Tag Archives: 染め物

Indigo Noren at the Morikami

On October 16, 2017, an exhibition opens at the Morikami Museum in Delrey Beach, Florida, called Out of the Blue: Japanese Indigo Textiles. I am contributing a number of pieces from my personal collection of Japanese textiles and have also contributed a noren I dyed with the show in mind to help set the mood. I thought I’d like to share what has gone into producing it.

Indigo Dyers at Work, by John Marshall

Natural indigo from my garden was used to dye this piece illustrating the primary techniques used in Japan to dye with indigo: vat dyeing yarn, vat dyeing yardage, and painting directly onto yardage. The weave is called Miyako-joufu (宮古上布), a high quality hand-spun and hand-woven ramie from Okinawa Prefecture. The character 藍 (indigo) is outlined in sashiko-style stitching.

The piece will be displayed in one of the museum doorways. Noren panels are normally joined together several inches down from the top.  However, in this case I skipped the faggotting to accommodate a taller population and to help reduce some of the stress on the fabric through traffic by leaving the panels open all the way. 

Compare the fellows working in this block print to the men with their fabric stretched the full width of the finished noren above, running behind the 藍 character.

I’ve always enjoyed creating props for teaching. My studio is filled with them. I saw approaching this project as an opportunity to educate. I sat down and just rummaged. I rummaged through my fabric stash, through drawers of block prints, and through my library. Here and there I came across images of people  at work, I narrowed it down to just a few images of dyers immersed in their trade and had my starting point.

Stencil of standing dyer.

Selecting six or eight of  these images, I scanned them, re-styled them a bit and worked to give movement to their lines and character to their faces as I carved my stencils. Actually two sets would be required. Noren have an unusual need to be seen from both sides – coming and going. With the exception of any written words, the noren must not have a  wrong side to it. So a set of images facing one way would be needed for one side and a second set facing the other way for the opposing side.

Care must be taken in pasting each side of the fabric since some distortion will always occur as the first side dries and pulls in the fiber.

Once both sides have been pasted and the paste allowed to fully dry, I suspended the yardage over my dye pot and hoisted away as I lowered the yardage into the deep navy blue medium. After each dunk the dye must be allowed to fully oxidize. The paste must be inspected for any deterioration and repaired if necessary.  The second dip yielded a slighter darker shade and so on until I reached a moderately rich blue after six dunks.

Dipping the pasted yardage into the vat for the fifth time. The pot is actually an old soy sauce container from China.

The wet yardage was transferred to a protected area of my garden to hang in the shade and a gentle breeze. Once dry, it was ready for a different approach.

Vat-dyed fabric hanging in garden until dry.

Detail of stretched image to the right. The rice paste is the yellowish area protecting the fabric beneath from the blue. The shinshi stretch selvage to selvage.

Monochromatic indigo can be quite beautiful and become nuanced with age, as can the chance variations you find in indigo dyed with shibori techniques. Appreciation for this quality can be found in many cultures. The Japanese excel at going one step further and adding a multiple range of deliberate shadings. To prepare for this next step I found it desirable to first apply a coat of soymilk – a protein polymer that helps to seal in vat-dyed indigo and act as a bonding substrate when painting directly with pigment.

Since the fabric is pasted on both sides, it doesn’t matter which side the shinshi are applied to. Clamps, harite, hold the arrangement mid-air between posts.

To make the soy easier to apply, the yardage is sewn end to end to create one long piece and then stretched mid-air using traditional equipment – harite (張手) and shinshi (伸子) – somewhat along the lines of a hammock.

With the fabric sized and stretched to a convenient work height, pigment may be easily applied to both sides using a surikomi brush.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The blue pigment may be applied right over the top of the paste. As long as the paste is doing its job the image will remain well protected. Once I was satisfied, I set the fabric aside to cure for a few weeks and then washed away the paste.

As one of the final steps I went back and did one more application of paste to some of the areas that had been protected by the resist earlier. This allowed me to add highly detailed patterning to the blank areas of the clothing using antique Japanese stencils. In addition I added some direct-painted patterning to areas such as the tenugui the man below is wearing on his head.

Can you see the other way in which the shinshi may be used in the image above? They’ve been spaced along one selvage edge giving the worker a nice handle with which to dip the yardage, and at the same time fan the folded layers open while immersed in the vat to give even exposure to the dye. The man standing has just pulled his project from the vat and the man crouching is just now inserting his.

Noren often have the name or logo of a shop boldly displayed in a prominent position. Selecting the character for “ai” (藍) to serve this purpose was an easy task and I already had a font I designed for a similar purpose years ago. You can see the edges of the character in the image above which I’ve chosen to further highlight with sashiko stitching around the edges – not part of the original plan, but it gave greater prominence to the character.

To read more about how the pigment was prepared click Preparing Indigo Pigment from Fresh Leaves and Fermentation.

To read more about how to paint with the indigo pigment click Painting with Indigo Pigment.

 

 

Painting with Indigo Pigment

This article originally appeared in Turkey Red Journal, 2006

Dreams of Incarnations (or Holy Cow)
Vat dyed indigo on cotton with painted indigo and other natural pigments.

We are all familiar with the long and rich legacy indigo brings to the human experience of color in nature. But how many of you, as dyers and as artists, are familiar with painting with indigo? All forms of natural indigo fall into the category of pigment dyes. Pigments are topical dyes, and include most mineral dyes, such as Japanese ganryo (顔料), and naturally sourced paints, such as carmine (cocheneal). By virtue of the fact that they are topical, pigments are very easy to apply in paint form to just about any surface, including textiles. Pigments do require a binder of some sort, which is very different than a mordant, to make them permanently grab hold of your fibers. Iʼll be using soymilk.

The Binder: Soymilk is made from soybeans. Soybeans contain the
highest percentage of protein of all legumes. To make soymilk, simply soak a handful of dry beans in tepid water for about three hours, or until fully swollen. Rinse and place in a blender. Fill the blender 4/5 full of cold water, push the high or liquefy button, and churn until the soybeans appear to be fully mashed.

Soymilk ready to be strained.

Froth will form on the surface of the liquid. Pour the contents through a rag and into a bowl. The liquid that flows through the cloth is your soymilk, the crumble left in the rag may be tossed in the garden as compost. The soymilk consistency should be about the same as 2% milk (slightly translucent). Add water to thin if necessary.

 

Jizome brushes (jizomebake).

The Sizing: I always recommend a layer of soymilk sizing be applied to all weaves before beginning to paint. You may do this with a sponge or a spray bottle, but if you want consistent and streak-free results, I recommend the brush traditionally used for this step, the Japanese jizomebake . Applying soymilk as a sizing will prevent wicking and allow for much richer color, while at the same time reducing crocking.

Aibana (藍花) – the bubbles formed on the surface of an indigo vat.

The Pigment: You will need oxidized indigo. The most accessible source for most of you will be the froth of bubbles that form on the surface of your indigo fermentation vat, the aibana (藍花). This is the reduced indigo that has come into contact with the air and oxidized. Simply scrape it from the surface and use it wet or dry. Another reliable and consistent source is ganryo pigment from Japan made from Japanese indigo. This is basically an indigo lake. You may also make your own indigo pigment as described under Preparing Indigo Pigment from Fresh Leaves and Fermentation.

Various Japanese brushes useful in applying the indigo.
Starting at the lower left: mensou-fude, fude, various sized surikomibake.

The Paint: Add a little soymilk to the pigment, and you are ready to paint. Any watercolor brush will do to apply the pigment, as will sponges, crumpled paper, or bare feet. I use Japanese brushes called surikomibake (摺込刷毛) and mensou-fude (面相筆) for most of my work.

 

1. Fabric stretched in an embroidery hoop and sized with soymilk. Beginnings of bird outline sketched with pale indigo.

2. Layers of indigo/soy mixture are built
up to create darker tones as the image
takes shape.

3. Completed bird on branch.

4. Detail of head.

From this point on, work with the indigo/soy mixture much as you would paint with watercolors. The sizing will give your weave a stiff, paper-like surface upon which to work. (If properly applied, the stiffness will go away once the work is completed.) Images 1-4 below may help as a rough guide, starting with the lighter shades and working up to the deeper tones as layer upon layer is applied. I tend to work with a moist or nearly dry brush, rather than a wet one.

 

The Final Steps: The one drawback to using a natural protein is that it requires curing. Curing involves oxidation of the protein, which takes it from a water-soluble protein, to a non-water-soluble protein-polymer. Once cured, the indigo will not crock and will remain washable. It does no good (nor any harm) to steam the dried soymilk. The safest and easiest method is to simply let the fabric sit exposed to warm dry air. I recommend a minimum of four weeks curing for quality work, but some artists will pare this down to just a few days and still have very good results.

Once the soymilk dries you may handle it with ease, even sewing with the fabric if you like. However, it will remain somewhat stiff until you wash it once. Washing does not remove the soymilk, it simply softens the fabric. However it should not be washed before it cures.

Moojo. Vat indigo on woven nettle with detail showing painted indigo lines.

Indigo painting may also be combined with vat dyeing and resists. In the figures below I have used rice-paste resist along with multiple dunkings to create my imagery. In both cases, the rice paste has been applied with brushes to mimic a batik-like affect. As a final step I have painted in deeper lines and details with my indigo/soy mixture and a mensou brush (a 00 watercolor brush is a fine substitute).

 

 

Old Friends. Vat indigo on Russian linen with detail showing paste highlights applied before dipping and minimal painted indigo details (eyelid).

Shibori vat dyed silk handkerchief – tsujigahana style with detail at right showing painted indigo accents

Equally interesting results may be achieved by combining the painted indigo with tie-dye, shibori. This combination is what is referred to as tsujigahana.

 

Detail of Holy Cow (see beginning of article, above) showing a combination of natural pigments, including indigo, applied using soymilk as a binder.

Rokutani Baiken, Living National Treasure 人間国宝 六谷梅軒

Auspicious Gourd Pattern on Silk Chirimen (Japanese Crepe)

End of bolt for the design called Cluster of Guords, showing artist’s label, Baiken Rokutani

This is a marvelous example of extremely fine stencil
carving by Rokutani Baiken, who was declared a Living National Treasure in 1955 and passed away in 1973.

Master Ise Stencil Carver Rokutani Baiken
1907-1973
重要無形文化財 伊勢型紙錐彫 保持者
六谷梅軒

1907(明治40) 三重県鈴鹿市に生まれる
born 1907 in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture
1919(大正 8)  父・芳蔵のもとで修行
began studies under his father, Rokutani Bouzou
1939(昭和14) 独立
became independent
1942(昭和17) 小宮康助の勧めで極鮫小紋の研究
began research into extremely fine, sharkskin-pattern stencils while working for Komiya Kousuke
1955(昭和30) 重要無形文化財保持者「伊勢型紙錐彫」に認定
designated as Living National Treasure (preserver of the hole punch style of Ise katagami)

Close up of both sides of the bolt

As you can see from the back, the entire bolt was first dyed a solid color in a vat of fresh-leaf tadeai (Persicaria tinctoria), after which the paste was applied to the front side through the stencil carved by Rokutani Baiken. Once the paste dried, several more coats of the dye were brushed on. Eventually the paste was washed away revealing the detailed imagery of “one-thousand gourds”.

Detailed description of bolt

The paperwork attached to the bolt gives us quite a bit of information.

伊勢型紙
Ise Katagami
千成瓢箪
One-Thousand Gourds
もの事すべて実になる
瓢箪には神のが宿るといわれる
豊臣友秀吉の馬印は瓢箪であり緑起がよく戦に勝つたびに一個づつふやしていった
Custom has it that the souls of the gods take refuge in this type of gourd, and keeping one about helps to bring to fruition all your aspirations. Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s battle standard was this gourd. With every battle won he added one more gourd to the standard, so that in time he was reputed to have one-thousand gourds dangling – scaring away anyone who would seek to challenge him.

人間国宝 六谷梅軒 彫刻
Carved by Rokutani Baikan, Living National Treasure
二代目 六谷梅軒 彫刻
Carved by Rokutani Baikan II

Additional information elsewhere on the bolt indicates that the fabric was woven in Japan using Japanese silk.

Bolt label

The characters in the upper right of the label read 千成, sen-nari, which  means “a large cluster”, but by way of a pun it also means “one-thousand successes” and so is used for felicitous occasions.

Artist’s signature and stamp

The wording in the rectangular area above reads Living National Treasure, Rokutani Baiken and bears a stamp in red with his full name. The gourd shape bears a stamp of just his first name, Baiken.

Baiken Rokutaini II

Baiken Rokutani II

Baiken Rokutaini II was born in 1937 as Hiromi Rokutani and took his father’s name in 1996.

1937 (昭和12年) 三重県鈴鹿市寺家町に生まれる
(本名 六谷博臣)
born in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture (birth name: Hiromi Rokutani)
1953 (昭和28年) 中学卒業、同日より父について修行
graduated middle school in and began instruction under his father
1963 (昭和38年) 伊勢型紙技術伝承者養成事業第一期生として4年間錐彫部門専修
undertook training in the traditional techniques of Ise katagami carving and became a specialist in punch style after four years
1992 (平成4年) 三重県指定無形文化財保持団体、認定会員
became recognized as a member of Mie Intangible Treasure Preservation Society
1993 (平成5年) 伊勢型紙技術保存会会員、理事に選任
became a member of the Ise Katagami Arts Preservation Society, and elected as director
1995 (平成7年) 伊勢型紙技術保存会会員、副会長に選任
member of the Ise Katagami Arts Preservation Society, and elected as president
1996 (平成8年) 還暦を機に父の雅号「梅軒」を襲名
took his father’s name “Baiken” on the occasion of his 6oth birthday

 

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.