As I was researching indigo and boro fabrics in Japan, I came across a showroom located in Greenpoint Brooklyn, just blocks from my apartment. I’m finally back in NY now, after several months of traveling, and I have an appointment to visit Sri today. I arrive at the building and I’m surprised to see a lovely courtyard as I enter.
It’s quite a contrast from the industrial exterior.
Stephen greets me at the door and I’m immediately transported back to Japan. He has a lot of good boro fabric pieces and sashiko stitched items. I ask him several questions about the history of boro. It’s difficult to find information about it, especially outside of Japan.
He has a great little library and suggests several books related to boro and other Japanese textiles. He sparks my interest when he speaks about boro as an improvisation. His says it’s structure is “out there” like the music of John Cage, and advises me that I will have to rethink how to approach my creative process if I want to combine elements of boro into my paintings. These fabrics were not planned pieces. He says that boro is like a mirror, it can reflect many things and I must use my personal narrative to expand on its properties. It’s at once something and nothing.
Stephen is a great resource and I hope to go back and chat with him more. I buy an out of print book titled “Riches From Rags” and a small piece of boro fabric.
I’ve returned to Fujino for two days, trying to get as much indigo dyeing done as I can. I’m leaving Japan on Saturday, so this is the last chance that I’ll have to do it. I’ve prepared a stencil using the traditional persimmon paper and brought it with me. Bryan’s home and workshop is a cozy place to work (above left). He shows us some yarn that he has recently dyed (below left).
I begin by boiling the fabrics that I’ve brought (below right). There is a lot of glue in the heavy canvas that I chose, so it must be boiled with soap and lye. The indigo will adhere to the cloth better if the glue is removed.
After the fabric is clean, I stencil the pattern onto the canvas using rice paste (above). The paste will resist the dye and remain the color of the cloth. The paste must be completely dry before I start dyeing.
The view outside Bryan’s kitchen window looks out onto his vegetable garden (above left). A few students practice Shibori techniques by folding fabric and stitching it together. The stitched fabric dries in the sun (below right). After the dyeing is finished, it’s cut open, revealing the pattern (below left).
I spend several hours dyeing my fabric pieces. Here are a few examples of the final result. My original intention was to have text in the middle of the wreath reading “No Nukes”. I couldn’t get the text to look right, so I must try again, but I’m happy with the wreath image results. I’ve realized that there are a lot of limitations when dyeing fabric. It’s a much different process than painting. I’ll have to build on what I’ve learned in order to develop my motifs.
I spent another two days in Fujino with Bryan Whitehead. He’s an inspiring teacher and indigo dyer. I’ll post more about my experience tomorrow, but for now, here’s a self-portrait reflecting in the indigo vat before it’s been stirred. The surface looks oily and still.
After the vat has been mixed, it starts to bubble and look more healthy.
Tokyo University of the Arts, or Geidai, is one of the oldest art schools in Tokyo. I have the opportunity to visit and tour the facilities today. Toru Ishii is my guide. He’s an artist working with textiles and dyeing fabrics. He’s been studying textiles for ten years and is now working towards his PhD. He shows me the dyeing and weaving studio (below right). A student draws on fabric with rice paste (below left). Bottles of pigment are organized on the shelf according to what type of fabric they are used for (above right). Different pigments are better for silk, cotton or hemp.
Another student paints dye onto the fabric. Rice paste is painted on the pattern which resists the dye. This way the colors don’t bleed into one another. After all the colors are added, the fabric will be rinsed and the paste removed, revealing the completed design.
Toru takes me into the rinsing room where the fabric is washed with water (below left) and steamed to set the dye. He shows me the bowl that he uses to make the rice paste (below right). He explains that it takes many hours to mix the paste. A nice example of a katazome stencil (above right) and more pigment (above left).
Toru shows me the complicated dye pattern that he’s making for an exhibition in London next year. This is the back of the image before it’s been rinsed with water. I think it’s beautiful already.
We take our shoes off before entering the weaving room. Yarn is being dyed in large pots of pigment (left). Toru remarks that the process of dyeing is a lot like cooking. I have to agree. Details in the weaving room (right).
This flea market is held on the first of every month and it’s probably the last one that I’ll be visiting on this trip, so I’m hoping to find something good.
There are piles of fabrics, especially kimonos, everywhere. I sort through some and find a few things.
This tree bends across the pathway in front of the shrine. It’s wrapped with red silk so you don’t run into it. I almost do anyway!
There isn’t a lot of boro, which I’m always looking for, but I do see a few pieces. There is a nice example of a boro coat (above) and I see a vendor using a piece as a tablecloth. I ask if it’s for sale, he thinks for a moment, and then replies that it’s 10,000 yen. I decide it’s not worth it since I’ve seen better.
Seiwa is a store specializing in leather and traditional Japanese craft supplies. I’m interested in making my own stencils using persimmon paper, which is the traditional method. The paper is strong and flexible enough to be used for many years. It feels soft, almost like leather when it’s wet. I find the paper and also buy two different types of cotton fabric for dyeing (above).
A pretty lady in a kimono cuts my fabric.
Futaba-en is a working studio and museum specializing in Edo komon and Edo sarasa dyeing techniques. It’s located in the Ochiai area of Tokyo where the Kanda and Myoshoji Rivers come together. During the Meiji period, many dyers and merchants selling dyed goods migrated to this area because of the flowing water. Water is integral to the dyeing process. The river is just outside the Futaba-en studio doors (below left).
Brushes line the walls inside the studio (below right) and bowls of dye are being used (above left and right).
We are here today to learn about the Edo sarasa technique. As many as thirty, and sometimes more, stencils are cut and used to create the elaborate designs. Our instructor informs us that we will only work with twelve stencils today, but even that seems like quite a few. We begin by placing the first stencil onto the fabric and matching a triangle and diamond shape in each corner. This ensures that all the stencils line up correctly. A wide circular brush made of deer hair (left) is used to lightly apply the dye color onto the stencil (above right). After the desirable amount of saturation is achieved, the stencil is lifted off and the next stencil is put in place (below right). The process continues and the dye colors begin to layer over each other, creating the colorful patterns.
Detail of my finished sarasa dyed pattern.