Saturday, January 19, 2019

Shibori (Tie-Dying) [1]
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Shibori (Tie-Dyeing)[1]
The origins of shibori are as hazy and mysterious as its soft blurry designs. A form of resist dyeing, shibori, was known before the advent of recorded histories in countries around the world. In Japan, it was first documented in the Nara period. Textiles dyed by bound resist (kokechi), wax resist (rokechi) and carved wooden-block resist (kyokechi) were all imported from China and made domestically in Japan as well. Many fragments of these textiles are in the Shōsō-in Repository in Nara.

An example of fabric dyed with the kokechi technique of resist dyeing, Nara Period (AD 710 to 794).
Courtesy of the Tokyo National Museum.

The Japanese word shibori comes from the verb shiboru which means to wring or squeeze. Thus it describes the dyeing process by which designs are created when the fabric is pinched, folded, gathered, knotted, tied or pleated and then bound tightly with a string to protect the fabric from the dye into which it is immersed. This results in hazy patterns revealed when the bidding are removed: radial (rasen), squarish (hitta), short wood grain (mokume), or spider web (kumo) patterns appear. Hundreds of patterns can be created, depending on the method of dying and stitching.

The tying process for hitta shibori.

Parrot motifs depicted using the rokechi technique of resist dyeing.
Nara Period (AD 710 to 794).
Courtesy of Tokyo National Museum.

In the Heian period (794 AD to 1185 BC), shibori was used to decorate banners and canopies for Buddhist religious ceremonies. Murasaki Shikibu, in her novel of Heian-Period court life, "The tale of Genji", described elaborate costumes worn by the courtiers of the time, some of which were made of shibori - dyed material.

Two painted and tie-dyed tsujigahana kosode mounted on a folding screen. Momoyama period (1573 - 1615).
Courtesy of National Museum of Japanese History.

In the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333) the plain kosode that was worn at first by the women of the Samurai class, blossomed into vibrant and luxurious "fawn-spot tie-dye" (kanoko shibori) patterns. This Heian-Period technique was accomplished by binding tiny bits of kimono fabric. After dyeing the fabric, these bindings were removed, revealing small squarish or circular dots of undid fabric in carefully planned designs.

Section of a kosode. Repeated patterns of maple leaves, deer, small flowers, and young pine branches arranged in diagonal bands on a black rinzu background. Edo period (1603 - 1868).
Courtesy of the Tokyo National Museum.

At the same time, the surface of the kosode was being divided into large areas of color in a new form of design, divided dyeing (somewake), which placed dyed areas in various configurations over the kimono. These dyed areas were sometimes arranged on the shoulder or hem, while at other times were on either side of a vertical division. Another placement called block-divided dyeing (dangawari), involved dividing the background into large squares of alternating colors.

All-over fawn-spot tie-dye in ocean wave, fishnet, and peony motifs decorate this furisode. Edo period (1603 - 1868).
Courtesy of the Tokyo National Museum.

The lack of control over the final effects inherent in the binding and dyeing process created many surprising designs. Craftsman working in the medium soon found that by stitching shapes into the fabrics and pulling them tight before dyeing, they had gained more control over the results. Not only could they create pictorial shapes, they could also protect some areas with bamboo sheaths in order to have completely white areas, which they later could embellish with ink and hand applied colors. To this they added extra touches of gold- or silver-leaf imprint and embroidery. This combination of techniques - tsujigahana - developed throughout the turbulent Muromachi period (1376 - 1573). It was one of Japan's finest contributions to textile art. The origin of the name of this uniquely Japanese form of dyeing remains a mystery.

Paulownia and Japanese-style book motifs are delicately executed in tie-dye and embroidery on this uchikake. Edo period (1603 - 1868).
Courtesy of the National Museum of Japanese History.

The end of tsujigahana as an art form opened the door for the development and subsequent popularity of all-over fawn-spot tie-dye, or so kanoko.

During the Edo period (1603 - 1868) feudal lords and their retainers passed through the town of Arimatsu in Aichi Prefecture on their way from Kyoto to Edo in order to comply with the Tokugawa shogunate's law mandating their presence in its new capital. They took advantage of the presence of a number of shibori shops and bought hand-dyed gifts during their stay in Arimatsu. Over the years, this small town's shibori industry grew and Arimatsu became the shiborti center of Japan, introducing several innovations to this dyeing process. Soon, the neighbouring town, Narumi, joined Arimatsu in shibori production to meet the increasing demand. The dyers used cotton along with silk. Some short cuts were developed to speed up the tedious process of hand-dyeing the material. A mechanical device called chiluba (a hook attached to a stand_ was invented to hold the material during the tying process and shibori done by this method was called chikuwa shibori.

Today modern artist strive to preserve the ancient shibori technique while expanding its perspective and adding a contemporary excitement. Artists like Itchiku Kubota has spent years experimenting and developing his own method, which he calls Itchiku tsujigahana.

Tradition with innovation. "Burning Sun", an Itchiku tsujigahana work by Itchiku Kubota.

Who can forget Carter Smith's shibori wearable art creations.

A "Carter Smith" wearable art creation.

[1] S. And, and R.M. Narasin, Textile Art of Japan, Shufunotomo, Tokyo (1989).