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International Quilt Study Center & Museum: Japanese Indigo Dyeing

The International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM) in Lincoln, Nebraska, is partnering with American Patchwork & Quilting to share information on quilting traditions from around the world.


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Japanese Dyeing Methods

While some of the blocks are made from yarn-dyed woven fabrics, many were created in the kasuri method (similar to ikat) in which dyed yarns are woven into geometric and pictorial designs. This particular quilt features popular motifs from Japanese culture, including turtles, bats, bamboo, and cranes. This turtle represents long life and good luck.

Other Japanese dye methods include shibori, a technique involving twisting, binding, compressing, or folding cloth before dyeing (similar to modern-day tie-dye), and katazome, a resist-dye technique in which a resist paste made from rice flower and rice bran is applied to the fabric over a paper stencil before the fabric is dyed. After the dye dries, the paste is washed away to reveal a design.

The spread of synthetic dyeing methods in the 20th century greatly diminished the practice of natural dyeing in Japan. Today, a few dye houses, such as Kosoen, strive to preserve this aspect of Japanese culture.

To learn more about the IQSCM’s extensive collection of more than 2,300 quilts and the history behind them, visit

Photo courtesy of International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1997.007.1092.