Vintage Katazome Comes Clean

katazome3 Meiji era katazome cottons have a special place in my heart. I started collecting them years ago, back when I could barely afford to, and now it’s become something of a joy and an obsession. The fine dots and designs that remind me of having henna painted on my hands when I was 12 years old (long story, lovely memory), and that deeply soothing shade of almost midnight blue just makes me happy.

Last night I took apart a futon cover that was in fairly good condition with no bad odors, tears, or odd stains, and figured it might be a good idea to clean it before offering the fabric for sale. Four panels wide, the stitching was done with thick, indigo dyed cotton thread which snapped nicely as I pulled the panels apart. It was a good kind of give, with little resistance, however I’m sure that it would have held together just fine had I not coaxed it to separate.

I filled a sink with cool water and a dash of Dr. Bronner’s castille soap, swished it around to agitate a bit, then put the panel in and started squeezing the soapy water through. Almost immediately the water turned a light brown, then darker… so dark I couldn’t see the bottom of the sink. I drained the murky water, rinsed the panel, then filled the sink with soapy water again. More brown murk, this time with some gray. I was watching for indigo dye bleed, but all I got was muck. Rinse, fill sink with more soapy water, wash for a third time. STILL more brownish-gray murk, but not as much as before. Rinse, hang to dry near an open window.


An hour later the fabric was still damp but ready for ironing. I like ironing Japanese cottons while still damp because it means I don’t have to wet it again with a spray bottle. The problem with fabrics that do bleed is they will transfer to the ironing board cover, but that was not an issue with this panel. Old as it is, I’m certain it was washed often enough to have passed on any fugitive dye long ago. What it did have was decades of accumulated dust and dirt in it, and (I shudder to think) probably some dead skin from its previous owner, if it had not been washed since it was last used. Most of us prefer to purchase new bedding rather than used, and it’s probably because we know what goes on in that bedding. The lack of noticeable odor when I received the fabric was a good indication that it had likely been laundered at some point, but the murky water made me think it had been stored for a very long time. Bits of white fluff still clung to the back where the batting (feels like silk mawata) had attached itself like velcro.

Comparing the washed fabric alongside the unwashed fabric that night, my tired eyes could hardly see a difference. The colors were perhaps a touch brighter, the fabric perhaps a little softer, or was it my imagination? The next morning I took the washed and unwashed panels outside to view them in full sunlight. Oh! Yes, there definitely was a difference. Maybe not as pronounced as I would have liked, but the ivory-white was cleaner and brighter, without the beige overtones the unwashed fabric had. Success! I picked the rest of the futonji (futongawa? I’m still learning the difference) apart and went to work on cleaning each panel.

katazome4 The square piece shown here measures 13″ x 13″ (33cm x 33cm) and will make a beautiful pillow cover. I will have these listed in the KimonoMomo Etsy shop soon, along with the larger 13″ x 65″ (33cm x 164cm) panels. This is the first of several indigo katazome fabrics I’ll be listing, and I hope you will find one that inspires you to make something uniquely yours.


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