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bengara – red earth pigment

September 19, 2012

the oldest colouring  agent known to mankind

bengara is mainly iron oxide – Fe2O3

it is used as a colouring agent in paints, glass and ceramic glazes, as a red colour in lacquerware and as a preservative and decorative element on wood

bengara can be purchased as a powder for dyeing fibre, it needs silica and a chelating agented added – don’t know the name??

Kapo-san demonstrated the powdered dye, it was available in red and black

bengara is produced by baking iron sulphate in an oven at 700 degrees for 1-2 days. By varying the temperature and time the molecular structure is changed and different colours are produced.

after baking it is finely ground and then washed repeatedly to remove the acid content and finally it is dried.

to dye we used liquid dyes from Japan in 7 different colours

the 7 basic colours included white.  The sample under the white was dyed with the powder.

the web site is for a paint company in Japan and I’m not sure how easy it is going to be to get the liquid dyes

the colours mix easily and we made 14 blended colours

they are all subtle, unique and softly beautiful

after dyeing the samples we each dyed a board clamped shibori (itajime) piece

the fabric is first soaked in water that has had a bonding chemical added ( I’m trying to find out the exact name of the product, there was some difficulty with translations)

after dyeing and removing the boards, then top dyeing a second colour,  my piece was left with the white squares – a big surprise for everyone. We came to the conclusion that the bonding agent had not reached the fabric where the clamp was tightened and the dye did not attach to the fabric.

we then had a cotton shawl from Maiwa’s supply to dye. The shawls were all put in the chemical bath before clamping – therefore no surprises.

information regarding bengara is scarce but there is a museum in Japan where  production started in 1707

you can see a video with English subtitles here

I’m hoping to do more research and then find a source of the powdered bengara. I’ll keep you posted

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Johanna Li permalink
    November 7, 2012 9:57 am

    Hello, I came across your blog when looking for info on Bengala (Bengara?) dyes — I recently took a workshop in New York City on using these dyes, with someone from the Kosyokunobi company (the manufacturers of the dye shown in your photos). The weaving studio where I took the class also sells the dyes now, if you are interested (I am not affiliated with them).

    Bonus coming across your blog, as I’m just starting to learn about natural dyes! I’m sure I’ll be visiting again.


    • November 7, 2012 10:14 am

      Johanna – thanks for the info, I will definitely look them up. good luck with your natural dyes, have fun and please drop by again.


  2. Renee permalink
    September 22, 2012 11:18 pm

    Interesting. I have cotton yarn that I work with and am thinking about ways to dye it. Tnisis something else to look into.


    • September 23, 2012 3:35 am

      Renee – well yes, the colours are lovely but it seems difficult to get and very expensive


  3. Joy permalink
    September 21, 2012 9:20 pm

    Hi Jean,
    Finally had a moment to check out your blog! It’s great! I bought some of the liquid bengara dyes at Maiwa but they were bloody expensive!!! I ended up using all my money on 4 colors of the bengara dyes. Guess no dye book for me this time..maybe Santa will let me get it 🙂
    But Charlotte said she would carry the bengara if there was enough interest. But it was $49.95 a bottle that will dye up to 2 kg of fabric, plus you need the fixer which was $9.95.


    • September 21, 2012 10:37 pm

      Hi Joy – so happy to hear from you. Yes, the bengara is very expensive. Trying to see if we can get it another way. I’m going to post a Japanese website on the blog. Using a translation it has some good pictures and shows smaller bottles packaged in 3 colours. I’m working on this. Let me know how your other workshops were. Are you home safely now?


  4. September 20, 2012 5:14 pm

    well, i’m fairly jumping here in my old chair, WOW, jean. terrific colors, the subtle shades are just lovely. oh, i am so happy after reading this and seeing all you did at that workshop. TOTALLY wonderful!


    • September 20, 2012 6:43 pm

      Velma – aren’t they marvellous! now I just have to find out how to get them here, although they may be expensive. don’t fall out of that chair.


  5. September 20, 2012 2:50 pm

    Wow, utterly fascinating. God, I wish I’d been there – thanks for the pictures.


    • September 20, 2012 2:53 pm

      Heather – think you would have loved it. If I can get the dye stuff together maybe I’ll do a couple days workshop. the colours of the bengara are gorgeous.


  6. September 19, 2012 8:13 pm

    Oh, these are very neat dyes! The white checked piece is lovely; I like the contrast, it makes the piece feel very modern. The blues are interesting, as well. Was there a strong smell when dyeing? Was it easy to achieve colors? Because it’s an earth pigment, is the lightfastness good? Perhaps Maiwa will carry them?


    • September 19, 2012 10:16 pm

      the kakishibu is available from Chris Conrad in the U.S. or The Paper Place in Toronto or Maiwa has the leftover liquid – 100ml $7.95. It has had the strong odor removed. I’ve written several blogs about it. The leftover liquid bengara is available at Maiwa – don’t know how much or which colours at $59.95. It was easy to use and doesn’t fade etc. You would need the fixative as well. It’s the powder that I’m interested in both kaki and bengara.


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