Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Azamino Shibori Exhibit

This past week has been a fabulous week for getting off base. I had several opportunities to learn more about this fascinating culture, to see an exhibit of some beautiful shibori work and finally to go to the Yokohama Quilt Festival.


One of the things I really wanted to do while here in Japan was to have the opportunity to teach English to Japanese students. O.k. before any of you Grammarphiles out there suck in your breath in horror and think “How could she? She writes with run on sentences, she breaks grammar rules left and right, using dashes and ellipses with abandon.” Just chill – I am not passing myself off as someone who has a Masters in ESL. I am looking for students who are interested in practicing conversational English and exchanging cultures. As luck would have it I have recently acquired three new classes of students. One of those students has a family member who has been studying shibori for the last two years and as it so happens this week they were having an exhibit of their work in Azamino, a suburb of Yokohama. It was my very good fortune that two of my new students offered to take me to the exhibit to see the work and introduce me to the sensei (teacher). A train ride with a transfer to the subway system finally brought us to Azamino – all in all about 1.5 hours from my house. We all laughed about how if they had not been my guide I never would have gotten there – it would have been “Jane lost in Japan … again.”


For those of you who have no idea what the heck I mean when I say “shibori” – it is a technique that manipulates fabric through folding, stitching, twisting, binding or a combination of and then the artist dyes the fabric, sometimes multiple times to achieve the desired look. The process is very organic – for all your efforts at control you never really know what you will unfold. There are many variables, the type of fabric, the tightness of the binding, the intensity of the dye – these are just a few that come to mind. For the last two years I have been a studio artist at The Hermitage Museum and Gardens in Norfolk, Virginia. This was an opportunity for me to continue my self-taught journey into the world of Shibori. Two of the essential books to a Shibori artists library are Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada and Memory on Cloth: Shibori Now also by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada. I found these two books to be indispensable. Shibori by Karren K. Brito was also a book I never had far from me with Americanized ways of practicing shibori.

It was through these three books that I experimented and tried the many different techniques of Shibori. The positive results ended up in two of the gallery shows that The Hermitage Foundation Museum and Gardens had show casing the studio artists. But as wonderful an opportunity as it was to have my own studio I also realized that to be able to study in Japan with a shibori master would be the chance of a lifetime – something I really never dreamed I would have. Moving to Japan was not even on our radar screen. Go figure.

Japanese Shibori

The Japanese are known for their beautiful Shibori work, primarily dyed in indigo. Not having had the opportunity to learn indigo dying yet, I really wasn’t sure what to expect but let me tell you that when I walked through the door of the exhibit I was speechless. There were gorgeous shibori works hanging from the walls in all shades of indigo blue – some intensely dark, some light. There were many of techniques I had seen in books but never in person. There was a demonstration area where I had the opportunity to meet the sensei and she showed us some of the techniques. I am not sure they quite knew what to make of a tall, blonde American woman walking into their exhibit … but once they found out that I knew a bit about shibori they were very happy to share their knowledge. As I was walking out my door that morning I had stuffed a few samples of my work into my backpack, not really sure what I was going to do with them but figuring why not. I am so glad that I did – I was able to share them with the sensei and I guess I demonstrated enough interest in this art form that it was agreed that I could join the monthly class, taught by the sensei. If I understood the translation correctly, it is called 100 Shibori Ways (or Techniques). She has a strict curriculum that must be followed – if your technique does not pass, you cannot move to the next level. With less than 36 months to go before we leave I am not sure if I will be able to make it through all 100 – but as those of you who know me, know I love a goal and a challenge!

Proper lunar alignment

Was it luck? Were the moons properly aligned? Fate? Serendipity? Happenstance? Who the heck knows … all I know is that because I met a woman named Kathy (my Yoda), who introduced me to Diana (gift giver of Japanese friends), who gifted me a group of her students, where one of them happened to have a family member studying Shibori, who happened to be having an exhibit, who happened to introduce me to the sensei – I now have the opportunity of a life time to study shibori here in this amazing country full of surprises at every turn.

Was is a good week? Oh yes, it was a very good week.

Till next time, sayonara.

For those of you who would like to follow me on my shibori journey you can also check out my blog This blog is geared toward my love of all things shibori and interesting fibert art I encounter while here in Japan.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jane,
    I came across this while looking for a local Shibori expert to teach a class here at the Hermitage. I wonder if you could give me any recommendations? What a great blog - I'm glad I found it!
    Kate Gebler
    Public Programs Manager
    Norfolk, VA 23505
    757.423.2052 ext. 207


Popular Posts