A deep thundering rumble shakes us awake, a sound so long forgotten that we mistake it for large cats sliding off the metal roof. Then, the electrifying crackle of a giant’s whip from far beyond the roiling clouds on the horizon rushes in with the charged air. The early summer storms have finally arrived.
The hills breathe new life, green shoots rouse from their slumber to reach for an embrace with the blue skies which hint promisingly, a little more each day, at warmer weather. The cold grey skies of winter are but a faraway forgotten dream now. In brief moments of stillness one can feel what can only be described as a celebratory expansion of every fibre of life as it thrusts forth from every nook and cranny with graceful yet unapologetically determined persistence. The budding of summer is here and we wake to be carried forward with it into action.
With hot summer days on the horizon the time is here to prepare the crisp blues of cooling waters for when we will inevitably need respite from the blazing heat. Today we dye with indigo.
The needle and thread; ever reliable since ancient times, are the tools of choice for our work today. Stitching done along pre-determined lines on cloth is pulled to collapse the fabric which is then dyed in indigo. This is the basic premise of Shibori or Japanese stitch-resist dyeing and is the type of textile work which we will focus on for the time being.
Essentially simple in its execution, Shibori is a kind of work that immerses the artist into a playful dialogue and in some ways the feeling is akin to the experience of Chinese brush painting in which the artist has a degree of control over the movements of the hand with which he poses a question to the paper with a brush stroke. Then, upon touching the paper the ink gains life of its own and speaks back to him, spreading through the fibres of its own accord with only minor guidance from the brush-holder and leaving behind a story told in endless shades of blacks and grays. The ink’s response is acknowledged and is in turn responded to, the medium and the painter going back and forth until all parties come to a final resolution where there is nothing more to be said. In this sense indigo dyeing shares some similarities with brush painting in terms of the interplay between the influence exerted by the dyer and the inherently spontaneous nature of the indigo itself.
Stitching patterns have endless possibilities of variation. Threads can be secured tightly, loosely, left un-pulled or even cut midway through dyeing. Cloth can be folded, clamped, pinched, wrapped around poles or ropes, compressed, dipped partially or even opened back up and reworked using a different technique to achieve pattern interplay.
The same technique produces different results depending on the type of fabric used. Linen, hemp, cotton, silk and the various natural fibres all have their own unique way in which they take up pigment. The indigo dye too will always have it’s own fickle quirks, lending itself more vibrantly on sunnier days or blooming to a different hue if it doesn’t like the PH levels of the solution. Even if two people follow the same technique using the same fabric on the same day and in the same dye vat their innate personality will always make a subtle impact on the work. Meticulous or brash, calculated or chaotic, the deep blues ooze character in a way that is unique to the individual. Essentially, no two pieces are ever the same.
I never fail to get positively excited at the prospect of opening up a dyed Shibori. The hours, days and sometimes even weeks of preparation, stitching and tying all culminate into this one quiet moment of serene climax where feelings of wonder, uncertainty and completion mix together as the folds are gently opened up to reveal the pattern hidden inside.
This particular piece was a new experiment dyed with persimmon tannin dye on one side and then indigo on the other. It was originally meant for the front of a cushion cover like the other pieces, however I now see that this would turn the ambiguously suggestive edges of the fabric into selvage and they are by far the thing that I like most about this piece. I will keep it aside for a while until I can think of something to do with it.