For ages I’ve been planning a big project, a dye project, and have been waiting for a rainy day to begin the preparations of cloth. The actual dye vat will be set up outside and for that I will need clear weather and an empty clothesline to hang the results. But in the meantime the lengths of cloth have to be folded and stitched and clamped and tied. Today it’s raining. I’ve put writing work aside — though in truth the actual sense of inspiration, of excitement at the prospect of working with familiar materials in order to make something new of them, with them, is similar in both cases.
I’m a long-time quilter, though I always qualify that by admitting that I’m not very good at it. I love textiles, I love the sense of having my hands filled with cloth, love the meditative work of hand-quilting a large surface, making something slightly three-dimensional out of layers of fabric sandwiched together. I’ve taken to embellishing my quilts with shell buttons, in homage to the button-blanket makers of the Northwest Coast, who used abalone for its ability to catch firelight and create mystery. I always think of a quilt as the end-product of a process and for me the process, the quilting itself, is the best thing about it. I also like that the end-product is not only something practical — I make quilts that are bedcovers, with one exception (and that’s the “Euclid’s Orchard” quilt I made for my son Brendan and it’s kind of stiff with theory and mathematics, more a wall-hanging that a cosy blanket) — but also a repository for the thinking I do while stitching.
I am drawn to indigo and the various shibori techniques associated with Japanese textiles. I’ve worked with indigo a little and have attempted some of the shibori and although my results were very rough and clumsy, I loved the process. I had something in mind — fish swimming in indigo water — and used batik as well as buttons to add to the shibori resist stitching (to create a watery effect).
I’ve been reading Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada’s extraordinary Memory on Cloth: Shibori Now, which has me so excited about trying some new techniques. The book looks at the history of shibori, its relationships across cultures, possible connecting threads between traditions as geographically removed from one another as South America and Tibet, and how textile design reflects our connection to the natural world.
Shibori is a Japanese word that refers to a variety of ways of embellishing textiles by shaping cloth and securing it before dyeing. The word comes from the verb root shiboru, “to wring, squeeze, press.” Although shibori is used to designate a particular group of resist-dyed textiles, the verb root of the word emphasizes the action performed — the process of manipulating fabric. Rather than treating cloth as a two-dimensional surface, shibori techniques give it a three-dimensional form by folding, crumpling, stitching, plaiting, or plucking and twisting. Cloth shaped by these methods is secured in a number of ways, such as binding and knotting.
Shibori recognizes and explores the pliancy of the textile and its potential for creating a multitude of shaped and resisted designs. When the cloth is returned to its two-dimensional form, the design that emerges is the result of the three-dimensional shape, the type of resist, and the amount of pressure exerted by the thread or clamp that secured the piece during the cloth’s exposure to the dye. The cloth sensitively records both the shape and the pressure; it is the “memory” of the shape that remains imprinted in the cloth. This is the essence of shibori.
— from Memory on Cloth
I have the materials all ready, even a length of old pvc drain pipe which I’ll cover with a sleeve of fabric to create the resist technique called arashi. I found some lengths of raw silk I’d bought years ago, very cheaply, waiting for the right occasion. They’re not white but I think they’ll take the dye nicely. (I have both indigo and woad.) And the other fabric I’m using is a collection of plain white heavy cotton sheets for single beds (the single beds my brothers and I slept in as children), taken from my mother’s house after she died. They too have been waiting for the right occasion, memory already contained in their plain surfaces.