Potential for creating designs in textiles can be seen even in the physical properties of cloth. The simple fact that cloth tightly compressed into wrinkles or folds resists the penetration of dye is an opportunity - an opportunity to let the pliancy of textiles speak in making designs and patterns (Wada 2002). People around the world have recognized this opportunity, producing resist designs in textiles by shaping and then securing cloth in various ways before dyeing. Yet in no other country has the creative potential of this basic principle been understood and applied as it has in Japan. Here, in fact, it has been expanded into a whole family of traditional resist techniques, involving first shaping the cloth by plucking, pinching, twisting, stitching, folding, pleating, and wrapping it, and then securing the shapes thus made by binding, looping, knotting, clamping, and the like. This entire family of techniques is called shibori (Wada 2001).
Designs created with shibori processes all share a softness of outline and spontaneity of effect. Spontaneity is shibori's special magic, made possible by exploiting the beauty of the fortuitous things that happen when dye enters shaped cloth. Usually it is in response to the fact that a craft is being lost that the need for preserving and documenting it arises (Wada 2002).
Extensive research and experimentation have led to the revival of shibori techniques that were once well-known but have now been largely forgotten in Japan. In addition to more conventional techniques, the work of contemporary fiber artists in Japan and abroad in shibori textile art and wearable art is becoming more prevalent, to suggest the extent of the creative innovation possible (Wada 2002).
Cloth: Folded and Clamped
Dyeing cloth that is folded in two or more directions into a neatly shaped bundle and held clamped between boards or sticks is an art historian's enigma (Wada 2001). There are eighth century examples in the Shoso-in, but subsequent examples are so scarce until the nineteenth century that doubt is cast on this technique existing in Japan before the latter date. Chemical blues bleed into beautiful, soft effects with this technique, whereas indigo does not penetrate deeply into the many layers of cloth. It does seem to indicate that board-clamping of folded cloth may have developed from or appeared with the introduction of chemical dyes (Wada 2001).
Cloth decorated by folding and clamping until relatively recently was used to line simple garments or for baby diapers. The latter were often homemade and given as gifts for the newborn infant. Anything so commonplace was unlikely to be recorded or preserved. The cloth was used until worn out; few examples remain (Wada 2001). Although cloth dyed in this way is rarely seen today, decorative paper is made by folding and dyeing in a similar fashion. The technique is also employed in nontraditional ways by Japanese artist-craftsmen.
The process is simple enough. Cloth is folded into wide vertical pleats. The pleated cloth strip is then repeatedly reverse folded, either horizontally or diagonally, into a square, rectangular, or triangular form. This creates a neat bundle of folded cloth that is fitted between boards or sticks, held in place with cord, and dipped selectively in the dye (Wada 2001). The multiple folds create simple geometric patterns, and the dye is drawn into the folds, creating a distinctive soft-edged effect. In Arimatsu-Narumi, the general name for both patterns and process is sekka shibori, snow crystals - literally, "snow flowers" (Wada 2002). The term in more general use is itajime. This word stands alone; the term itajime shibori is not used.
The shape of the folded cloth, the amount of pressure exerted on it by the clamping device, the areas that are dipped in the dye (it is never completely immersed), and the length of time the cloth remains in contact with the dye all affect the outcome (Wada 2001).
The action of the dye often creates totally unexpected effects - perhaps it is the element of surprise, as well as the quick results that makes the process an immediately rewarding one. The traditional designs that are reproduced in the examples here will suggest many possibilities to the creative textile artist.
Board Clamps: Flat pieces of wood cut to the appropriate size and shape are the most usual type of clamp. If the cloth bundles are small, balsa wood works very well, since it is easy to cut with a sharp knife or fine coping saw. Masonite or other hard board or foam board used for architectural models may also be used. When the placement of the binding cords is determined, matching notches are cut into the two pieces of wood or other material. The notches prevent the cord from slipping. The term itajime literally means, "board clamping" (Wada 2001).
Stick Clamps: Flat smooth sticks are also used as clamps (balsa wood, readily available in a variety of sizes is easy to cut and split). These are placed on both sides of the cloth bundle and bound around with cord. In some cases the sticks are not cut all the way through but resemble a pair of Japanese disposable chopsticks before they have been split apart. Several folds of the cloth are laid between them, and the open ends are bound together. Clamping between sticks is called bijime (Wada 2001).
The process described below is the same regardless of design. The variables that determine the design are the shape into which the cloth is initially folded and the size, shape, and placement of the boards or sticks.
Folding: The cloth is thoroughly dampened, laid flat on the work surface, and accordion-folded into uniform, vertical pleats that extend the length of the cloth. The strip of pleated cloth is then folded into a square, rectangle, or triangle, the choice of which is dictated by the design desired. The first fold remains in place on the work surface, and all subsequent folds are made by moving the strip of cloth back and forth. The cloth is precisely folded so that the layers are arranged in a stack, each exactly above the other (Wada 2002).
Clamping: The boards or sticks are cut to the desired size and shape and notched to hold the cords. The cloth is protected from possible stains by cloth or paper next to the wood. The boards (sticks) are placed as desired and bound together with stout cord (Wada 2002).
Dyeing: The clamped cloth is dipped into dye. Very little dye is needed, for the exposed edges of the folds are just barely submerged in the dye, and capillary action does the rest. Some colors move more quickly into the cloth than others, so different design effects occur when the same type of fold is dyed in different colors (Wada 2002).
The cloth may be dipped in several colors either selectively or successively. The clamps may be removed after one dipping and the cloth dipped again with a different set of clamps or with the same clamps placed differently. The process is fast, at least for small amounts of cloth, and allows one to experiment freely. The cloth must be unfolded immediately after dyeing in order to allow it to dry. Care must be taken when unfolding the cloth that undyed areas are not stained by the damp dyed portions (Wada 2002).
Urbanization and Shibori
Can an urban environment be threaded through fabric experiments? Can flowing textures and tantalizing resist dyeing explorations be interpreted as city mappings? Can the eye and the hand coordinate to evoke beauty through the Japanese technique of Shibori, made tantalizingly pertinent to Bangalore's metaphors?
Positive answers to each question surface at textile designer Nishath Ahmed's first exhibition under the newly launched Nish label (The Hindu 2003). The display, which includes saris, scarves, stoles, running lengths, cushions, and home accents in silks from Karnataka, flowing abuthai fabric from China, staple tussar and viscose, are exquisite in terms of color variations, tonal impressions, and Shibori finesse.
These one-of-a-kind creations result from folding fabric in layers, stitched to seemingly random patterns, then dyeing the yardage in rich hues that shade and emerge in mysterious patterns (The Hindu 2003). Much like the trails created by the unpredictable way in which a city pulses, breathes and redefines itself constantly?
These luminous textiles, many of which sold out even before the show formally opened, were nascent in Nishath's diploma project, when she graduated from the local Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in 2001. Titled "Urban Threads," Nishath set out to look at embroidery within the environment she was most familiar with and sensitive to, the city. Viewing the urban collage, she discerned within it movement, transition, structure, commotion, confusion, energy and chaos, complexity and uncertainty. Nishath opted to entwine these experiences into her embroidery through explorations of technique, not as mere embellishment (The Hindu 2003).
The result is breathtaking. Emerald green and muted white play at hide and seek in patterns that wave and weave through the length of a viscose scarf.…