Shibori Landscape Dyed Using Fresh-Leaf Indigo

It isn’t often that I am able to come across a dyed piece employing more than one type of indigo. The kimono below appears to be using not only cold, fresh-leaf indigo, but also reduced, fresh-leaf indigo, and perhaps composted indigo as well. It is also an excellent example of shibori used as a medium for artistic expression.

Back view of kimono showing off the dynamic movement of the pattern

The entire bolt of fabric was first dyed using the cold-water, fresh-leaf indigo method of vat dyeing. It is the pale, robin’s egg blue seen as the background color above. The next step would have been to make use of a shibori style called mokume (wood grain). This involves a series of running stitches, sewn in parallel and close proximity. The thread is pulled up tight, which creates a series of closely packed, random pleats.  The second phase of dyeing again involves dunking this now-pleated fabric into an indigo vat. Based on the medium blue seen in the “grain” of the pattern above, or behind the trees below, the second vat makes use of dye with a higher pH (which is what takes the color away from the cyan range and into the blue-gray range). This shade of blue-gray is easily achieved with simple fresh-leaf indigo, to which has been added an alkaline, such as chalk; or with dry-leaf indigo that has been cooked and reduced, which also has a high pH.

Detail of upper, back section of the kimono focusing on the multiple layers of color and technique–stitched mokume (wood grain), stitched outlines (nui), and kanoko (deer spot)

The next and final dye step is to stitch around the outline of all of the landscape imagery and pull in tight. In so doing, the yardage becomes scrunched into two general divisions–the area with the wood-grain pattern, and the area without. The wood-grain section will need to be capped off to protect it from any further coloring, leaving only the scrunched, landscape area exposed.

The orinui (baby’s teeth) pattern seen above as parallel dashed lines, is prepared by plying a running stitch along a fold in the silk.

The exposed area is now dipped multiple times into a reduced vat. This particular shade of deep blue may be achieved through cooking dried indigo leaves, or by using sukumo (composted leaves) in a fermentation vat.

Detail of trees and foliage–notice how well the various techniques and shades of indigo work together to draw you into the artist’s vision

If you look closely at the foliage above, you can see that there are many shades of blue. This was achieved by scrunching and/or tying off sections repeatedly as each successive dunk into the dark blue deepened the color and the impression of movement.

Detail showing how the pattern was dyed to traverse the seam

All dyework is done in yardage form. Matching imagery at the seams involves careful calculations and a clear understanding of how the pattern is to appear in the final garment, an understanding the designer must communicate to both the dyer and the tailor.

Front as it would appear when worn

The image above will give you an idea of how the kimono will look from the front when worn–notice how well the sleeve, body front, and kake-eri (false collar) all match up nicely to create a single, columnar canvas.

Detail of the front, inside of the kimono

The okumi is the front panel of the kimono. The wood grain above appears on the inside (lining side) of the okumi–a detail only to be appreciated as the wearer walks and the panel flaps open slightly.