Tag Archives: stencil

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.

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!