Today the International Business Development Team (Nanako and Michael) here at Takaokaya visited our itajime shibori dye artisan’s workshop in Kyoto. Nagakawa-san is the second generation in his family to be a shibori dye artisan, starting at age 18, he now has more than 50 years of experience in this unusual shaped-resist dye technique in which blocks of wood press certain parts of the cloth, preventing their dyeing. In fact, it seems there is no one else left in Kyoto doing authentic itajime shibori.
Nagakawa-san is not only unique and experienced, he has the highest accolade in all the land. In 2009 the Order of the Sacred Treasure was bestowed upon him by Emperor Akihito! The Order of the Sacred Treasure, called Zuihosho (瑞宝章) in Japanese, is awarded to men and women who have made distinguishing achievements in the arts, sciences and so on. We are of course very honored to work with such an esteemed craftsman.
We asked Nagakawa-san for a demonstration of the steps of his time honored itajime shibori process. With his lifetime of experience and special sense of color, he deftly made a plain white cloth into a colorful work of art. When he unwrapped it, we gasped. Nagakawa-san colors are so subtle and sublime. We hope you will be a fan too!
Nagakawa-san’s Steps to Make Itajime
1. Fold the white fabric
2. Tie wood blocks in place for shaped-resist dye technique
3. Dye first time
4. Untie and retie with wooden blocks in different position
5. Add dye to the pot to change dye color (in this case, blue to green by adding yellow)
6. Dye second time
7. Untie and unfold
Nagakawa-san explains that even though he may use the same fabric, the same dye and the same techniques, the end result pattern and color will always be a little different. This is called aji, or ‘flavor’ in Japanese. That ‘aji’ is one of the important difference between handcrafted and manufactured.
Takaokaya uses Nagakawa-san’s subtly dyed fabric for both our zabuton cushions and futon bedding. Our ‘asa’ hemp is used for traditional summer futons. Hemp fabric is naturally cool and Japanese like the stiffness of the fabric in summer. One of Nagakawa-san’s signature motifs, hotaru (firefly) is especially popular with our customers for summer futons.
Itajime uses color in a very unusual way. Because the technique builds up a layer-like effect of four colors, the end blended result is like nothing I have seen before. When I first went to Nagakawa-san’s workshop, the feeling of his colors was deeply moving. I thought to myself, more than using his fabric or his technique, I want to use his ‘feeling’. In our products, I think we can feel the subtlety and gentleness of Nagakawa-san’s heart, very sweet and beautiful!
I hope that Takaokaya’s customers will enjoy relaxing with our products made from Nagakawa-san’s special dyed fabric.