Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Indigo tie-dying and shibori design workshop

From June 21-July 1, 2014 I had the opportunity to study indigo tie-dying and shibori design in Fujino, a small town located in the mountains of Kanagawa Prefecture west of Tokyo. The workshop was run by Bryan Whitehead, a Canadian who has lived in Japan for 25 years. He grows a crop of indigo every year and processes it into a vat dye using traditional methods, and uses the resulting indigo to dye cotton, silk, and linen fabrics into all sorts of functional and decorative items. He also breeds silk worms! He maintains a blog at http://japanesetextileworkshops.blogspot.com .
After residing in Tokyo for five weeks, the calmness of Fujino was a welcome relief. What a joy to wake up every morning to this spectacular view!
View from Bryan's home.JPG
During the short time I was at Bryan's home, I learned how to make a number of different items using traditional shibori methods. Shibori is a Japanese tie-dying technique that involves binding, stitching, folding, twisting, or compressing fabric so that when it is dyed, the indigo penetrates certain areas of the fabric more deeply, resulting in elaborate patterns and designs. Most of the patterns that Bryan taught me involved folding fabric into various layers and then stitching a design across exterior so that a design emerges across the various layers. The time it took to stitch some of these patterns really tested my patience!
One of the first pieces I made was a linen scarf using a binding cord. Here is what the piece looked like before it was dyed:
LInen scarf (Before).JPG
And this is what it looked like after it was opened and left to dry in the crisp mountain breeze:

Linen scarf (After).JPG
In general, I am not very skilled at working with my hands, so items that required stitching tested my patience. Not to say that it wasn't worth the effort, but sitting down on the floor for hours upon hours sticking a piece of fabric was tiring! So, every once in a while I had to get up and take a break. What a better way to break of the monotony of stitching than to dye something and see the results more or less immediately. Seriously, I can understand why Bryan doesn't teach this shibori technique I am about to discuss before any of the traditional methods. Basically, a piece of cloth is scrunched into a ball and wrapped using rope. It is dunked three times in the vat, and then the rope is removed, the fabric is turned inside out, and the process is repeated. Here is a photo to illustrate what it looks like before dying:
Scrunchy (before).JPG
And this is what it looks like after dying:
I made about four of these scarfs using silk fabric during my time and vowed to keep one for myself! Bryan also took time to introduce us to his silk worms, and showed us how he extracts silk from the worms using a loom:
Silk worms.JPG
During my time in Fujino, there were a number of other people learning inidigo and shibori from Bryan, including an aspiring Australian designer who made over 100+ scarves! She was using much simpler techniques (i.e. no stitching), but I was impressed at how beautiful here pieces came out. She left for Sydney while I was there, but evidently she sold 18 of them in one day at a local Sydney market the weekend after her return!
Bea's scarves.JPG
One of the last pieces I made was a bandana. This was a small piece but the stitching was quite intricate and elaborate. I had to leave before this piece was completely finished but I looking forward to seeing how it turns out! I'll pick it up the next time I go to Japan or ask Bryan to mail it me.
For many years I have been mesmerized by the vitality and richness of indigo-dyed fabric. It was just a short time that I was in Fujino, but more than anything, I felt that I gained a deep appreciation for the sheer artistry and craftsmanship that goes into creating even the simplest of pieces. It is difficult to know at the this stage what I will do with this new-found hobby of mine. I'm not sure if I can create a studio in my home to continue to create indigo pieces, but at the very least I know I have a place in Japan where I can return to to learn more about this fascinating tradition. It would be difficult to find a period in my life when I have been happier during the past year or so than the time I spent in Fujino in late June 2014!

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