Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Elephant No. 212: Kanoko Shibori

While working on some text for a textile museum a month or so ago, I was introduced to some stunning arashi shibori work by fibre artist Corina Aszerman. Although I'd seen pieces of this kind of cloth in photographs before, I never knew what it was called, nor how it was made.

I couldn't really see how the pleats of arashi shibori would work to produce a dyed elephant, but I did find a technique that I could use: kanoko shibori. In kanoko shibori, you pull up bits of cloth, bind them in place, then dye the whole thing. Kanoko is probably the shibori technique that most resembles tie-dye, although it's a touch more precise.

Shibori (絞り染め Shiborizome) is the overarching Japanese term describing several ways of dyeing cloth by folding, twisting, pleating, compressing, stitching, capping, and of course binding. The earliest known example of shibori cloth dates from the eighth century A.D., and in its earliest days was a technique largely reserved for the aristocracy.

Depending on how the cloth has been manipulated, folded or bound, very different patterns can be created. Choice of cloth can also make a difference—silk results in a very different look than cotton, for example—as does the thread used to bind the fabric. Even the direction in which the cloth is pulled makes a difference: bias-pulled and bound fabric results in square forms, while fabric pulled and bound with the grain creates more circular forms.

Original silk arashi shibori by Shibori Girl, 2006.
Source: http://shiborigirl.wordpress.com/2006/11/29/handpainting-arashi-shibori-poles/

There are numerous forms of shibori, some of which will look instantly familiar to anyone who's ever snapped a rubber band around a piece of fabric to make a tie-dyed t-shirt. Others are a complicated and meticulous, sometimes involving multiple dyes, hand-painting, pleating and stitching. The list below describes the main forms of Japanese shibori, although there are many more beyond these few, and as many ways of combining different shibori techniques as there are practitioners. For an excellent overview of shibori methods and their subtle differences, the World Shibori Network website is one of the more reliable online sources I found.

Arashi shibori ("storm" shibori): Also known as "pole-wrapping shibori", arashi shibori involves wrapping cloth diagonally around a pole, then binding the cloth tightly to the pole by winding thread up and down. The cloth is then scrunched together tightly. After the first dye bath, some artists further paint the peaks of the folded bundle, creating even more subtle effects. Arashi always has a diagonal pattern, evoking the driving rain of a storm.

Itajime shibori ("fold and clamp" shibori): In its traditional form, this type of shibori involves sandwiching cloth between two pieces of wood, which are then held together with string. This prevents dye from penetrating wherever it is clamped. Current itajime artists often clamp very specific shapes in place, resulting in circular patterns, and even patterns employing the designs from batik woodblocks.

Kanoko shibori ("fawn" shibori): This is the type of shibori closest to what we think of as tie-dye, and likely derives its name from the pattern of spots on a fawn's back. Small individual sections of cloth are bound with thread to create a pattern, and the pattern results from how tightly the cloth is bound, and how the individual sections are arranged. If random sections are bound, the whole piece has a random look to it. If the cloth is folded then bound, the circles will be in a repeating pattern based on how the folds were made.

Kumo shibori ("spider web" shibori): This type of shibori involves pleating individual sections with a fine and relatively even webbing of thread. This technique results in a spider-web design, and is often produced with a special hook that allows the fabric to be pulled and bound more easily.

Miura shibori ("looped" shibori): In miura shibori, a hooked needle is used to pluck sections of the cloth, which is then bound loosely with thread that is carried from section to section. Because the thread is not knotted, the tension is relatively loose, and the final piece has a softer look.

Nui shibori ("stitched" shibori): For nui shibori, a simple basting or running stitch is used to make a design in the cloth, which is then pulled tight to gather the bundle together. A dowel is often used to pull the cloth tightly enough, and each design bundle is then knotted and tied. This technique allows greater control of the final pattern, but is more time-consuming than some of the other types of shibori.

Suji shibori ("pleated" shibori): This method involves hand-pleating a length of fabric (usually 13 metres/14 feet long) in a vertical direction. The package is wound with thread to hold the pleats in place, then tightly bound with thread so that only the peaks of the pleats are exposed to the dye, resulting in a striped pattern. Arashi shibori is a variation on this technique.

Tatsumaki shibori ("tornado" shibori): Tatsumaki shibori was originally invented to improve upon suji patterning. The cloth is hand-pleated over a rope-like core, allowing more precise and varied shaping of the folds on the surface. The 13-metre length of fabric is then stretched between two stands that rotate the cloth quickly. The artist moves along the fabric, binding it tightly at 0.6 cm (1/4 inch) intervals, to ensure that dye doesn't saturate the interior of the bundle. 

Traditional tatsumaki shibori, ca. late 19th century.
Source: http://narablog.com/2007/06/02/arashi-shibori-yukata-1/

For today's elephant, I settled on kanoko shibori. There seems to be some confusion online, however, about what constitutes kanoko shibori and its technique. Some artists suggest binding rocks into the cloth with rubber bands. Others say that nothing should be bound inside the tufts of fabric. Some suggest that the tufts should be uniform; others suggest that random is better. Some say linen thread must be used; others suggest cotton; and still others say rubber bands.

I decided that I would make kanoko shibori as follows:

1. I could use a range of tuft sizes, depending on what part of the elephant it was. In other words, smaller tufts for finer details, but bigger sections elsewhere if I liked.

2. Because this has to be done in a day (and obviously much less if I can swing it), I was going to use tiny rubber bands, rather than any kind of thread.

3. If I felt the need of some kind of additional texture, I could bind small objects into the tufts.

How's that for a dog's breakfast of a method?

For fabric, I used some pre-washed unbleached muslin. As for dye, since I'm not a big fan of dyeing, I thought I'd entertain myself by trying Kool-Aid dye for the first time.

For rubber bands, I used these tiny elastics from the dollar store.

For stuff to bind into the pattern if I felt like it, I used these acrylic "gems", each of which is about the size of my baby fingernail, and a bag of small pebbles I bought.

I would have liked to draw something on the fabric to guide me, but I didn't want to leave marks, so I decided to simply start binding little tufts of fabric, more or less guessing at the shape as I went. For these little bits, I bound them quite tightly, because I wanted to make sure that they would form a white outline. To give me something to bind, I poked the flat end of a small crochet hook into the fabric from below—not piercing the fabric—bound it tightly with one of the tiny elastics, then eased out the crochet hook.

This is what it looked like early on:

And this is what it looked like when I was finished with the elephant outline:

After this, I bound a few of the acrylic bits inside the elephant shape to give it some texture when it was dyed. I wrapped these very loosely, because I wanted to create a lighter area around the base of the acrylic piece, without producing a white line.

To finish the design, I bound various shapes of pebble throughout the background, along with a few more of the tightly-bound tufts to give it some visual interest.

To prepare this for dyeing, I dunked it in a glass container of hot water mixed with a bit of dishwashing detergent and left it for about half an hour. I'd read that this helps the dye to take, particularly when using Kool-Aid.

It was now ready to dye. I usually find dyeing smelly, messy and fussy, so I avoid it whenever I can. Dyeing with Kool-Aid at least offered novelty, which is why I chose it today.

I bought grape, cherry and orange, but the only colour I liked when mixed was orange. The purple and red both looked rather dull on a small test strip of muslin, so I threw them out. As to dye concentration, I mixed one packet of unsweetened Kool-Aid to about 250 ml (8 oz.) of very hot water in a large glass container, added a splash of vinegar, and squished my presoaked (and still wet) fabric into it. To make sure the dye took, I pushed it around in the Kool-Aid for about ten minutes.

The dye took relatively well, but it's not quite as dark as I expected. One of the things I've read about dye is that protein-based fibres such as wool and silk absorb dye much more readily than a plant-based fibre such as cotton. Still, I didn't hate this colour.

I left the piece to dry for a couple of hours, then blasted it with a hair dryer to dry it some more.

This is what it looked like when dry, but still bound.

To remove the elastics, I started by fiddling with each knot. Then I realized that, if I pulled the fabric apart gently, all the elastics, pebbles and acrylic pieces popped off. Much easier.

I was actually somewhat surprised at the final result. I had expected the elephant shape to be virtually unrecognizable, but it wasn't too bad. I was also surprised at the way the other tied areas dyed. I expected a bit more definition, rather than the soft shading, but I like it. It might have been more dramatic if I'd had a darker dye, but that would have involved weird stuff like soda ash, and/or mordant, boiling, simmering, steaming, maybe a washing machine, maybe a microwave (which I don't own). Maybe next time.

For my first attempt at a form of tie-dye since I was about eight years old, I really don't mind this. I had visions of something more contrasty and vibrant, but this was an interesting introduction to making a pattern with weensy rubber bands. If I can get over my aversion to dyeing, I might actually try this again.

Elephant Lore of the Day
This sad little story comes from the city of Lucknow, India, where an elephant is thought to have died of a broken heart.

In late 1998, the elderly elephant Damini was overjoyed when she was joined at Lucknow's zoo by a young pregnant elephant named Champakali. Before Champakali's arrival, Damini had been alone for five months, and bonded instantly with the new arrival.

The two elephants soon became inseparable. When Champakali began to go into labour a few months later, Damini rushed to her side, stroking Champakali every time she groaned.

Sadly, Champakali died giving birth to a stillborn calf, and Damini went into mourning. She refused to eat, and was unwilling even to drink her usual 180 litres (40 gallons) of water, despite soaring heat. For more than three weeks, a team of zookeepers and veterinarians did everything they could think of to try and save Damini. Damini, however, seemed determined to die.

Caretakers constructed a makeshift tent around her, made of fragrant medicinal grass. They cooled her with a constant spray of water and fans. They tried to tempt her with sugarcane and bananas. They fed her intravenously. Despite their best efforts, however, Damini died, essentially starving herself to death.

At 72 years of age, Damini was quite old for an elephant, and some say she may have been suffering from an age-related disease as well. Her keepers, however, felt that Damini was grieving the loss of her closest companion, and that she really died of a broken heart.

Source: http://worldinwild.blogspot.ca/

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