Tag Archives: paste

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.

 

 

Year of the Horse 午年

2014 is the Year of the Horse according to the Asian zodiac of patron animals. Each year in a twelve-year cycle has an animal mascot. This deity watches over your household employing its particular strengths. Horses are considered companionable,  bright, and hardworking and will do their utmost to help you achieve your goals in the coming year.

Year of the Horse 2014 by John Marshall natural dyes on silk

As a child I loved watching clouds coalesce into imaginary playmates and then dissipate into the background of the next image forming. For this reason, my horses are often shown prancing in the clouds.

In the image below, I carved a stencil from hand-made mulberry paper (shibugami) and used it to apply a resist of paste made with rice bran and flour to silk yardage. Once the paste dried, I used small deer-hair brushes to apply my natural dyes (primarily cochineal, California Central Valley subsoil,  and Japanese indigo), allowed the dye to cure and washed away the paste to expose the image at the top of this page.

Below is a closeup to help you appreciate the details of the finished piece.

Year of the Horse 2014 by John Marshall detail

I have a limited number of these available. If you would care to have this mascot share your home this year just click on any of the images above to go to my website for more information.

 

Toy Horses – Traditional Bingata

You may also want to take a look at an article about bingata with a horse as the main theme of the image used. Just click on the image to the left.

 

Leaping Horse 跳馬

Not long after arriving in Japan I met a paper-craft artist named Kunio Ekiguchi. [He is most noted in the West for his packaging and paper-craft books published through Kodansha, International.] He took me under his wing and while earning my way as his assistant, he introduced me to my katazome teacher and many others who proved to be of great help to me.

Tsutsugaki Rice Paste Resist with Indigo – Leaping Horse Noren

Wanting in some way to indicate my gratitude, I decided to dye a noren (an entry way curtain) for his new studio. Ekiguchi Sensei was born in the year of the horse and was also partial to indigo blue, so that helped me to settle on my design.

I bought a bolt of hand-woven cotton in the traditional 14″ width and went about the business of plotting the dimensions and sketching my design on the cloth. I applied the image of the leaping white horse with rice paste squeezed through a paper tube – a bit like writing with frosting on a cake. Up to this point I had never attempted a piece so large, nor had I ever dyed with indigo in vat form.

While living in Japan I had a tiny 4-1/2 mat apartment (only about nine feet by nine feet plus a toilet and hot plate counter) so there was certainly no chance of keeping an indigo vat going. However, I was able to locate a dyer in Saitama who rented out his studio.

Detail showing the white lines. The white area was created through the use of rice paste resist applied with a cone to the cotton to prevent the indigo from dyeing that area. Once the background was dyed blue, the additional horizontal stripe of leaping horses and irises was added. Notice how the image was dyed to transverse the split in the panels.

This required two trips – the first to dye the fabric with the large horse in place, which gave me a white image and a solid, pale indigo background. Back in my studio, I applied the second layer of paste to both sides, the small leaping horse and iris pattern, and then off again to the indigo studio for my second round of dunkings in the vats. I washed the fabric out in the river to remove the paste and once home, joined the tops of the panels, added tabs, and was set to go!

Detail of background image. The clusters of crosses are actually stylized irises.

Ekiguchi Sensei was kind enough to actually use my first attempt at vat dyeing as the entry curtain to his studio for over well over thirty years. Just before his death, he returned it to me so that now I have it with me as reminder of my time as his apprentice and assistant.

The trip to the indigo dye studio is a bit of a story in itself…

During morning rush hour, trains heading out of Tokyo are virtually empty.

It was about a two hour train ride to the indigo studio. Armed with my pasted fabric and stretching equipment, looking much like a quiver of arrows, I left before dawn on a Tuesday morning in the early fall. Heading out of Tokyo in the morning meant that there was hardly a soul on the train. Sitting opposite me in the otherwise empty car was a middle-aged woman, also carrying what appeared to be a quiver of arrows wrapped in a furoshiki.

Enjoying the scenery along the single track railroad.

Wondering if she was on the same field trip as I, I tried to make eye contact. She was obviously not interested in conversation, so we both enjoyed the scenery, passing through rice fields and trees just beginning to change color. Eventually I arrived at my station.

Train Station – no one to be found!

Up my would-be travel companion popped and was out of the train before I was sure I even had the right stop. Being in no particular rush, I took my time gathering my things and making my way to the only exit, but there was no stationmaster to take my ticket. The station seemed to be deserted. Eventually I was able to rouse a rather sleepy-eyed someone.

Stationmaster

I explained where I was headed and was told there would be a taxi out front. The stationmaster told me that there normally is, but that there was someone before me and now it’s gone. Since there is normally so little business, the stationmaster thought that the cab driver would likely go fishing instead of coming back!

After waiting around an hour, the station master was kind enough to call the wife of the cabby and ask her to go get the driver for me. And two hours after getting off the train I was at the indigo studio, but again not a soul to be seen!

I wandered until I came across the area that looked as if it would house the indigo vats, and in the Japanese tradition, opened the door and called out, “Gomen kudasai!” to let them know I had arrived.

Inner workroom with indigo pots sunk deep into the flooring.

Before my eyes could adjust to the inner darkness of the studio, I saw a flash of movement, and the door was slammed in my face as someone screamed, “Haitcha dame!” (“Stay out!”). Not knowing what else so do, by now it was nearing 11:00, I sat down on the step and contemplated my sins in the warmth of the autumn sun.

It wasn’t long before a kindly looking, elderly man came out and motioned me to follow him to the side of the building. He was deeply apologetic for what he described as the rude behavior of his customer. He confided that she was very protective and secretive of the techniques she employed, and he went on to describe each step she followed in great detail! It seems that each of her works requires dozens of visits to the indigo studio, which meant that each completed piece would have several hundreds of dollars invested in it in dye costs alone.

…offered to share my lunch…

By noon, this mysterious customer joined me in the yard, and as you may have guessed, it was indeed my traveling companion. She was very gracious and solicitous, wanting to know all about what I was doing, who I was studying with, what I may have seen when I opened the door upon arrival, and so on. I had a bad case of not being able to speak Japanese but offered her some of my lunch.

Soon her work was dry enough to take home, and I was allowed, with some trepidation, to begin work on my noren. Once the once customer finally departed several members of the household came out and made a point of being very chatty with me. I wound up getting a full tour of the facility, had afternoon tea and a snack with the grandfatherly dyer and was encouraged to come back whenever I liked.

All in all, it was a very educational experience!

 

Kimono Care 2 – Day to Day Care 日常常識

Probably the most destructive thing you can do to your kimono is to actually wear it. However, kimono are made to be enjoyed and simply packing them away in a box for posterity will bring joy to neither you nor the splendid garment. So here are some fundamentals you should keep in mind as you are laying out your wardrobe: Bathe your body and wash your hair thoroughly, avoiding all lotions, creams, and hair products. Refrain from using any perfumes or colognes, and never smoke while wearing kimono. If you are to eat or drink while kimono clad, take great care not to spill. A clean handkerchief on your lap while sitting will help to take care of any crumbs and allow you to discretely wipe any oils from your hands if napkins aren’t available. If necessary, a handkerchief discretely placed upon a park bench before sitting down is also appropriate.

Emonkake (hanger)

If you are able to plan ahead of time, remove your folded garment from its storage envelope (tatou) and allow it to hang on an emonkake (Japanese style kimono hanger) for two or three days before the event is to take place. If you have used mothballs in storing it, this will allow time for the smell to dissipate. Brush the garment with a soft clothes brush and use a lint remover to take care of any static problems. If there are any really major fold lines remaining after a day, gently steam them out.

Hanging a Kimono to Air Using an Emonkake

Once you’ve returned from your outing, wash your hands before removing your kimono. Your garment will have absorbed moisture and sweat from our body. Hang your garment back on the emonkake and allow it to air for two to three hours. This will help to prevent mold and spots from forming later.

Be sure to take time to carefully look over your kimono at this stage. Areas that soil easily are the wrist area of the sleeve, the collar, and the hem. If you have worn a kimono with long sleeves, be sure to check the front-bottom, rounded portion of the sleeve for any spots or dust. Next gently pat down all of the trouble spots with a folded piece of velvet, terry cloth, or soft cotton to dislodge any dust from the street. If you have found any spots that can’t be dislodged in this manner, move on to more aggressive techniques. Lastly, with a low, dry iron setting, press out any severe wrinkles. It is best to press from the lining side, but if you must iron from the front be sure to use a press-cloth.

Treat your obi, haori, and other garments in the same manner outlined above.

If you have just purchased a used kimono, then you may also want to follow the steps outlined above before and after wearing it.

Now you are ready to pack your precious garment away.
Garments are not normally just laid out on the table or floor to be folded.  Prepare a clean flat area and wash your hands before proceeding.  A freshly wiped tabletop or the top of a freshly made bed will work quite nicely.

Making Use of a Shitajiki

Using shitajiki to protect your kimono while changing garments.

 

Japanese often keep large shitajiki on hand for this purpose.  When spread open, the shitajiki may also be used to sit or stand upon when you must change into kimono when away from home. This will keep your garments clean regardless of the environment in which you find yourself.

A large sheet of new butcher paper (un-waxed) or clear newsprint will work just as well.

If you’d like to get a little fancy and make your own shitajiki, you may papier-mâché the butcher paper with pages from an old Japanese songbook or other decorative text.

Old books may be taken apart and used as a decorative element when making your own shitajiki.

 

Decorated Shitajiki

 

 

 

You may use white butcher-paper as the core to your shitajiki, or an old white sheet, well ironed. (If using a sheet, you may want to starch it heavily first.) Use a runny consistency of wheat paste or rice paste to apply the decorative paper sheets to both sides of the shitajiki, allowing one side to dry before starting the other. Sew cotton bias tape around all of the edges once the layers are completely dry. Crease the shitajiki into six segments the long way, and four the short way. A common size is 60”  (150cm) x 40” (100cm).

Let’s discuss folding your kimono. Every type of kimono has its own special way to be folded–most often this is based on the methods of construction used. The diagrams below illustrate the proper way to fold most kimono types. Almost always, if your kimono is new or if you have bought it from reputable dealer, it come properly folded and you will note that the fold lines generally remain visible even after the garment is worn. Use these fold lines when folding away your garment.

Standard kosode (includes furisode):
Kosode are what most people think of as kimono. Kosode literally means smaller sleeve. However, regardless of the actual length or shape of the sleeve, all garments constructed in a similar fashion to the above will be folded as shown. The key point of construction is the okumi, or extra panel in front.

Tomesode:

Tomesode qualify as kimono as described above, however they will often have family crests or intricate patterns at the bottom that require extra care in storage.

 

Placing a small piece of tissue, or basting a scrap of cloth over the crest, will help to keep the imagery clean, and in  the case of embroidery, protect it from abrasion.

Depending on the dyes used, it is wise to cover the intricate pattern at the hem of a tomesode to keep the white areas pristine and the dyed areas pure of color. Some dyes will migrate to undyed areas if left in contact for long periods of time in storage. Also, the imagery in modern pieces may not be dyed at all but applied with acrylic paints. While these may be very beautiful and artistic, the acrylic sections have tendency to stick to one another if left in contact over time.

You may find that a smooth wooden dowel or broom stick will come in handy for making clean, straight folds when many layers are involved.

 

Wadded tissue may be used to keep some of the thicker folds from becoming wrinkles during storage.

 

 You will want to leave the tissue in place, but remove dowel once you’ve finished folding the garment.

 

Nagajuban:

Nagajuban are basically slips. It is the garment worn between the kimono and your underwear (which is worn against the body). Unlike the kimono shown above, a man’s nagajuban normally has no okumi, or extra panel, in front.

 

Haori:

 

 

A haori may be easily identified by the gussets at the side and the fact that the collar is turned back.

 

 

 

 

The first step is to pinch the collar bands together as shown in the illustration to the left.

Michiyuki:

 

 

A Michiyuki have an extra panel in front. It always snaps, buttons, or ties closed when worn.

 

You may want to use something to keep the bugs away. Mothballs do work well, but are poisonous and have a lingering odor. I recommend using camphor cubes (shounou). They are inexpensive, have a moderately pleasant smell and the aroma dissipates quickly once the garment is hung to air. Whatever you choose to use, take care to wrap it in porous tissue so as not to allow it to come into direct contact with your garment–otherwise it may cause discoloration.

Tansu

Never use plastic bags to store your silks. These can trap moisture and cause spotting. The ideal way to store your garments is in an unfinished Japanese tansu. If this is not an option, large dresser drawers will work; camphor and cedar hope chests, as well as map drawers or cabinets all offer a wonderful options for storing and viewing; and large flat cardboard boxes will always work in a pinch. I use them all. In each case I place my garments in a kimono wrapper (tatou). When using cardboard, I take the extra precaution of lining the box with well-washed old sheets to protect the wrappers and the garments from the acid in the corrugated paper.

Tatoushi – Paper Kimono Wrappers

A little extra time invested in caring for your garments will give you years of extended pleasure.