The Colors of Daegu: A Korean Tradition of Natural Dyes

Daegu, a city of six million in the southeast of South Korea, is home to the Museum of Natural Dyeing, a veritable temple of ancestral Korean artisanal textile. The first museum in the world focused on this domain, it plunges us into the history of the country to discover the roots of this region, today industrialized but reputed from time immemorial for its traditional dyeing practices. The artisanal methods are here presented in a pedagogical manner, in the form of small scenes depicting the various stages of coloring and using our five senses — the sense of smell is particularly put to use by the odors of plant tinctures that waft from the fabrics.

To preserve and transmit the traditions of natural dyeing: this is the credo of the region of Daegu, which seeks before all else to promote local creation. Likewise, the region is also engaged in research and development in tandem with production, two activities that contribute jointly to the development of the regional economy.

Mostly used in their native epoch to tint the clothing of the religious and noble classes, the origins of natural dyeing in Korea date back to the fourth century. Ancestral techniques based on the use of all-natural resources — plants, flowers, fruits, herbs, and barks — permit the creation of unique colors, destined to dye fabrics such as those for Hanboks, the traditional Korean equivalent of kimonos.

A technique rich in variation

The extreme variety and richness of the components allow for the obtention, through games of transparency and super-positioning of colors, an infinity of nuances and chromatic ranges with excellent colorfastness. The combination of different flowers similarly can create more fade resistance, and these colorants are applied to many materials: silk, linen, hemp, cotton, and wool. The fineness of organza and the changing aspects of dévoré velvet add even more shine and depth to these natural tints.
Teinture naturelle en Corée
The dyeing may be carried out during three different stages of production: in the thread, on the skein, or directly on the fabric with endless room for variation. To obtain a gradient effect, dyers wrinkle the fabric and preserve certain dyed regions through a tie-dye technique that is also used for ikat. Once the color is fixed in the fabric — which may have been pre-washed, bleached, or handspun — it is left to sundry to obtain various blurs, transparencies and camouflage effects. Finally, as in painting, natural dyes are added by brush onto wet fabric, which permits the dyes to dilute and permeate the fibers.
In the artisanal schema, there is no limit: all of these dyeing techniques can coexist indefinitely and are of interest to many designers because they offer a richness and unrivaled range of colors. From this multitude of combinations, each product becomes unique and personal.
Teinture naturelle en Corée