Volume 23 Issue 1 A Journal Dedicated to Natural Dyes Fall 2018

Book Review:
John Marshall, Singing the Blues

Reviewed by Pamela Feldman

Many natural dyers, like me, like to use fresh or dried plants to obtain our colors. Growing plants and knowing how to process them to obtain rich color is an art form in itself. Japanese Indigo (Polygonum tinctorium or Persecaria tinctoria) is one of the plants in this category. Fresh leaf dyeing with this plant gives colors ranging from robin’s egg blue to deep indigo. In his new book, Singing the Blues (available at http://www.johnmarshall.to/indigo/index.htm), John Marshall guides the dyer through the many processes that can be used to obtain these unique colors.

Cover of Singing the Blues
Cover of Singing the Blues
Photograph Copyright by John Marshall

Marshall, an expert in the field on Japanese Indigo, has been dyeing, teaching and writing about the subject for more than fifty years. He trained in Japan with master dyer Matsuyo Hayashi and is known for his generous sharing of this knowledge. His book begins with an explanation of the different types of Japanese indigo, how to grow it and illustrated diagrams on how it works. The book continues with many recipes for dyeing both cellulose and protein fibers using fresh or dried leaf indigo. Through a number of processes such as vat dyeing, the fermentation and the direct application of indigo pigment, Marshall gives us many ways to experiment with this easy-to-grow plant. I have successfully tried a number of his recipes. The scarves I dyed a few years ago still hold that beautiful robin’s egg blue color. In addition, the book has a section of contemporary and historical dyeing with fresh indigo, with an illustrated explanation of the author’s own rice paste work, called bingata. The book concludes with sections on color fastness, tools and equipment and a glossary of terms.

The one of the many strengths of this book is Marshall's clear understanding on how to communicate to the dyer and what knowledge we need to be successful with the processes. Through his teaching, website and now this book, John Marshall has given the natural dye world a book where you can easily obtain the basic knowledge to go grow and dye with fresh indigo or, for the experience dyer, a more in-depth understanding of the processes. This is definitely a book at add to your dye library.