and oil.
Place a sheet of Japanese paper on top of the pattern you’ve created, then slowly lift it away from the water. Japanese paper is absorbent, so if you dye it just the once this way you’ll be left with a highly water- and light-resistant paper. With that, you’ve created a truly one-of-a-kind pattern unique to the moment and the world.
When sumi-nagashi techniques are used to dye kimono fabric, the result is a kimono with a naturally-vivid pattern, one that (as we’ve mentioned) has no equal in the whole wide world.