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Yashabushi dye


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Yashabushi is used to color ivory, and perhaps wood and fabric.


Doug's hair ornament ivory was colored lightly with an alder cone dye. Natasha has asked questions about this dye, and has the Masatoshi book as a reference, as I do. There is a little written about the dye in the book about Masatoshi and his work. I would like this Forum Topic to explore what we know about yashabushi, what plant source with common and scientific names, collection/time of year, preparation of the dye solution, preparation of the materials prior to dying, and relating any experiences you are willing to share.


Thanks for putting on your thinking caps.



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Well, I use alder cones from a local alder tree (Aldus).




In nature, I've read these trees generally like damp soil conditions, but I've seen them planted on residential city streets (dating from 1910 or so) as well. I'm no botanist, but I think alder produces cones throughout the year, which is an asset for us carvers who work all twelve months ;) . At any rate, there always seem to be cones on the tree and some on the ground when I go collecting. I've read too, that the bark can be used as well but I don't want to rob the trees of that. One website refers to a siberian hazelnut, when talking about yashabushi! I'm not sure that's correct- although hazelnut skins will give you a dye.


For preparation, I just bring a handful of cones and about 750ml of water to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer. You see the color begin to come out almost immediately. I suppose I simmer for an hour or so. Nothing too scientific. I put some iron (steel wool) in once and it improved the darkness/intensity of color. Keep it in the fridge. I think maybe it works better after it sours a bit. :blink:


I think there are many species of alder, so those that grow in Eastern Europe may not be the same as the North American ones. I saw some Japanese cones once and they were bigger and slightly different looking than the local variety.


As far as how to color wood- that's something I'm not entirely happy with yet. People just have to experiment. We've got a few threads on that already :unsure:


The ivory colored much more quickly than wood (perhaps because the white 'ground' showed the color change more readily). I had it in a cold solution for about 10 minutes. Most of it I polished off- it just sits in the recesses to deepen the shadows and accentuate the relief.

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Thank You, Janel for opening this topic!!! :)

If to be frankly, reading the book about Masatoshi, I thoght that Yashibushi was done from pine cone.... ;) I didn't know that it is alder cone! Ha, ha what would I do??? :D

When I was living on Chukotka (opposite Alaska) I saw this plant many times, but here.... this week-end we are going to the nearest forest, where I'll be looking for these alder cones! :unsure:

Doug, thank You very much for so detailed description of this process! It is almost the same for walnut dye, also with pieces of iron ( I use drawing-pin). I use this dye more for mammoth tusk, on the box-wood it looks almost black, too dark-brown color. This dye musty very fast, even on mammoth! :( I add some crystals of alum ( it is against mustly process). So, about my experiment with yashibushi I'll get to know after this week-end. For mammoth, once I used henna, it was ligh-orange color. I also tested some hair-dyes, the same problem, there was no intencive color as I wanted. Only light color, permanet. I also tested KMnO4, first time it looks very well, about for two or three months, then it desappeared from mammoth. :blink:

Thank You very much, my dear Friends!!!!!

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birch and alder are used by many cultures . recently i have seen a recipe of the ground and boiled bark used as the stain in Saami culture "scrimshaw" on antler knife handles and sheaths. for bark collection i only harvest from downed trees.link to info site with stain recipes.


alder info

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The link which Ford posted was one I found as well, and thought it an interesting point to consider a mordant which one associates with fabric fiber dyeing, which might also be useful for coloring wood.


Thanks Dan, that was an interesting page.


The following url are from another site, which I have not explored further. One is a page that is in Japanese, but click on the links to see photographs. The second link is a photo of what I assume would be dedicated trees used for cutting the twigs for use, perhaps with a dyeing operation. This portion of the site was found by using "yashabushi" as a keword search term.


Page of links


tree photo

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I gathered some pine cones yesterday, but I couldn't find no alder

cone! :blink: I walked two hours in the forest, no result. This morning I

tested those pine cones, the color of water became very light brown,

too light. It didn't colored the piece of mammoth. Now I tested the

tea-dye. :unsure:

Probably it would be interesting, how I use the walnut duy.


I often use dye which I do with walnut nuts. I gathered them when

they were green and their nut-shells were not hard, I could cut it

with a knife. 1 or 2 kg would be more than enough for year. I put

them into refrigerator, -18, at once. When I need to color something

I take 2 or 3 nuts, defrost them and press their juice. The juice

has green-grey color the first time, it doesn't look nice on the

bone or wood. I put some pieces of iron with rust and watch when the

color become darker. Usually, in an hour it become chocolate color!

I add some crystals of alum, it fights against the mould. If the

alum couldn't be find, at once after coloring and dyeing the walnut

dye must be covered with a lacquer, it also helps! Tested by me! An

advice: don't wash the walnut dye with water. If You need to wash a

piece of bone or mammoth, better to wash it with alcohol! Alcohol

doesn't wash away the walnut dye. You can touch the stained bone

with your wet fingers, nothing happens!

I often use the burning needle, the color of burning process and the

color of walnut dye are the same! I use both very often.

For example, the staff and the hat of this netsuke was covered with walnut dye, others were burnt with needle:



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Thank you! This is very interesting to see for variations used together. The subtle differences work well.


The concept of opening the surface of the polished ivory, antler or perhaps even bone, to assist the material in accepting a degree of dye or stain is one to consider and experiment with. Acetic acid (I found mine in a photography supply store), around 32% strength, requires fresh air, and you should avoid splashing it on your skin or in your eyes. Experiment with a test piece of material, try submersion of a portion of a piece for 3-5 seconds, 10-more seconds, and upwards from there. The shortest times will open delicate pores in the gloss, the longer times will open larger pores in the gloss of the material. The stains will be accepted by the material by degrees relative to the length of time in the acid. It is strong stuff, so the minimum use for effect...


Before the acid, clean the piece with finger nail polish (lacquer) remover (I am drawing a blank on the universal name of the stuff) to remove oils from your hands. Immerse the piece in the acid, count and remove, I use chop sticks (hashi). Rinse in water or even a baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and then water. One may also use a brush to limit the location of the acid application.


Use caution, and experiement on samples prepared to a finish gloss before committing a completed piece to the acid.

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Hi, Tom!

The "burning needle" is a local name of the burning device. There are two photos, the first is the very device, the second is "how it works". This color was done with only this burning device.

Using this device You can correct color, to do lighter or almost delete with alcohol or H2O2. All polishing must be done before this burning process. The better polishing the easier work, better result! If You are going to use any dye, use it after burning, because the high temperature changes color of dye. The smell of burning bone is awful!!!! :rolleyes:



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Guest ford hallam

Hello Natasha,


the picture you have posted looks a bit like a modified soldering iron, the kind of thing an electrician would use to join wires together with lead solder. Certainly that tool would get hot enough to do the job.


I've just been admiring your work on your site, quite breathtaking, congratulations.


regards, Ford :unsure: ( quiet appreciation of the female form smiley ) :rolleyes:

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  • 5 months later...

Yasabushi is new for me, but I have used Yashadama stain. It is made from fermenting the seed cones of the mulberry tree. These seed cones are frm Japanese mulberry trees. I was sent about two pounds of the cones by Kangyoku Risshisai, the famous Tokyo carver. I boiled the seed cones for an hour until the resulting dark liquid condensed slightly. Leave the seed cones in the brew for a few days, then remove. The resulting brew becomes very dark brown and will stain wood or ivory equally well. The Japanese carvers say it is good to let mold grow on the surface of the brew, so store in glass jar and keep in the refrigerator. Periodically reboil the solution and add some water and a few more seed cones. Maybe go to the local nursery and see if the seed cones are available, one mulberry tree can't be too different from the other. Do some experimenting and see if these seed cones work. The gardenia stain is a yellow powder made from gardenia seeds. It is good for ivory. Make inquiries in Japan by contacting Yamato Brothers of Tokyo, owned by the sons of Hirokazu Nakayama, now deceased. They can advise you how to find these raw materials. Ground antler powder is also a good polishing powder for ivory, use sharpened chopsticks dipped in water and apply a small amount of the powder to end. It is good for getting into crevices. Also you can use a linen cloth dipped in water with the powder. Sometimes multiple stainings are required, once before final polishing and then again afterward. It all depends on how you want the highlights of the carving to show through the stain. Personally, I use leather dyes for wood or aniline powdered dyes mixed with water. These are not fugitive colors and hold up well to UV. Some of the colored inks made by Penguin are useful for ivory coloring and oil based inks are good for picking up detail work to accent features.etc. That's all folks, Brad Blakely

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Brad, are you sure what you use are mulberry cones? :rolleyes: I always thought mulberries dispersed their seeds in fruit, not cones. I think it is alder cones you are describing. The process you state is pretty much verbatim of what is found in the Masatoshi book, describing alder cones.

I looked on several web glossaries of Japanese art terms and yashadama doesn't come up. I'm certainly not fluent in Japanese, so I don't know what -bushi means as a suffix, but -tama or -dama can refer to jewels, beads, or other round items, ie. cones.


Here is a picture of alder cones


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Guest ford hallam

Hey, Toscano


you don't really think anyone actually reads those big pretty picture books. I have many similar books myself, i call them "my lookin' at books", thems not fur readin' :D:D


as ever, Ford :D

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  • 1 year later...

Hello all ;)


Sorry to bring up this old topic again. "YASHA BUSHI" and "YASHA DAMA" are the same meaning in Japanese. "BUSHI" referrers cone, and "DAMA" referrers as Doug wrote, jewels, beads, or other round items, cones. We usually use these words "YASHA NI" (boil) or "YASHA ZOME" (dye) "REI YASHA" (soak into cool solution) to express those methods.

I believe YASHA to be the most traditional and elegant method to dye, and if there are any questions about it, I can tell you what I've been taught from my masters, or what I'm doing in Japan at now. I wish that those could be your useful informations. :)




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Thanks for starting this up again Ataru, and offering your experience. Do you think the age of the solution changes its properties? In other words, after it forms a mold and you filter this off, do you find the older it is, the better?


Also, are modants ever used? I'm not sure if that word will be clear when translated- so usually a mordant is a metal added to a dye to change color or make it color better. I am thinking mostly of adding iron.



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