April 29, 2011

Last week I attended a tsutsugaki workshop at the Australian Academy of Design. Tsutsugaki yuzen (tsutsugaki dyeing) is a 400-year-old Japanese dye-resist technique, a little like batik. Tsutsugaki utilises a rice paste to create designs on the fabric. The workshop was taught by Kobayashi Shumei, a tsutsugaki artist based in Kanazawa, Japan.

First, we use a weak dye made from the blue flower, aobana, to sketch the underdrawing onto the fabric. Then we apply the rice paste (tsutsunori) with the tsutsu, a cone-shaped bag like a cake piping bag. It’s not easy to use and takes a lot of practice to get straight lines, even though the fabric is stretched out using special bamboo poles. Once we have outlined our design with the rice paste on one side, we flip the fabric and have to apply it in exactly the same place on the other side, otherwise the dye will bleed and ruin our pattern. Usually, kimono makers don’t apply the pattern to both sides, but we do this to make the pattern more durable. The rice paste is made from rice flour and rice bran, kneaded to the consistency of ‘your earlobe’ and then steamed to turn it into a caramel-like consistency. In the past, if any of the mixture was left over the artisans grilled and ate it.

After the rice paste is dry, soybean juice is washed over the fabric with a deer-hair brush to smooth inconsistencies and because it helps to fix the paste. It smells like tofu.

Once the pattern is applied, the fabric can be coloured with dye (irosashi). We mix our choice of colours and apply washes or colour sections of our patterns in. My design has many sections so I can dye all of them in one go and don’t need to mask and over-dye. It also means I only need to steam it once. Kobayashi-sensei helps us with different techniques, teaching us how to graduate colours.

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Once my work is steamed, I can wash the rice paste out and fix the dye.

Kobayashi Shumei carries out all parts of the tsutsugaki dyeing process himself. In Japan this is rare as usually different individuals do the different steps in the process. As he says, ‘how can you call a piece of work your own if you haven’t done all of the processes yourself?’


Mode Japonism

March 18, 2010

Tayu 太夫, the hair style of an Edo-period courtesan.

A more modern style with a Japanese feel.

On Monday evening I attended a hair show titled Mode Japonism. The hair show was held by Keiichi Hanada who specialises in Nihongami (日本髪),  traditional Edo-period Japanese coiffure. These days it is rare to find a hair stylist who has the skills or knowledge to create such hairstyles. In fact, Hanada-san told me there are only about five individuals in Kyoto who have these skills and all of them are elderly. Hanada-san was only able to learn the styles by approaching these artists over 100 times before one of them agreed to teach him.

As is usual in the Japanese arts, it takes many years of practice and study to acquire the skills to execute these hairstyles. Hanada-san also studied Ukiyo-e, traditional woodblock prints, to get a better understanding of many of the hairstyles. The list of recorded styles runs to well over 100 for the Edo period, with almost three times as many hair ornaments (kanzashi) for different occasions. Kanzashi were selected depending on season but also on a variety of other factors. Type and location of kanzashi in the hairstyle was used to inform others of an individual’s status in Edo period Japan.

Hanada-san putting the final touches on a Bunkin Taka-shimada, a traditional bridal hair style.

Hanada-san does many types of Western and traditional Japanese hairstyles at his salon, Arms, in Kyoto. He studied Nihongami styles for ten years but does not do maiko or geiko. That world is still a closed one and the patron–client relationship is considered sacred.

Hanada-san does styles for weddings, including the traditional Japanese Bunkin Taka-shimada. This was the style we watched him create on Monday evening. He had already created four other styles for the show, having started the day at 6am. The Bunkin Taka-shimada took him about an hour to do, and he had already prepared the hair a little beforehand, which gives some idea of the complexity of the style. Traditional combs are used along with  a special wax made of soy derivative called bintsuke-abura. The latter is also used by sumo.

The day finished in the studio at Wings Kyoto with a quick photo shoot that Hanada-san invited me to join. The models were tired and needed to go so we did a rapid shutter-clicking whirlwind and then they were gone to have their locks untied and de-waxed.

Full gallery of images can be seen here.

Genroku-shimada style