The Japanese master dyer Sachio Yoshioka was ahead of the curve when in 1988 he took over his family’s Kyoto-based Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop and abandoned the use of all synthetic colours. Relying only on plants to create dyes without compromising on the brightness, saturation and range of shades possible required Yoshioka San to look back to the Nara and Heian periods for long-forgotten recipes, and even start cultivating the ingredients that were otherwise difficult to source.
As interest in natural dyes grows, the silk, hemp, cotton and washi paper produced by the workshop are evidence that a regenerative future does not need to be dull. Sachio Yoshioka died in 2019 and his daughter Sarasa has taken over the workshop, continuing her father’s mission to transform fabrics into a jewel box of colours.
An exhibition at Japan House London shortly before the death of the master dyer showcased the astonishing possibilities of natural colours in the hands of a skilled artisan, as well as the subtleties and complexities that come from combining and layering colours informed by colour theory. In Search of Forgotten Colours is a beautiful portrayal of Sachio Yoshioka’s work that simultaneously examines the significance of colour in Japanese culture. It is also a reminder to look backwards in order to find ways of moving forwards.
Menu page portrait: Photo courtesy of Japan House
This portrait of master dyer Yoshioka Sachio and his daughter Yoshioka Sarasa was taken when they visited London for the 2019 exhibition at Japan House of Living Colours: Kasane - the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations.