…and yes, the river is moving as I write”

ready

Yesterday it rained. What better time to prepare fabric for indigo dye? I’ve been meaning to do this for weeks but there were enough nice days that I wanted to be outside as much as possible, working in the garden, planting tomatoes in pots on the upper deck. Getting fabric ready to be dyed is a long process. This time I’m not using any of the sewing resist methods. Mokume or woodgrain is one I’ve done in the past; you use a running stitch in parallel lines, or curving lines, and then gather the thread tightly. At least I don’t think I’m going to do this. I still have many yards of unbleached cotton waiting for me to decide what it might become. And today is rainy too.

Mostly what I did yesterday was wrap fabric around pvc pipe, using coarse hemp string to bind it. This results in the resist dye pattern arashi or storm. The last time I made a vat of indigo and spent a few days outside dipping and resting the prepared lengths, I think I loved the arashi cloth the most. See what happens with the areas bound by hemp string? I think of this as eel grass or rivers seen from a great height.

rivers

What I love best is taking the cloth into a 3rd dimension with stones or string or pvc pipe. I love to see it become a sculptural object. In the bottom of the basket on the left you can see a lumpy form created by pebbles fixed into place (with elastic bands) on a diagonal grid across 2/3s of the cloth (an old damask tablecloth, with stains, given me by a friend “to do something with”) and then the ends twisted and wrapped with string. What will it look like when dyed and unwrapped? I have no idea. Angels or birds or splashes of white.

stones

I realize as I do this that I am more interested in the process than the result. I wrap and think and wonder. I know enough to understand how amateur my work is with indigo dye. I have no illusions about its importance as art or even skillful craft. But to be immersed (literally) in a long process of preparing and standing with a stick to push cloth into dye, to turn plain cloth into something else, something more, is about as thrilling as anything for a woman to do on the edge of the continent while the world is crazy with virus and death and grief (and I am crazy with those things too). To walk through the days after with stained wrists, a basket of deep blue cloth scribbled with memory, waiting to be taken to its next life as a quilt or curtains or simply to be folded in a basket.

In her book Memory on Cloth: Shibori Now, Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada wrote about this process:

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.

I won’t mix my vat today. I need a run of nice days. But yesterday’s work with the string and cloth and my reluctance to do the complicated mokume or even to fold cloth in  accordion pleats and clamp wood along the length to make itajime or window resists seemed to be the right thing to do. And when I woke in the night, I realized why. I am working on a long essay about my grandmother’s early life on the Red Deer River. She lived on the south side and then, later, the north. I am trying to figure out the details of each period, how and why she moved, and yes, the river is moving as I write, is the source for so much of her daily life. Water came from the river, brought up in tubs on a sleigh in winter and maybe a wagon in summer. A neighbour who washed her clothes in the river and drank the water died of typhoid fever on the dirt floor of her shack. And I have wrapped fabric—old damask tablecloths, rough cotton, some scraps of coarse linen—onto pipe to make rivers, the “‘memory’ of the shape that remains imprinted in the cloth.” How to make the language of this essay do that too? To spread itself across the page, first one bank of the river, then the other, a bridge in the distance, the far hills. Language to carry the dimensions of her life, of mine, her time, mine.

freehand

freehand

from a work-in-progress:

When I began to make quilts, in 1987, I wanted to explore blue. A soft patchwork of pale blue prints worked into Ohio stars paired with unbleached cotton; a composition of log-cabin blocks, blue strips and yellow, a tiny square of red in the middle for the fire; red tulips in a haze of forget-me-nots. I began to think of ways to print the surfaces myself, with wax and clamps and strands of tough string. I batiked leaping salmon and then drew thread through the cloth in the mokume shibori technique, pulling it tight and knotting it. The waxed and tied bundles were immersed in a deep blue Procion dye. Before taking them out and rinsing them, I cracked the wax a little to allow dye to penetrate the relief fish. Once I’d removed all the wax, using my mother’s old iron and many pages of newspaper, I liked the results, though the lines of mokume weren’t as wavery as I’d hoped they would be. I had some fabric paint and used a fine brush to detail the salmon with lines of red along the tail and fins. I loved what Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada wrote in Memory on Cloth: Shibori Now:

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.

You do this for the process, what you learn along the way. That waxed dental floss sewn along lines with a basting stitch can be pulled tight for water, that waxing a fish into plain cotton and dipping the cotton in blue gives you a memory of watching coho spawn in the creek near your house, a cycle that has been going on since the last ice age at least. That others have dipped cloth into blue dye and worn the pigment on their hands for weeks afterwards.

maybe we are cloth

pileated

I was sitting at my desk when I saw three pileated woodpeckers fly past my window. They were squawking and I realized I’d been hearing that sound since I woke but it was sort of in the background of other morning noise: the kettle, the news, the cat. So it took a few moments to register. And then I remembered a similar hullabaloo, two years and a week ago, when I was out in the morning, removing the string and banding and clamps from a batch of indigo dye work.

https://theresakishkan.com/2016/06/29/blue-days/

windows.jpg

I’m guessing the young have just left the nest and are learning the territory: which trees are best for ants, how to pick huckleberries and saskatoons. How to use their voices for the best effect. As the world turns, as the days repeat themselves, so does the work. I have a basket of fabric prepared for the dye vat and am hoping to get to it soon.

Two years ago I was dyeing fabric and listening to woodpeckers and anticipating the September birth of Henry. This morning I’m thinking of Edmond, a week old today, and how philosophical he looks in this photograph that arrived last night.

philosopher

In the book I was reading two years ago, Memory on Cloth: Shibori Now, Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada writes that, “The cloth sensitively records both the shape and the pressure; it is the “memory” of the shape that remains imprinted on the cloth.” Maybe we are cloth, we are the very fabric of being, the world recorded on us like blue dye, the sound of woodpeckers echoing in the trees just beyond.

 

So the cloth remembers…

This morning I unwrapped all the fabric I dyed yesterday and washed it, rinsed it twice, and hung it on the clothesline.

clothesline

It’s never quite what I imagine or hope for but I’m always so excited about the results. The darker piece on linen (second from the right), for example. I tied stones from Trail Bay into a sort of diagonal grid for half the length, a technique called kumo, and then simply bound the rest with hemp twine. (It seems to hold best.) I love how the stones left their impression in the linen:

one stone

You can see a bird there, or a snow angel. Or the heart of a flower. I recorded this passage when I read Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada’s extraordinary Memory on Cloth: Shibori Now:

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.

So the cloth remembers but it also interprets that pressure, those shapes. A stone from a beach on the Sechelt Peninsula becomes a bird taking flight, a child in snow.

And maybe my favourite piece? A stained but intact linen tea-cloth from my mother. I used a technique called itajime, where I pleated the cloth and then used wooden blocks of varying sizes to make a resist pattern against the indigo. The larger blocks I tied with hemp string and for the smaller, thinner ones I was able to use some clamps.

windows

Look at the light coming through those windows!

Yesterday I waxed fish onto an old linen sheet and then folded and wrapped the sheet around pvc pipe for the effect called arashi, or storm. When I put the cloth-bound pipe into dye this morning, I realized my dye vat was exhausted and so I had to prepare a fresh batch. I’ll spend the afternoon dipping and turning and by tomorrow morning I’ll know if I have what I’m hoping for: a watery sea with a spiral of salmon turning in its centre.