Resist-dye traditions and innovations : celebrating textile technology
In traditional shibori crafts, artisans have long been known to devise ways in which the handwork finds the most efficient route to achieve its production goal. They attend to the smallest detail, such as the choice of a tying thread. For miura shibori they use a loosely twisted medium-fine cotton thread wound on its own ball; for boshi shibori they use a tightly twisted medium cotton thread wound on a wooden dowel; and for kumo shibori a medium-heavy linen thread wound on a wooden dowel and soaked in water (see details below). Sometimes, the thread is deliberately changed to a different size in order to create a specific design effect.
In traditional arashi shibori, a slightly tapered, 12-ft long, polished wooden pole is used to wind a narrow, long kimono cloth (14 inches by 12 yards) diagonally upon itself. The cloth on the pole is then wound with a tying thread that contributes to making small, puckered creases where the cloth is pushed and scrunched on the pole.
Dyeing of these bolts of shaped cloth on the long heavy pole takes two strong men and a large trough-like vat. This esoteric process has been modified to suit the lifestyle of artists in both Japan and the U.S.A. In shibori there is a “right way” to do things, but, at the same time, there hardly exists a wrong way. The traditional way gives contemporary artists a framework not only to explore shaping methods but also to modify the materials and tools.
KANOKO: bound resist
The basic approach to making patterns involves drawing up portions of cloth and binding each shape with thread. The manner in which the cloth is drawn up, how tight it is bound, how much it is plucked, and how many times it is bound by thread determine the pattern of the resulting motif. For example, if the cloth is simply plucked and bound, the motif is a scattered pattern of squarish circles. If, on the other hand, the cloth is plucked on a bias fold and bound, the motif is a diagonal arrangement of squarish diamonds. Portions of cloth can be drawn up by fingertips or fingernails as is done in kanoko, or by using a small hook specially designed to pluck the cloth and hold the plucked portion while it is being bound by thread, as is done in kumo and miura.
MIURA: looped binding
In miura, cloth is plucked with a hook then a thread is looped around the portion twice, hence the name. No knotting is done. The tying thread holds the entire bound portion of the cloth by tension. The greater ease in tying and untying makes this process cheaper to produce. Since binding in this process is not knotted but only looped twice, it results in a soft watermark-ike design — a look that is very characteristic. Miura has been used abundantly in combination with other techniques thereby successfully enlarging the visual vocabulary of the process.
The name “miura” is believed to have come from one doctor Miura, who came to the Arimatsu area from the southern island of Kyushu, and whose wife taught this looped binding process to the local people. Since it is cost-effective, and it is easy to vary the size, arrangement, and scale, miura shibori has been found in a wide range of utilitarian articles, such as futon and tenugui (wash towel or head kerchief).
KUMO: pleated and bound resist (spider design)
Kumo appears frequently in the ukiyo-e wood-block prints of the Edo period (1603-1868). Artisans have expanded the array of kumo techniques by varying the amount of binding used to resist the fabric, which is pulled and gathered into hornlike units. The basic binding is applied from the bottom of the unit to the top, then down to the bottom before moving on to the next unit. The result is a pattern of radiating lines against the reserved white ground. Kumo shibori can be tied by hand (te gumo) or with the help of a tool (kikai gumo). Artisans improved upon the laborious hand technique by developing a simple tool that hooks a point on a cloth and pulls it into a cone shape while a thread is mechanically wound around it. The cloth has to be hooked and held by hand, but the winding goes very fast and evenly, thus making it possible to create a small spider pattern regularly over all the cloth at a very reasonable cost.
NUI: stitch resist
The unique effects possible with nui shibori are determined by the type of stitch, whether or not the cloth is folded, and the arrangement of the stitches-straight, curved, parallel, or area enclosing. After the stitching of a piece is completed, the cloth is drawn into tight gathers, along the stitched thread(s), and secured by knotting. It is then dyed. The cloth within the gathers is largely protected from the dye.
The simple running stitch is commonly used and sewn evenly in a constant forward movement. The only other type of stitch used in Japanese shibori is an overcast stitch called makinui. This stitch is made over the edge of a fold of cloth, and stitching proceeds from right to left with a circular motion of the needle. The thread is not drawn up with each stitch, but the cloth is gathered on the needle. As the stitching continues, the gathered cloth is pushed back over the eye of the needle onto the thread.
Stitching affords flexibility and control to create designs of great variety-delicate or bold, simple or complex, pictorial or abstract. In fourteenth-century Japan, stitching was explored in combination with brush painting and gold leaf stenciling, as well as delicate embroidery, to reproduce stylized motifs from nature, creating an exciting fashion for noble ladies and warriors. During the past few decades, artisans and designers – not just in Japan but also beyond – have been reinterpreting these traditional processes and patterns into modern fashion idioms, expanding the choice of materials, the size of design elements, and the finishing process from traditional dyeing into modern chemical treatments.
Hand-pleating vertically along the length of the narrow and long bolt of kimono cloth (14 inches x 12 yards) developed into a technique in Japan. A thread winds around the hand pleated fabric to maintain the pleat pattern. Before dyeing, the entire pleated length is bound very tightly with thread in order to expose only the peaks of each pleat to the dye, resulting in vertically striped patterns.
There are ways to create a wide variety of designs by repeating the simple process of pleat and dye: changing sizes of each pleat or the binding intervals, or reversing the peaks and valleys of the folds. This traditional suji technique is relatively easy to master and inexpensive to produce. Such fabrics were widely used in indigo-dyed cotton kimonos for the general populace and in silk underkimonos for the more privileged class.
The tatsumaki (tornado) process was used to improve suji patterning. First, the cloth is hand-pleated over a flexible ropelike core for the entire length of the fabric. Doing this achieves a complete resist pattern as well as more precise and varied shaping of the folds on the surface of the cloth. Then, the 12-yard-long pleated cloth with core is stretched taut between stands that rotate the cloth rapidly, hence “tornado.” The artisan moves along the cloth with a thread to bind it tightly at quarter-inch intervals to ensure that the interior of the pleated cloth will be reserved from the dye.
Later. the tatsumaki process expanded to include different ways of shaping the cloth by applying stitched patterns horizontally, thus gathering the fabric in various patterns and placing it over the core for additional resist patterns.
ARASHI: diagonal pole wrap
Arashi (storm) is the name given by the Japanese to resist-dye patterns created using an ingenious process of wrapping cloth around a pole, compressing it into folds, and dyeing it. Many of the resulting diagonal patterns suggest rain driven by a strong wind. The particular subtle quality of the patterns is fully revealed only in a length of cloth.
This process was first invented in the late nineteenth century for production of shibori in much greater quantities than was possible with traditional hand processes. Taking advantage of the fact that a bolt of kimono cloth is narrow and long (14 inches by 12 yards), the artisan wraps the kimono cloth around a twelve-foot-long pole, winds a thread around the cloth on the pole, and pushes the cloth into tight small crinkles. Eventually, four to six bolts of kimono cloth may be scrunched up on the pole to be dyed all at once, when the entire pole is dipped into a dye vat.
Contemporary textile artists enjoy the broad gestures involved in this technique and appreciate being able to produce these fine patterns on larger quantities of fabric with less detailed work. Many have successfully adapted the original process using a shorter length of plastic pipe and manually turning the pipe or winding the threads by hand. They have capitalized on the fine pleated textures inherent in arashi which become part of the finished surface and contribute to the sculptural qualities of many wearable art garments. Excellent examples can be seen on artist Karren K. Brito’s website, Entwinements.