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Fascinating shibori studied

Posted by Administrator (admin) on Jan 07 2014
News >> General

Fascinating shibori studied

by Liz Wilson

ANZEG Travel Grant Recipient 

Shibori has interested and intrigued me ever since attending a workshop about 10 years ago tutored by Michelle Griffiths in England. I had never heard the word shibori before and knew nothing of what I was going to be doing. We tied all sorts of objects - screws, stones, coins, marbles, shells –into silk and polyester fabric, painted the fabric with silk paint, steamed the bundle to set the colours and dried them before untying the thread and were amazed by the beautiful, unpredictable colours and shapes revealed
It was the unpredictability of colour and shape that really appealed to me, but I realise now that the result can be very controlled and precise with relatively expected outcomes, but it is still exciting as no two pieces are ever the same – each pattern formed cannot be exactly replicated. The resulting coloured and shaped fabric can be further manipulated with stitch and/or beading embellishment, or used as the basis for wall hangings, and other art pieces, or garments. There is always an element of the unexpected present.

The word Shibori comes from the Japanese verb shiboru, meaning 'to wring, squeeze or press'. Shibori has come to be the accepted international word for this method of fabric manipulation which has been practised in Japan for more than 1000 years. When a method of shibori is used on fabric, the cloth can be thought of as being a 3D object, achieved by folding, crunching, stitching, plaiting, twisting, and securing by binding with thread, knotting, clamping, all forming a resist to whatever dye is then used to colour the fabric.

From the simple beginnings at that first workshop, I continued to play with shibori, then I discovered indigo dyeing in conjunction with shibori, and how the Japanese (and also other cultures) use indigo and shibori to colour and pattern their fabric for clothing in particular.

I went on to get very involved with indigo dyeing, sometimes teaching and demonstrating. A tour in Japan organised each year by Yoshiko Wada, the World Shibori Network (WSN), and  the Slow Fibre Studio (SFS) seemed a great way to extend our knowledge of shibori and indigo dyeing, in their traditional surrounding in Japan.
Yoshiko is a world expert on shibori and indigo dyeing and author of 'Memory on Cloth', and 'Shibori, The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing'. She founded  the WSN in 1992 in Nagoya, Japan, dedicated to the preservation of Japanese shibori and similar techniques across the globe. Yoshiko also established the SFS movement as an offshoot of WSN, with similar philosophies and concerns to the increasingly popular Slow Food Movement. SFS offers a more hands-on approach to production, working with traditional artisan communities (farmers, weavers, dyers etc) and regional textile production centres to promote sustainable practices that are culturally and socially responsible.

Fellow Tauranga Guild member and shibori enthusiast Pauline Shilton and I  started planning our trip in early 2010, for May 2011, the tour being run once a year only, in May/June culminating in the Shibori Festival in Arimatsu, near Nagoya, on the first weekend in June.

Unfortunately, as our intended trip to Japan was to take place in May 2011, it had to be postponed until May 2012, owing to the dreadful earthquake and tsunami which disrupted the country in March 2011. Although Japan would have been desperate for tourists to come back, at the time the country had enough problems with aftershocks, lack of services, rebuilding and so on, to have the time to be concerned with a tour like ours. Also, the artisans we were meeting had a very busy time after the devastation, as although their area in Arimatsu was really unaffected physically, they had to cope with an extra influx of work from other areas, with many of the indigo dye houses in the east of the country either demolished or damaged by the tsunami. Although Japan would have been desperate for tourists to come, the country had enough problems with aftershocks, lack of services, rebuilding and so on to have the time to be concerned with a tour like ours. Also, the artisans we were to meet were very busy. Athough their area in Arimatsu was unaffected physically, they had to cope with an influx of work because many of the indigo dye houses in the east were demolished or damaged by the tsunami and unable to function.

Finally, after almost 2 ½ years of planning, we finally took the tour in May 2012, and I was able to use my travel study grant awarded at ANZEG conference in 2010.
We started with a 4 to 5 day workshop in Arimatsu with Mr Kuno and Mr Murasi, master indigo dyers, and members of the World Shibori Network. Although these men were busy preparing for the up-coming Shibori Festival, they spent time with us, teaching shibori methods, and dyeing our work.

Arimatsu is a town on the old Tokaido Road linking Tokyo and Kyoto in the Edo period, and as the town suffered no damage during WWII,  many of the buildings are all very old, traditional buildings. The town has become known for its shibori, and many things there are shibori related. Glass panels in the railing down the stairs at the railway station are etched with shibori patterns. A column of nine cubes, a monument in the square near the station, has coloured glass sides, which when lit at night show their shibori patterns.

It was a very busy few days, preparing the various scarf lengths of fabric we were given, practising resist techniques, some familiar and some new. The dyeing was done mainly by the tutors, but we did experiment with removal of sericin from silk organza; cloque (shape resist on polyester to make permanent shapes), and also cochineal dyeing. We were shown how to make an organic indigo dye vat using henna as a reducing agent, which gave a very different effect from the more usual lye. The result was a lighter greeny-blue rather than the deep rich blue of other methods, though through pressure of time, we did not dip the articles in the vat as often either. Sometimes the fabric is dipped up to 40 times in the usual indigo vats to give the very deep blue, but the more usual is about three times, leaving the piece exposed to the air for about 10 minutes to oxidise before the next dipping of about 5 to 10 minutes.

World wide, indigo dye is produced from various plants, but the one used in Japan is mainly Polygonum tinctorium, a perennial plant which grows well in certain areas of Japan. The leaves are collected, dried and composted, and the indigo powder produced is used in the dye vat. Each artisan has his own special method, or recipe for his dye vat, but basically, the indigo needs to be fermented with a reducing agent to form 'white indigo'. Once the fabric is dipped in the vat, coming out a yellow/green colour, it is left exposed to the air, oxidising it, the colour changing gradually to the rich dark indigo colour.

We also dyed with cochineal from scale insects. Carminic acid is extracted from the insect’s body and mixed with aluminium or calcium salt to provide carmine dye. We bound wool scarves with shibori methods before dyeing and then fulled (felted) to give a soft texture.

We also went on a walking tour round Arimatsu to see other artisans in their studios, specialising in different types of shibori - arashi (pole wrapped) and itajame (clamped) mainly. In their humble, very old, dark workshops, they produce exquisite work, some of which is exhibited in national and international museums.

After this we went on to Kyoto - fabric buying, seeing fashion houses which use shibori fabric in their garments, seeing galleries, visiting markets (more fabrics, many of them antique kimono) and temples which were not on the usual tourist route. Yoshiko showed us a small shop tucked away down an alley off an arcade of shops, which specialised in sewing needles. An amazing array of any sort of needle you could ever want – and scissors.

A special afternoon was spent being driven through forest to Mt Hiei, and the Enryakuji Temple, a World Heritage site atop the mountain. Japan’s cities are overcrowded and seem to take up most of the land – one city blends in to the next – but in the countryside, you can feel a thousand miles from civilisation! Surprisingly, Japan is a very forested land (approx 68%) so with the urbanisation, there is very little land available for crops and it seems that every piece of spare ground is a paddy field.

This temple visit was followed by a trip to see Yoshiko Jinzenji, an internationally known quilter and author, who designs her own fabrics to be factory woven. The décor in her house and cafe is a display of her beautiful work. Many of her fabrics are dyed with mahogany and bamboo, giving very subtle ecru and beige colours.

After Kyoto, was a lovely little village called Miyama, about 80 miles north west of Kyoto, with traditional thatched houses (minka). This was the epitome of 'Slow Fibre' - the theme of the tour. Mr Hiroyuki Shindo, whose studio we worked in, and who has the 'Little Indigo Museum' upstairs in his house, is a true master of his art. He exhibits in museums around the world, mainly art installations, but also produces fabric for kimono. We spent most of a very relaxed day with Mr Shindo learning some of his techniques and method of making his dye bath. We also prepared a piece for bomaki shibori, dyeing it ourselves. These pieces we dipped three times for 10 minutes each time in his dye vat, leaving them exposed to the air for 10 minutes between each dipping. Though all 16 of us started with the same basic piece of cotton fabric, no two end results looked alike.
Mr Shindo has eight vats set into the ground. He keeps them 'live' for up to nine months, before discarding them. Because he uses natural ingredients they can be disposed of in his garden as fertiliser. The vats have to be kept at a constant temperature and to achieve this he has a small charcoal burning furnace in the pit alongside the vats. Before each use of the vat, he acknowledges Aizen Shin, the Indigo God, because indigo can be a temperamental dye. This certainly seems to work for Mr Shindo – his works are exquisite.

That night we spent in a typical Japanese ryokan (inn) in the country with the music of a babbling river beside us to lull us to sleep, the end to a very enjoyable day.
From Miyama we were taken to the Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo to see silk production. Gunma is the main area in Japan producing silk. In the past there were 80,000 to 90,000 farms producing silk in the Gunma prefecture alone. There are now 288. Cheaper labour costs in other Asian countries, especially China mean that Japanese producers cannot compete on price. The farm we saw has been producing silk for four generations and grows 90,000 worms per season (three seasons in a year). It will not be able to continue once this farmer retires – his family has no interest, the lure of the city being too great for the young.

Once the cocoon has formed, it is left for a few days, heat treated to kill the pupae, and the silk filaments can then be reeled off the cocoon. We visited a silk reeling factory, and also tried hand reeling silk off cocoons. Each cocoon produces about 1500 metres of filament, the filaments of seven cocoons reeled together are needed to make a very fine (21 denier) thread - literally slow fibre!

The culmination of our tour was the Shibori Festival in Arimatsu. A piece each of our work, whether it had been done in the workshops, or something we had brought with us, was exhibited in its own 'Slow Fibre' display at the festival.

The whole of old Tokaido Road, the main street in Arimatsu  and about a mile long, was closed to traffic for two days. All the shop keepers had stalls in front of their premises selling shibori fabrics, garments, bags, accessories. Many people were dressed in kimono made of shibori fabric, and there was a parade with bands, marching girls, the shibori queen and princesses. There were demonstrations and workshop activities of shibori and dyeing, groups of school children wore T-shirts that they had dyed, or been helped to dye. It was a very busy time, with many tourists – almost all Japanese - crowding the streets.

We were then back to Tokyo, where we could visit fashion houses including Issey Miyake's shops, the Nippori fabric town (a mile long street of fabric shops!), museums, or general sightseeing, before ending the trip and going our separate ways.

I have learned and gained so much from the experience of this tour - from Yoshiko, our leader, from the various artisans we worked with or watched in their work throughout the tour, and also from the other tour members – all had something to offer, and I am very grateful to have been able to be part of it all and to gain first hand knowledge of what is happening in the textile industry in Japan, and its history, especially as applied to shibori and indigo. It has given me the confidence to go further with my work, to build on the knowledge I gained, and to share this knowledge with others. I know that in the future, this experience will be one I will draw on often, remember what I have learned, and push my horizons.

I am very grateful to ANZEG for awarding me this grant. It helped tremendously, enabling me to buy Yoshiko's books before I went on the tour to have more background knowledge, and to buy equipment and materials on the tour which I probably would not have been able to do otherwise. It has been a great honour for me to be a recipient.

Last changed: Jan 11 2014 at 1:36 PM