Arimatsu, in central Japan, is the town that tie-dye built. Along its historic main street, fabric merchant houses have stood for centuries. When shopkeepers hang out their shingles here, the signs are a sample of Arimatsu's signature product: a traditional handicraft known as shibori.
Shibori – literally, to squeeze, press or wring – covers a vast array of techniques for manipulating fabric, from stitching, clamping and crumpling, to folding and twisting.
Which is why artisan Hiroshi Murase says "tie-dye" just doesn't begin to convey the splendor of shibori. "Shibori pairs refined skill and painstaking effort with dyeing technique, yielding a sublime mode of textile expression," he said. "Shibori is an art form."
But it was commerce, not art, that set Arimatsu's destiny as shibori mecca.
Shibori had existed in Japan since at least the 8th century. In 1608, the villagers of Arimatsu hit on the idea of hand-dyeing textiles for travelers. Displayed by the bolt, like colorful streamers, shibori souvenirs were a smash hit.
Demand for ever newer, more exquisite shibori fueled a torrent of designs. There are now about 100, often used in combination, with colorful names like Spider Web, Wood Grain and Fawn Spots.
Correspondent Lucy Craft tried her hand at doing shibori; after some struggling she created her first tie dye. It takes just a few days to get the hang of it. But in order to become a professional-level artisan, it takes years in order to do it much more quickly, efficiently and accurately.
Like Kiyoko Matsuoka and her husband. They are at their bamboo posts every day, pleating and binding fabric. The results will be unique, and not always predictable.
She said, "I've been doing this for 50 years, but there hasn't been a single piece I'm totally satisfied with. I'm always thinking, How could I make it more fabulous?"
Kiyoko Matsuoka's artistry, like much of Arimatsu's shibori creations, will end up at the Hayatsune dyeing factory.
Tending the vats of indigo dye is hot, sweaty work. There are few specialty dyers left in Arimatsu.
At last, when dyeing is complete, the binding threads come off – and the fabric takes on three-dimensional form, retaining its crimps and folds.
Beyond cotton and silk, artists are trying shibori on polyester-aluminum, leather, and other non-conventional fabrics.
Shibori is turning up as coral-like lampshades, and on cashmere sweaters.
When it comes to shibori's creative potential, artists say they've only begun to ruffle the surface.
For more info:
- Arimatsu Narumi Tie-Dyeing Museum, Arimatsu, Japan
- Arimatsu: Tie-dyeing, landscapes, and Dashi Matsuri (Centrip Japan)
- Suzusan: Home & Living
- DIY Shibori
- Shibori Dying (Rit)