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Jjockyeomsaek: Keeping Alive Natural Dyeing Tradition in Naju
Khamdamova Nigina 기자  |  niginanagina@gmail.com
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승인 2018.05.11  16:46:59
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The Chonnam Tribune provides infromation about Korean traditional crafts including Chaesang, Yeomsak, Nakjuk and Onggi from this issue by experiencing craft classes. – Ed.

▲ Natural indigo dyed fabrics with beautiful patterns

    During the semester, students have a really hard time handling both their assignments and university lives. It makes them want to have a short break while taking a trip to experience some interesting things. If you are curious about Korean traditional culture, you can go to Naju City and experience natural dyeing. It makes you have some quality time and unforgettable memories, while exploring through the beautiful and unique colors.

Getting Sky Blue Using Natural Dye
    Naju is well known for natural dyeing, especially with a traditional indigo color, which is called jjockyeomsaek in Korean. The city was formed on the plain of the Yeongsangang riverside, dyeing culture using natural dyes has developed from antiquity because plenty of water, fertile soil, and a warm environment are good for the indigo plant. The technique of jjockyeomsaek is transmitted and developed through generations of artisans, who have a desire to gain the color of the sky using natural dyes extracted from the indigo plants. From a cultural perspective, indigo blue is the most important color in Korea. It was primarily used for the Korean royal family and for weddings.
    The indigo dyeing process starts with collecting the leaves of the plants from which a natural indigo dye is extracted for coloring fabrics. They are harvested and stored in earthenware jars of water for several days to extract the pigment. Then the plant’s leaves are removed and the water is mixed with lime from powdered oyster or clamshells to create a base. The leaves are dried and burned, and the ash is used as a source of lye that is mixed with the base. Finally, the mixture is stirred and fermented for several days to produce the eventual dye. A fabric is soaked in the resulting liquid which stains it yellow and then dried in sunlight, which activates the pigments and turns the cloth a deep sky blue.

▲ A Tribune reporter with Yeomsaekjang Jeong Kwan-chae

Exploring Jjockyeomsak with Artisan
    Tribune reporters participated in a traditional indigo dyeing workshop with Yeomsaekjang Jeong Kwan-chae, the national important intangible cultural property No. 115 artisan. He became interested in the process at university, when one of his teachers gave him an indigo seed as a gift. He has cultivated indigo plants and prepared dyeing for over three decades. Before going to Naju, this reporter had very good impressions about the city and its history. After being there and seeing everything with my own eyes, I acknowledged that all the stories about the city were true, but always one question was stuck in my mind, who and how people started engaging with this natural indigo dyeing activity.
    It is not a straightforward task because it demands time, attention and more importantly love. The process seemed simple, albeit, the work itself was complex. We were taught how to dye scarfs with patterns. Before dyeing, we chose patterns and bent the fabric three to four times. Then, we dipped the materials into the natural color, first the green color afterwards the blue color and we dipped it several times. After repeating this process several times, we hung it on the rope and let it dry. It was a very beautiful scenario, everywhere colored materials hung with different colors and various flowers, which gave an unforgettable effect. Right after that, we washed the materials two times, dried them again and then the scarf was ready to wear. When I saw the scarf that was done by me, I wondered about it and I was surprised, because I never ever thought that I could achieve this beauty in one day.

▲ Natural indigo dyed fabrics on the clothesline fluttered in the wind

Incomparable Experiences with Koreans 
    Apart from being able to experience Korean traditional culture, this reporter also had an opportunity to be among warm-hearted Korean people. I enjoyed my time and felt myself as a native Korean girl that day. On the grounds of the reason that people there accepted a foreign student reporter, as I was full of interest, more importantly they did not let me feel the distance between our culture and traditions. Simply, I looked with Korean peoples’ eyes and sensed their responsibilities towards their culture. I really loved their attitude and attention to the people around them. I think these are the reasons why I fell in love with Korea. These incomparable experiences made me feel South Korean’s culture and I fell in love with natural dyeing even though that was difficult. I want to reaffirm that you should go there and try it yourself, as here a good saying is “A picture is worth a thousand words.” 

▲ Different shades of blue created by natural indigo dyes


By Khamdamova Nigina, Tribune Reporter

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