Murasaki – The Sweetness of Purple

Purple is a color imbued in mystery. In certain places and times the color was solely used by the aristocracy, for others it is a religious symbol. Most people would agree, that it has a strong image and a bold color. The color purple is by no means flashy, but deep and complex.

The dyeing process for purple varies just as much as its meaning. Tyrian purple was made from ground snail shells, which much have been an exhausting process, not to mention quite expensive. Japan and China used a method to obtain the color from certain types of insect galls. Gallnuts as they are called were found to contain a high amount of tannic acid which in turn creates iron gall ink, and in ancient Japan was used by women to dye their teeth black.

Purple berries

This is the same dyeing method used at Tezomeya to acquire Fujinezu-iro and Ebizome-iro. The first is a more of a grayish purple so the color no as bright. Ebizome-iro (pictured below) is a color that combines the gallnut and madder root to make a familiar purple color. The color takes in name from the fruit of a grape plant called ebikazura.


Kapital created a new purple denim this year called” No. 8“. It is a combination of the purple yam (beni-imo) and indigo. The resulting color is quite brown at first, this I assume is a result of producing a dye from yams. The wabash is discharge printed, and the lighter tones are pink! I quite like this color contrast. It is definitely much more unique than indigo denim with white stripes.

Here for comparison the different shades of purple. Combining purples with medium browns and light grays is an easy way to incorporate the color into your wardrobe. Natural purples have interesting gray and blue hues, depending on the light, so depending on the purple it can also be paired with indigo, and darker colors.



Kapital | Santo Domingo Jacket

DSCF3546 Santo Domingo is one of the largest villages for the Pueblo people in New Mexico. They are known for their intricate shell jewelry. During the 1930’s to the 1950’s this village produced these interesting souvenir necklaces. During this era it appears that the artisans didn’t have money to purchase traditional materials to make jewelry. In order to make a living they collected and recycled materials to make these “Depression” necklaces. They are made from crushed up bits of turquoise, car battery casings, vinyl records, red plastic (toothbrushes, spoons), bone, and other materials. They look incredible and the resourcefulness of the crafts people and their skills definitely show through these pieces, considering the materials they were working with.

DSCF3533 Kapital’s design team was inspired by this clever idea, and as always created something truly impressive. The Santo Domingo jacket is the what they came up with. The jacket, and the coverall have a similar central theme. Starting with the chest area, which is inspired by the designs found on Navajo and other southwestern tribes. The “star” (it looks like a star to me) continues on the elbows, and similarly onto the shoulders. The blending of the standard denim jacket and the hunting jacket is apparent in the pocket design and button details. The chest pocket is large enough to accommodate a newspaper plus most every day carry items. Combining function and simplicity together. The complex nature of the pattern though, means this jacket is technically quite tough to sew. Also note the hand-set rivets. The jacket denim is sanforized so there is little shrinkage after washing. The coverall is a light oz. denim that comes one-wash. What I think is most impressive with this jacket is how Kapital can wield a simple denim fabric to make such an impressive design. Not only to make an interesting look, but also utilize the denim fabric’s strengths. Similar to how the Pueblo people utilized the materials they had at hand to make simple and beautiful jewelry. DSCF3548

Metamorphosis II

Kapital Century Denim 7S 1.5 Years 1

Change marks the passage of time; from one state to another. The transition of dark to light, to dark again. I have been on the move, and as always interested in trying some new things. Lately I have been intrigued in the workings behind kakishibu and the other tannin dyes used in Japan. In the previous Metamorphosis post I showed the early stages of the transition of a few items.

These Kapital Century Denim Sarouel pants have passed their 1.5 year milestone. After the second coating of kakishibu more character in the denim has appeared. Whiskering has flourished behind the knees, and the thighs. A lot of the color change is due to heavy wear but also routine washing. They are also ready for a few minor repairs.

Kapital Century Denim 7S 1.5 Years 4

Silver Rivet
Silver Rivet
Gold Rivet
Gold Rivet

Jack Knife Barn Jacket Black

Remember that Jack/Knife Barn Jacket we coated in kakishibu? Well, we had one more that we wanted to dye black. The combination of persimmon tannin and wood vinegar created a brownish-black. The unevenness of they dye is not the result of a chemical wash, or bleaching. It is actually the natural result of the dyes. I love this imperfectness, not because it looks worn or faded, but because it is the natural result. I am hoping with a little time and wear, the brown will seep through the black.

Jack Knife Barn Jacket Black 1 Jack Knife Barn Jacket Black 3


This Tezomeya Tee has faded so beautifully. Regular careful washing and drying inside out has helped preserve most of the iron wood vinegar black. The persimmon brown base color has slowly seeped through and given the knit fabric a deep complicated texture. This constant transformation of the color is what I enjoy most about these naturally dyed products.

Metamorphosis II Tezomeya Tee 1 Metamorphosis II Tezomeya Tee 2

Tezomeya | Inspiration LA 2014 V Neck T’s

Up on the Etsy store we have a few special items available. These Tezomeya t’s are entirely sewn and dyed in Kyoto, Japan. Each color has a story, and a deep history in Japan. These traditional colours paired with Masaaki’s incredible shibori (tie-dyed) designs are unusual and beautiful.

I picked 10 t’s, in 3 different sizes. There are several variations but for now these are the only ones available. All of the shibori t’s have an indigo over-dye.

Here is some color history… enjoy!

Fujinezu-iro is created by using insect galls and wood vinegar mordant. An insect gall is a growth on a plant created and controlled by an insect. In Edo period (1603AD-1868) Japan, it was not only used as a dyestuff but also as was fashionable in the day, for dyeing your teeth black. The wood vinegar mutes the color to this refined, “shibui” purple. This color was popular among commoners as a substitute to the other, more expensive purple dyes during Edo period.

Tezomeya Inspiration V neck T's 6

Kihada-iro is derived from the Amur Cork Tree in traditional dyes and its use in Japan dates back to the Nara period. But for cotton the cork tree doesn’t fast very well. The color is made by boiling dried pomegranate skin, paired with alum mordant. The color isn’t a bright cheerful yellow, or quite a cold mustard yellow. It is a yellow you would see falling from a tree or written in a poem.

Tezomeya Inspiration V neck T's 7

Toki-iro is the ancient red from the madder root. We boil the madder root and use an alum mordant to make a deep red for silk, and a pastel red for cotton. The word “toki” comes from the Japanese word for the crested ibis, which has this enchanting red color quill.

Tezomeya Inspiration V neck T's 8

Book | Katachi: Japanese Pattern and Design

Katachi - Japanese Pattern 5

This book was published in 1963, and it is one of my favorite on Japanese design. Katachi means form: this book is a perfect collection of Japan in form. It shows a broad spectrum of traditional designs and patterns, which are as much a part of the landscape and language, as they are art. The incredibly charming photos by Takeji Iwamiya are as simple and deep as their subject. A lot of these photos remind me of my first trip to Japan and the photos I took those many years ago.

It is fascinating to flip through images and see shapes interact with materials, and  how the combination of those define Japan’s arts and crafts. This book is required reading if you are at all interested in seeing how the cultural and daily patterns of Japanese life surface in the crafts and everyday items.

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BTWXTBA | Doryman Sweater – Sakiori Version

Use it up, wear it out,
Make it do, or do without.
-Old lighthouse keeper saying

Sakiori Doryman Sweater 1

Sakiori is epitome of the Japanese idea of mottainai. A folk craft that really represents a “beauty through poverty” aesthetic, common in the textiles of rural Japan. Basically it is knotted fabric strips rewoven with thick (usually silk or hemp) warp threads. The colour variation of the fabric strips creates their very own unique pattern. On this Doryman sweater we used the front side and back side of some sakiori fabric. The front side has a lot of color-fade, white the opposite side is bright and vibrant.

Sakiori Doryman Sweater 2

Both sides blended well with the mottled beige and ecru of the sweater. Black wool yarn was added as a decorative/repair detail. Feeling a little inspiration from koginsashi embroidery we created a sashiko style repair. That adds a little dark contrast.Sakiori Doryman Sweater 3

The elbow pads will strengthen the sweater and the pocket adds convenient function. Nothing better for the colder months ahead than a thick wool sweater.

Sakiori Doryman Sweater 4

Brown Tabby Works X The Bandanna Almanac

I have been gathering worn out, and faded items over the past few years. Narita-san and I have teamed up to bring these items back to life with a more shibui feel to them. Through detailed repairs we bring out the faded beauty of each item, their individual stories become apparent by keeping the stains and scars. We also add some more function to them by stitching pockets and altering the length of some items. All items and future items are/will be available on my new Etsy site. Kishoten…, means: introduction, development, turn… and the conclusion is up to each customer. From the Japanese 起承転結.

The first item we have completed is this noragi. I wanted to keep the original repairs and fabric on this piece, so we shortened the length and added pockets to the font side. The addition of a blanket pin acts as a closure, to keep the rustic theme.

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The second item is this Red Cross Army vest. The worsted wool in Army green has a mother-made feel to it. Probably because these were hand-knit by housewives and volunteers during the two world wars. This one had several holes in it. So we used some old sock yarn and hand-darned each hold. This adds a little colorful contrast to the otherwise mute khaki green.

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The third is my personal favorite. I found a Harley Davidson dude’s Lee Storm Rider. There was a lot of wear and damage to the entire piece that made it very unique. We cut out the back panel and put in a repurposed Chimayo fabric from a Kapital vest. The holes we are all patched with indigo thread. The collar features a nice contrast green corduroy patch, and the blanket lining inside was patched with fabric from a Warner Brothers Costume Department tunic.

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“Shibui in Chicago” | Independence Chicago X The Bandanna Almanac

Independence Chicago and this blog have teamed up to bring Chicago a very exclusive look at some special items not available outside of Japan. Readers will be already familiar with the stories and names, but most have never had a hands-on look. I want to extend my thanks to Independence for offering to host this event.

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Independence Chicago
47 E Oak St, Chicago, IL ‎(312) 675-2105
Saturday, July 20th. 3pm-7pm. Google Maps

Items from Tezomeya, in Kyoto.

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A few hand-made items from Narita-san of Brown Tabby
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And more…


A marked change in appearance, character, condition, or function.

Function modification, character transition, development; a tangible story written in thread. The clothes you wear often carry the marks of your life. Stains and tears are brief moments. Slow worn fades and patchwork are lengthy periods of time unique to the individual. If you care for your things they change with you. To keep your wardrobe changing without creating waste, repair, modify, recycle, and repurpose. A well-designed  high-quality garment can last a lifetime.

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This was an old Kapital Tobi denim shirt. Narita-san at Brown Tabby did some reconstruction and repair to it for me. The saki-ori elbow pads are made from strips of vintage bandanas. We are of the mind that if you are just staring at it you are wasting it. This shirt was a great design to begin with, from the kohaze clasps at the cuffs, to the reinforced stitching on the shoulders. The repairs to the wear brought out more of the character of this shirt. The gradual change from new to old is a beautiful thing: modification and metamorphosis.

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The Kapital Century Denim 7S started out sumi -grey last September. After two coatings of kakishibu the grey disappeared but after many much wear and tear the grey has started to peek out from under its brown coat. Natural dyes tend to fade rather quickly, which is why they appeal to me so much. Nothing permanent, as to keep that attentive eye sharp.

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Metamorphosis  4

This Tezomeya t-shirt was a kakishibu color . But after a dip in wood vinegar it came out this smoke brown-black. The black will show its brown heart little by little. The color of 憲法色 (kenbouiro) is extraordinary and time consuming. The smokey smell of wood vinegar remains even after several washes.

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This in an ancient piece of Japanese linen used for mosquito netting. It was smoked, and then dyed in indigo with this subtle “Edo Wave” pattern. The two colors merge so beautifully the camera does not do justice. The texture of the linen has that charming characteristic of rural Japan.

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The Silk Sense

Bryan’s house is more akin to a shrine than a house. This was my third year in a row to visit my friend Bryan, to gain more insight into Japanese textiles, and dyeing methods. These visits leave me with enough to stew over for well over a year. I am always awestruck at his current and past projects, he generously gives me peeks into his work.

For any textile fanatic, craftsperson, or indigo-blooded human this house/village is a place of worship. There is so much to revere and to stir a million new ideas. The scenery, the indigo bubbling in their vats, the silk worms munching on mulberry leaves; it all culminates into an inspirational soup. Rather addictive stuff as this time he had numerous guests from all walks of life, eager to find inspiration from the mixture.

Interiors say a lot about a person. From artifacts to pottery, you can get a general sense for someones travels and tastes. Being the first to rise, I took my morning leisurely walk around the village. I am sure as he reads this he is grumbling something about me taking pictures before he had a chance get something or other into order. He is a fastidious individual…

So many ideas have been found and discovered in these mountains and rivers. The inspiration for a pattern: a fallen leaf, or the enchanting sound of the river running over rocks. Nature is speaking to the person willing to listen. The curves in the road are transitions to majestic views, every turn a beautiful panorama. I can never get enough of the precariously placed tea terraces.

We really got a treat this time, reeling silk the traditional way. Bryan describes poetically the history of the techniques and the methods, there is no need to bother with note taking. It is like memorizing a favorite song. As the beautiful silk unraveled from their cocoons we all shared our own stories and experiences. Reeling in inspiration I cannot thank my host enough.

Kagoshima, Japan | Satsuma Buttons

Delicately decorated

Satsuma porcelain is a technique that was imported to Japan from Korea in the late 16th century. Satsuma buttons were created using the same technique for export to America and Europe during the late 19th century. By the Meiji period the craft spread to Kyoto and settled there while it fizzled out in Kagoshima. The main attribute to Satsuma porcelain and buttons is the fine detail of the ukiyoe motifs, and the finely crackled glaze. The technique slowly died out in Japan in the 1960’s with only a handful of craftspeople capable of passing on the knowledge.

Fine details

Shiho Murota is one of the few people continuing this craft. During my visit to Kagoshima recently I had the chance to visit her studio and have a look at her work, and hear her story first-hand.  Her studio is in a small mountain village. There, Murota-san is creating her own original designs, and buttons. Some of her work is traditional ukiyoe style and others are more modern. From skulls, spiders, and anchors to cute floral design, and simple timeless geometric patterns. She not only makes buttons, but wooden Zippo lighter cases with Satsuma button accents, rings, brooches, and pins. They are so elaborately detailed some of the best parts are hidden within the design.
Delicate beauty Huge button, staggeringly beautiful