Benibana-zome (Safflower Dyeing)


Safflower dyeing

Safflower dyeing is a rare dyeing method that uses flower while there are many kinds of plant dyeing which use bark or leaves of trees.
Expert skill is required to dye beautifully with safflower because it is difficult to fix the color .

Safflower flowers have two pigments, yellow and red.

Seeds are sown in April and grow rapidly in May and June.

Flowers bloom in July.
Since the thorns on the leaves are sharp and solid, and they hurt workers when pricked, petals are picked early in the morning when morning mist is still around and the thorns are soft.

A hat, sunglasses, gloves and a long-sleeved jacket are essential to protect myself against the strong summer sunlight and thorns of safflower.

When a little red part appears in the center of the yellow flower, it is the time to pick.

It’s the time to pick.


Picked petals turn red when fermented.
This process goes on by grinding with a mortar, rounding it, flattening it, and drying it. The dried one is called Hana-mochi.
It is called Mochi because its shape looks like mochi, or rice cake.
3 kilograms of safflower petals make about 200 grams of Hana-mochi.


When Hana-mochi is soaked in water, yellow pigment is produced at first. This is used to dye clothes yellow.

After that, ash made by burning straw is mixed and red pigment is extracted.
When Ubai (smoked plums) is added, the color develops beautifully and turens vivid pink color.

The darkest color of safflowers is deep red, or “Karakurenai”.
The intensity of the color changes depending on how many times the cloth is dyed. The more you dye, the deeper the color.

From the right; hakushoku (shiro = white), sakurairo, arazome, ikkonzome, usubeni, momoiro, nakabeni, karakurenai.

*Japanese Traditional Colors – Red:

Various colors from Benibana

Various colors can be produced by adding yellow or indigo to red from safflower.

Color variation of thread dyed with safflower

Yarn and Weaving

spinning wheels
weaving machine

Yonezawa City

Benibana Tsumugi is a silk fabric produced in Yonezawa City, Yamagata Prefecture, where pongee is made. It is dyed using beni (red color) taken from safflower.

Yonezawa has been a major production area of safflower since the Edo period (the 17th – the middle of the 19th centuries).

In the Meiji period (the middle of the19th – the beginning of the 20th centuries), Yonezawa was a big export area of Benibana Tsumugi and there were many manufacturers, but now only a few remain.

Labels of safflower pongee exporters in the Meiji period.

Nitta Textile Arts Inc.