Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kakishibu Persimmon Dye of Japan

My San José Rose Garden home, built in 1926, has a persimmon tree in the backyard. It was there before we purchased the house in 1982. Most people think we are crazy to have kept the tree for so long, as it creates such a mess in spring, fall, and summer. It’s a large tree, and it produces a copious amount of persimmons. Our tree is the larger variety called Hachiya, the fruit of which is unpalatable until completely softened. We have dried the fruit and made persimmon cookies and breads. In the fall we put out a box filled with persimmons and a “free” sign so neighbors can also partake.

Who knew that for all these years, this tree was able to offer much more than fruit for delicious dessert treats like persimmon pudding with lemon sauce? Who knew that the persimmon tree had even more to give than also providing me with the joy of watching the cedar waxwing birds as they came to join in the annual feast?

My persimmon tree

At the end of July 2016, I took a class at Cabrillo College taught by Jody Alexander, called “Boro Textiles: Books, Bags, Zokin and Zakka.” It was very inspiring in many ways. Our instructor showed us slides of textiles dyed with persimmon and brought some actual pieces that she had purchased in Japan, many of which were very old. This was the first time I put my hands on these lush brown and gold fabrics dyed with persimmon. The texture and depth of color were like nothing I had seen before. The pieces were not only rich in color, but they were functional as well: resistant to mold, moisture, and insects, Japanese farmers used the dyed cloth as protection from the elements. Bags created with the dyed fabric were used to store rice.

As a fiber and textile lover, I was hooked, and determined to use the fruit from my own tree to dye fabric. I researched online and came across the links listed below to get started. Turns out that August is the perfect time of year to harvest the green persimmons for dyeing. So I began.

I ordered the book Kakishibu: Traditional Persimmon Dye of Japan, by Chris Conrad, and I reached out to her for guidance. She was very kind and willing to share her knowledge. Her website link is:
Japanese Textile Worshops blog, written by Bryan Whitehead, who lives outside Tokyo, was also helpful. He also responded with answers to questions that I had.
Check his website out :

Unripe persimmons from my tree

I learned that it is the liquid from the unripened green persimmon that is used. Sometimes it is diluted, but it is most effective in a pure form. It also becomes stronger the longer it ferments. Persimmon dye needs ultra-violet light to change into a golden brown color. I collected the small, golf ball-sized green fruit, grated them, and squeezed the pulp through cheese cloth to get pure persimmon juice. Next I dipped some linen, cotton, and a piece of silk tule into the juice. These pieces of fabric sat out in the sun every day for the next few weeks. Each morning I moistened them again with plain water and set them out in the sun. They definitely changed color over time, and you can see the results in the photos below. The tannin in the persimmon hardens and binds to the cloth, and the sunlight makes the color change to brown. I am happy with the cotton and linen, and with the beautiful orange color. Interestingly, the cloth is stiff. When washed, the cloth won’t soften too much. It gets creases in the material which gives a slightly distressed look. The linen made a perfect cover for one of my Boro Books. Hope you enjoyed reading my blog. I will continue to experiment and see what new things I can create using natural elements from my own backyard: my favorite persimmon tree.

Persimmon dyed cover for one of my Boro Books.

Grated green persimmon

Mashing with an industrial potato masher.

Smashing the pulp with my feet. Pulp is in cheese cloth.

Left in the sun, the pulp starts to turn color.

Fabrics laid out in the sun.

Vintage lace piece on top of cotton.

Linen and vintage cotton pillow case dyed with persimmon.


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