After reading, The Unknown Craftsman by Yanagi Soetsu everything changed. Drooling at the thought of being a master craftsman of something Japanese. I had to choose a path. The thought of becoming a potter or a carpenter was forefront.
In a bookstore one day I picked up a book on indigo and shibori. After looking at a few photos of Katano Motohiko's indigo shibori work and a description on how to grow indigo and ferment it into a dye I had a little epiphany in the grungy old Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku. Knowing exactly what I was going to do with the rest of my life, closing the book and grinning I walked to the counter to pay for it.
To be an indigo dyer and work with textiles and use my indigo and textile experiences to be my own self-styled cultural anthropologist felt perfect. As my wallet opened and my hand pulled out the 5000 yen I smirked...what an investment. I get a lifetime of direction for the price of a few beer.
I found indigo seeds within a few weeks and I was on my way. No dread.
To be a well-rounded indigo dyer in Japan you have to know how to dye yarn and cloth of all shapes sizes and material. You have to know how to do a variety of shibori shape resist techniques and dye them well. (Katazome is more complex. I think very few indigo dyers really go deeply into this technique.)
With a general increased interest in clothing craftsmanship techniques, there has been a minor shibori boom in the past few years. Magazine articles, websites and books delving to different depths of shape-resist dyeing are easy to find.
Shibori has a certain affinity with indigo as the oxidation part of indigo dyeing process can be played with to create subtle bleeds and nuances of blue in the folds and creases of shape-resisted work.
It sounds rather negative to say but the enthusiasm for the possibilities of shibori often outperform the technical prowess of the indigo dyer.
It is easy to liken shibori to haiku poems. Too much or too many makes you regret you ever even heard the words. Yanagi Soetsu the founder of the Japanese folk craft movement asked Katano san to burn some Arimatsu shibori and from the ashes create a higher standard of shibori work.
The resulting shibori work of Motohiko Katano (1889-1975) is in a class by itself. From 1957 until his death in 1985 he produced shibori work that was complex, subtle, proficient, distinctive, enchanting, intriguing, with no gimmicks and with intonations that can be so gentle, tasteful and subtle. (This sounds like a description of Jimmy Page's guitar playing. The commonality of music and textile design is intriguing.)
It is a new year. Fifty is only one year away. Glancing to the side of life, certain walls are closer while others are farther away and warped in ways not noticed before. With a break in carpentry work on the house, there is time to think and reflect and slightly adjust the trajectories of the various activities I juggle. Since revisiting Katano Motohiko's work that inspired me to work with indigo in the first place twenty years ago, I can't wait for the ice on the indigo vat to melt and get back to dyeing.
Tine and I were looking through the postcard books the other day and noticed that there was one technique that wasn't immediately apparent. We looked and speculated and started to sketch and stitch cloth and dye samples to figure out how he had done it.
Try number one was a failure, number two was getting somewhere. Try number three was dive bomb. (It reminded me of that old film on the first airplanes attempting to fly. They never took off and some comically folded on the runway. ) We will have them figured out in the next few weeks.