In the Hakka community of Xinpu, the brilliant orange of the sun-dried persimmons is a sight that has enraptured many a visitor. Persimmon dyeing is a distinctive local craft that has grown from the area's dried persimmon industry, and one that has opened up opportunities for local cultural operations.
Xinpu Township is Taiwan's preeminent producer of dried persimmons, which has also made it the perfect place for persimmon dyeing. Persimmon juice is rich in tannins and colloids, which means the dye created from it is exceptionally colorfast, lightfast, and washable, with the color becoming deeper over time.
On top of this, the dye can also create a leather-like texture. The color ranges from golden and earthy browns through dark brown to dark gray. While these colors may not be so brilliant, their simplicity and earthiness are an excellent fit for the hard-working, down-to-earth Hakka people, and so the Xinpu community is the perfect place for such a craft to develop.
Given this, a group made up of local women and people in the persimmon business began holding persimmon-dyeing workshops in 2005. Renowned artisan Chen Jing-lin (陳景林) was invited to teach, and he has continued to provide guidance since.
In 2010, they took the next step and founded the Hsinchu County Persimmon-Dyeing Culture Association to promote the art in a more planned, organized way. The association has worked to develop alliances with the local industry and create a win-win situation for both sides.
Their classes, meanwhile, focus on four main areas: cultivating design skills, refining dyeing techniques, puppet-making, and producing bags and home decorations. The classes also host teachers invited from the design and production fields, helping strengthen skills in these areas, boost the quality and style of the resulting products, and encourage the development of unique products and a distinctive local brand.
The patterns used in persimmon-dyed products are inspired by Xinpu itself, from traditional folk styles built around the carvings of the Yimin (Hakka Braves) Temple and Ancestral Hall to imagery around major local crops like pears, oranges, and of course, persimmons. As a result, the products have a strong local flavor.
Persimmon dyeing began as a way to add some value to the dried persimmon business, but the two have been combined through narrative marketing to tell a tale of the hard work of Hakka women in supporting their families, bolstered by dolls of "Grandma Persimmon." Through all of this, Xinpu has become known as "Persimmon Town."
Today, persimmon dyeing has developed into a vibrant creative industry in its own right, and one intimately linked with the locale.
From October to February, during the annual persimmon season, a variety of hands-on activities are run in the community, coupled with practical products and themed installation art. Together with the sight of sun-drying persimmons, it is a feast for the eyes, and one that has done much to raise the visibility of Xinpu's dried persimmons and persimmon dye.