Color is unique to each region and intertwined tightly to its culture. In Japan, the colors derive directly from its abundant nature that constantly evolves through its four seasons and climate. This is the foundation of Kusaki-zome, fabric-dyeing with colors drawn from plants, flowers, fruits, vegetables, and insects.
This craft is what Masao Kiyoe fortuitously found himself adopting and continuing by paving his own way in the world of craftsmanship. He is a first-generation craftsman of shiborizome, Japanese tie dye, which includes Kusaki-zome. Although shibori (tying) and some (dyeing) are two isolated processes traditionally done by separate craftspeople, he has taught himself both techniques, which require in-depth knowledge of not only the techniques but also of nature.
The general process of Shibori is more complex than what meets the eye, involving 5 main steps that require the handwork of specialized artisans to carry out. From designing the pattern, transferring it, to tying and dyeing it various colors, only a few rolls of textile can be made each year. Not only are there hundreds of years of knowledge passed down for each type of tie to create the intricate designs, there are also distinctive tools used according to each technique. Thus, depending on the type of Shibori, it is taken to different craftsmen. This Kukuri process is the one that takes the most time out of all the steps, as it is a tedious process to hand tie each part and often the fabric often goes through many hands until completion.
While Indigo hues have colored various cultures around the world, the creation of Japanese Indigo used in the process of dyeing (Aizome) requires an added step in the process; fermentation.
Once the Indigo leaves are harvested, they are evenly dried and fermented in a vat of ash lye, wheat bran, and calcium hydroxide, called “sukumo”. The dye becomes a living product, needed to be tended to everyday. Artisans check and mix the vat on a daily basis, until the dye is ready for use. As the dyed fabric is exposed to the air, it oxidizes to reveal the navy blue pigmentation. This fermentation process is called Nesekomi, and becomes an integral portion of the creation of “Japan Blue”.
Although this step of fermenting the dye is lengthy and tedious for the artisans (to say the least), the way that the Japanese have brought down the dyeing technique opens the possibility for creating various shades of blue, depending on the level of fermentation and dyeing time. From Indigo white to dark navy blue, the sheer range of color that the process of fermentation introduces makes it all worthwhile for craftsmen, regardless of how much more effort it takes.
Driven by the intention to make beautiful work, Japanese craft has retained its quality over the generations through a relentless pursuit of perfecting the process.