04 July 2013

Harisho Studio - sekka shibori

Sekka shibori fabrics.

Sekka kimono.

As part of a textile study tour, our group visited a true rara avis of Japan - the last remaining studio producing traditional sekka-style shibori fabric. 

First, have you ever made paper snowflakes?  The process involves folding paper, snipping into the folds, and then carefully opening up the paper to reveal a lacey and almost magically symmetrical snowflake. My children and I used to decorate our dining room windows with these every winter.

The paper snowflake process is a very basic cousin of the process that the artists of the Harisho studio in Arimatsu use to create beautifully patterned cloth in the sekka pattern.  The Japanese word sekka is translated as snowflake or "folded flower." Narrow lengths of cotton are folded, clamped and dyed in a very deliberate manner to produce one of the traditional patterns developed over generations.

Left: rolls of cloth. right top, bottom: street, storefront of studio.

Precision-folding yards of fabric.

Stack of folded fabric grows ever higher.

It takes 12 yards or more of the traditional 15-inch wide fabric to make a lightweight summer kimono.  First, the length of fabric is folded, along its length, accordion-style - if you made paper fans in kindergarten, you've done this part. Then the folded fabric is further manipulated into triangular folds, with the help of an iron, as seen in the image above. The craftsman, or craftswoman,  also uses a spray bottle of water, as damp fabric is easier to manipulate.

Compressing the folded cloth using  a special vise.

The triangular stack of fabric is then squeezed using clamps in a vise. In the image above a kimono forms a sheer curtain behind the craftsman, whom I assume is the studio owner, but I'm not sure about this.

Folded and clamped cloth.

The end result is a bundle of folded fabric, each edge and face precise and crisp, clamped between two triangles of wood. The blue on the wood is the stain from previous dye baths.

Another view of folded fabric.
In the image above gives another look at the folded fabric. (The blue and white textiles behind were patterned using other techniques.) Once clamped the fabric will be dyed. There are many options for the dyer - including, for example, immersing the entire bundle in one color, or, alternatively, dipping each point  in a separate color, resulting in a polychrome effect.  Also, the folds can be varied, to obtain different "snowflake" patterns.  Traditionally, the background is left white.

Rolls of sekka cloth.

Bolts of ikat fabric mixed in with sekka shibori.

After viewing the work in progress at the studio store, we walked to the factory location, where the dyeing is done and where, I gathered, there used to be larger-scale production of sekka and mame shibori  (mame shibori merits its own blog post in the future.) There was also a display area with current and historical sekka samples. At one time Harisho was exporting shibori cloth to Africa and we saw some samples from that era, in colorways tailored to the African market.

Samples of sekka shibori for African retail.

To the rear in the image above we see traditional blue and white sekka shibori, with samples for the African market displayed horizontally, and a piece of blue and white mame shibori draped in front.

Polychrome effects - colorful snowflakes.

Factory dyeing area.

Top, cloth drying. Bottom, left: vintage packaging, right: dye vats.

During the Arimatsu Shibori Festival (future post, I promise) rolls of sekka are for sale. However, placemats and napkins can be purchased from http://shop.yoshikowada.com/boutique. The current colorways on offer are limited to blue-and-white and pink-and-white. The pink-and-white would be fun for outdoor entertaining.

Placemats and napkins to order; image courtesy Yoshiko Wada.

Historically, nappery associated with eating is where it all began in Arimatsu, and its sister village Narumi, as the inns along the 17-century road called the Tokkaido needed bulk supplies of washable towels and napkins and other items for guests making their way to Edo, as Tokyo was known then. So, everything old is indeed new again.