Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Weaving and Indigo class

A full blooming lotus greeted four students this cool late August morning. The cicada's shrill buzz less and less noticible and varities of dragonflies taking their place as the "season's insect"as the nuanced Japanese seasons proceed.

Aya san spent over twenty hours stitching, pleating and cord wrapping a 13 meter long roll of cotton linen to indigo dye. It seemed worth it today for her as we admired her finished summer kimono.(yukata) She had previously finished two smaller versions for her young sons to wear to the local summer festivals. A hand-tied, natural indigo dyed shibori (Japanese tie-dye) summer kimono is a luxury in contemporary Japan. The depth and variations of the blue and the lyrical cool strength of her yukata makes it timeless.

You can see the shape of the material before it is indigo dyed on the table behind Ayaka's son. The shibori technique was 'tesuji' (hand-pleating). It was bound with string to a 13 meter long rice stem rope.

One of my regular students, Ogata san turned 91 years old last week. She comes every week and makes us all lunch from vegetables she grows by herself in her garden. A bit of a camera ham she stuck a pose with the lotus and told us to take a picture.

I have weaving students and students who are primarily interested in indigo dying. Keeping the indigo dye vat itself takes years to feel confident with. The properties are almost magical. The dye itself is a bright yellow. When the cloth is lifted out into the air it oxydizes in minutes before your eyes, to blue. Successive dips gets you a deeper blue. Some material dyes better than others. The weather effects the color quality.

It takes time for the students to understand and then push the limits on the indigo dye properties themselves. There are indigo pieces that belong in museums and others at the other end of the desirability spectrum. We spend time looking at old samples and different contemporary pieces and discussing what the qualities are, both negatively and positively. We look not only at the piece itself but try to imagine who made it it under what circumstances.

Indigo works well with natural fibers such as hemp and linen and cotton. Silk and wool dye but the high pH of the dye bath and the natural wax and glues on the animal fibers make dying them a little less predictable. Books have been written on indigo....and a few more could be written to fill out some of the unknowns and nuances.

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