I attented a shibori workshop at last week (August 2019) at Buaisou, in Tokushima, Japan.
We learned about the process of making ‘sukumo’ (fermented indigo leaf) and some methods of ‘sekka’ (snowflake) shibori. There are only a handful of places still producing ‘sukumo’, on account of it being incredibly hard and not really financially worth it. There are still lots of places in Japan doing shibori and dyeing (like us).
Buaisou’s concept is ‘farm to closet’. They grow the indigo leaf from scratch. They are farmers and artists, what a combo!
Here is a field of indigo growing. They said they get 2 harvests per year from each plant.
After harvest the leaves are dried on the floor of this big repurposed greenhouse.
While I was there they were sweeping up the dried leaves and stalks, ready to go to the blower room.
The blower room was another long thin room with a ton of fans at one end. the fans blow the leaves to the opposite end of the room while the (heavier) stalks fall closer to the fans.
After being sorted, the leaves are then fermented in a big pile in another room. the room has special floor made from awaji clay (local pride) .This clay absorbs precisely the right amount of moisture from the fermenting leaf mulch. this process takes months and months. They were not fermenting at this time, but the bags of leaves were resting in their bags.
Buaisou is a team of 6 people, and all of them do more or less everything. They write daily notes and take samples on each ongoing vat. It reads like waves of white, light blues, mids, darks, and back to white as the vat ebbs and flows in power as it is used, depleted and comes back to life.
vats are square and positioned on the floor. They have a heating system that they use for about 6 months of the year. Japanese summer is warm so its not needed then. As far as I can see the advantage of a square vat is that you can fit a wider bit of straight fabric in for the amount of indigo inside. They also use flat pieces of wire wall (whats that called , net?) to make a cage that keeps fabric from touching the sukomo resting at the bottom of the vat and can also be used to clip on/ rest things inside the vat at various heights.
Sekka shibori is basically only effective on long thin narrow fabric. This is what I have learnt! I dont know why but yukata (Japanese summer kimono) is always made from very narrow fabric (36cm x 435cm for one). For this style of shibori it needs to be narrow or the dye wont penetrate more than 4 or so layers. It also needs to be long because the ends (approx 80cm) will be a lot darker. a consistent pattern can only be found in the middle.
This picture shows the dark end of fabric.
We could choose triangle or square pattern. I did triangular and made this giant toblerone of a wadge of fabric. Once it is folded it is like a bendy caterpillar and would be impossible to clamp between wood as you would with a smaller piece of fabric. So it is stitched with a single thread going through each of the triangles. That was the toughest bit for me.
It was really interesting seeing their studio setup, as we are investing in and debating the layout of our new studio right now. One thing I’m really looking forward to is a 2 drum washing machine so you can plop wet fabric into the spinner and get it dryish quicksmart. It was also interesting to learn how they wash and finish their fabric. All the professionals I have asked/ books I’ve read vary slightly on the whole process of dyeing. At buaisou, for this sekka shibori, we oxyginated the fabric in air (not water). We did 4 dips of 5 minutes each. The fabric was unravelled in a large bath of room temperature water. we then gave it a little wash in 70degrees celsius water (in the stainless steel pan below). After that it was rinsed twice in the large orange bucket below. Then spun dry and hung out. For their Tshirts they finalise it with a coat of soy bean protien. Yukata fabric is often coated with something to slightly stiffen it (starch?). They offered me this service but I just wanted to take my fabric home.
My finished fabric. Im pleased with the curve of light blue like petals. The Japanese for snowflake actually translates as “snow flower” .
How long before i get round to making clothes from it? who knows. yukata or jimbei… hmmm