Ideas for Indigo

While learning to use indigo dye in Japan I was inspired by many traditional books on methodology and history. However the most surprising inspiration was the catalogues from the unique clothing design store: Kapital. These books are cram packed full of ideas to inspire using traditional indigo dyeing and sewing techniques in a non-traditional way. The book Blue Hands, is a photographic tribute, by Toshinori Nishimura, to the workers at Kapital. Nishimura was hired by Kapital designer Mr. Hirata, to take portraits of the artisans for the website. He photographed the “sewing plant, processing plant, ironing plant, shops and designing & planning devision for several days every month to take their pictures. Communication with the artisans started through this project”. The result is a homage to the craftsmanship of the workers at this factory and Japanese workmanship, in general. The book and catalogues inspired a visit to the Kapital shop and I was able to visit two shops in Roppongi and Ebisu. The atmosphere of the shops are surprisingly ramshackle and creative; using materials that are readily available and embellishing the wabi sabi look. Once inside, the clothing and accessories are displayed on hanging racks and cubbies with bric a brac strategically and artistically placed.

The creativeness of the indigo pieces are awe inspiring and, short of a photographic memory the catalogues are a good reminder of the creativeness of the objects. For instance, being in Tokyo on Halloween the shops had their varieties of pumpkins; one made out of an orange shiny baseball jacket and one made in the “boro” style. The bench outside the shop reflects the haphazard but beautiful combination of materials.

So that brings me to the catalogues themselves. I managed to locate 4 catalogues from various “Kapital Years”. Max Island came out in 2007. Here are some of the pages that show design ideas presented in this 196 page catalogue.

Simple Indigo Book

This book is filled with simple indigo/shibori projects for the beginning dyer. Although the book is small in dimensions (104 pages) and entirely in Japanese, it is filled with photographs with step by step instructions on shibori techniques to be used on possible projects. The instructions show the finished piece and, then, the steps used to get the same designs. In most cases, the authors suggest possible projects that might work with the design.

This piece shows a folded piece of fabric with a buttons sewed on border areas to get the desired effect.

Another example shows a piece of fabric tied with a strong plastic tape. The resulting design is a zig-zag calligraphic design shown, by the authors, on a canvas bag.

This little book gives the reader inspiration to dye and create projects in a creative and simple manner. Since the book’s title is in Japanese it is variously translated as “Simple to Tie Dye with Indigo” or “Easy to Use Dyed Cotton”.

More Kapital Catalogues

Azure Anarchy, Spring 2010 “Year of the Tiger”, is photographed in Rio de Janeiro. This catalogue is entirely photographic, with the images of the clothing in full page arrangements.

My favorite catalogue is Blue Men, 2011 Summer Collection, photographed in Morocco. Inspiration from the color, designs, natural landscape are evident in the plates of fashion and design. The catalogue explains “There is a large group of indigenous people living in Western Sahara. Although typically referred to as “nomads”, in accordance with their vastly different life style, they have a different common name as well. In order to protect themselves from the intense desert heat, there is a nomad tribe that dresses themselves in indigo dyed garments and wrap deep indigo turbans around their heads. Covered from head to toe in indigo, they have adopted the name “BLUEMEN” and are greatly respected. Our BLUEHANDS staff arrived at their location. Upon the dry dessert sand we mixed together our respective indigo and once again were touched by its profound and deep appeal”>

This catalogue shows, in photographs, the relationship between landscape and design. Photographic pages are followed by catalogue images of merchandise, a layering of image and graphics.

Shibori at Bryan Whitehead’s Farm Japan

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Stitching techniques for shibori, we learned, could be very labor intensive. Bryan Whitehead gave us “homework” that involved extensive stitching to create designs. We also learned to fold and stitch to create repetitive patterns. We used a post card book to look at possible folding and stitch patterns and, then, tried to recreate these design.


The post card book was of Arimatsu designs and I picked up a few copies at the Craft Museum in Tokyo.

The patterning provided a surprise for the novice and I found it to be a fun part of shibori surface design work.

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Arimatsu Shibori is a comprehensive book showing the results of different stitching patterns. There are beautiful plates of shaped resist dyeing samples in this 153 page book, printed in Japan in 2008. An essay by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada expains the world history of shibori and discusses contemporary fiber artists at the forefront of this process.

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Both these books provide a glimpse into the possibilities of stitching for Indigo (or other) dyes.

The Complete Japanese Tie-Dyeing

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Spending 10 days at a workshop at Bryan Whitehead’s farmhouse outside Tokyo, Japan, I learned some basics of indigo dyeing and surface design techniques. I was particularly interested in the books that Bryan used for reference in learning patterning techniques. One day this book was sitting on his work table and I could hardly wait to obtain a copy.


If you can’t go to Tokyo soon, here is one of the best books on tie dying, indigo techniques. The book gives examples/directions for most indigo related surface design work. The book is divided into sections: Close-Wound Binding, Stitch Techniques, Techniques Using a Binding Stand, Techniques Using the Right-Angle Hook, Bound Dots, Techniques Using the Folked Bamboo Stand, Pole-Wrapping Techniques, Innovative Dyeing Techniques, Special Techniques.

page from jp tie-dye

The Complete Japanese Tie-Dyeing (Shiborizome Taizen) by Hiroko Ando is a Japanese publication. Even though the text is in Japanese there are photographs that show each step of the dyeing process and a picture of the results. This is not a small book. The book is 270 pages of techniques for tying, sewing, wrapping cloth for indigo dyeing. I have heard it referred to as the “Bible for Shibori”.

More of the books recommended, during this workshop, by Bryan will follow from this post.

Wandering through Art Book Stores in Tokyo

Kinokuniya Shinjuku Main Store

The main store of Kinokuniya Bookstore has 8 floors of books. The 6th floor has foreign language books with excellent architecture, art and photography.
The 4th floor has art/craft/photography books in Japanese. This is the place to find photography books on Japanese photographers, interesting books on textile crafts, design books, and art books on Japanese painters.

kunokuniya bookstore

When the store opens the associates greet the customers as they come into the store on every level. It is a very kind gesture.kuni-greeting

The Shelf

On the way to the Watari Art Museum is a unique photography bookstore specializing in new and hard- to-find photography books on international artists. This small bookstore is full of surprises that range from unique artists books to definitive monographs on photographers. The owners have owned the store since 1994.

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Watari Museum


The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art is right around the corner. The bookstore in the museum has a personality all its own. The first floor carries cards but not just greeting cards (although there are plenty of those). The museum store features cards, carefully divided alphabetically, with photographs of artists or artists’ work. The file takes up one side of the room sharing the space with plenty of unique gift items.

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Downstairs is a great art bookstore that includes a cubbby-hole where artists are working on funky creations, reusing existing materials. This is the T.R.I.P. store within a store.

watari trip

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The bookstore carries new and used art books on unusual and hard to find artists, photography books and books on architects.


Cow Books

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Cow Books is in the Meguro neighborhood of Tokyo. This small and intimate bookstore focuses on counterculture, poetry and beat generation books. However, out of print, unusual photography books are also abundant. Some of the rare photography books are in locked cases or on shelves. There is also a surprising and interesting assortment of small artists books. The bookstore, itself, is an example of minimalist architecture. Glass doors open to a long library table where one can study the books or find/buy/write on old travel postcards. The neighborhood is on the Meguro River and one can meander through elegant boutiques and restaurants.

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Photo Art Komiyama Tokyo: Jimbocho



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The Jimbocho area of Tokyo has a neighborhood of bookstores, blocks long. The books spill out in alleyways and sidewalk kiosks. Hoards of booklovers frequent the many stalls and stores intent on finding their particular brand of books treasures. I always head for my favorite art bookstore: Photo Art Komiyama Tokyo. There are 3 floors of art books with a fourth floor of original artwork and prints. The first floor has an amazing collection of photography books. The second floor specializes in books on painters and art genres. The third floor specializes in books on fashion and textiles. Minutes can turn into hours looking through the unusual books available in this store. The number of people on a Friday in the Jimbocho book area is astounding and a heartwarming reminder that the small bookseller is still relevant.

PhotoArt first floor

Jimbocho Street Scene



Dorothy Caldwell

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A few lucky students were able to participate in Dorothy Caldwell’s workshop, Human Marks, held at Maiwa Textile Symposium, September 2015, in Vancouver BC. When I visited, there was a air of excitement and productivity as the students were viewing a slide show of Caldwell’s extensive travels and inspirations. Strips of paper, mark making examples done by the students, were hanging from one wall.

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Examples of Kantha embroidery were spread on tables.

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There were beautiful examples of mark making, on paper, using subtractive techniques.

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For those not able to take a Caldwell workshop, there is a new book, “Silent Ice/Deep Patience”, that has been published by the Art Gallery of Peterborough. This is a Catalogue for the traveling exhibition, held at the gallery, from March 21 to June 22, 2014, at the Idea Exchange, from January 16 to March 1, 2015 and at St. Mary’s University Gallery, from March 21 to May 17, 2015. This extensive, 62 page catalogue, explores the connections between Caldwell’s mark making and her travels and sense of place. This particular exhibition is the result of her travels to the extreme landscapes of the Australia Outback and the Canadian Arctic. According to the foreword “Dorothy Caldwell continues to be interested in our ways of “marking” our landscape; from the delineation of property to the marks and tracks that develop in the still wild regions. These marks accumulate, building a sense of place and molding the memory of all that has occurred on the land; the natural phenomena and the human interactions. Caldwell has been drawn to textile as the medium that can best translate her observations into an art form”. An example of her work published in the catalogue is called “How We Know when It’s Night? (2010).

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Other than her inclusion in the excellent series “Art Textiles of the World: Canada” and some rare, out of print catalogues, this is the best resource for information on Caldwell’s work.

Slow Stitch


Claire Wellesley-Smith has just published an exciting new book on textiles: Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art. The excitement I feel about this book is partly about presentation and partly about a new philosophy Wellesley-Smith imparts to textile work. The book is about materials and techniques, cross cultural inspirations, and activities to help the reader explore a reflective and mindful stitching practice. The book has beautiful plates with examples of Wellesley-Smith’s work to illustrate key issues around sustainability, reuse of materials, natural dyeing techniques.

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Also included are artists that exemplify this “slow stitching” movement such as Lotta Helleberg. Helleberg uses local plants to make fabric dyes for natural printing processes. Her concern is with the fragility of the environment. Through her use of natural material and hand stitching, she creates art quilts, textile collages, artists’ books, and other objects.

Lotta Helleberg

Another artist featured in this book is Alice Fox who creates a sense of place in her work. Using printmaking and mark making techniques, she builds up layers of marks. The piece featured in the book has been made with bottle tops found in the street in various locations and is called, appropriately, 25 Beer Bottle Tops.

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Part Four of the book discusses ways to have a contemplative sewing practice by making sewing journals (a regular practice), stitching in community, using nature by walking and mapping.

Stitch journals Slow Stitch

This is a beautiful book in every way; from the cover design, illustrations, text, thoughtful organization and content. It is a book to have on a library shelf, to take down to read and re-read, for philosophic thoughts and ideas as well as textile inspiration.

Arashi Shibori




The cover of Yoshiko Wada’s book “Shibori: Now” displays work by Jan Morris. This book and another book by Wada (Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing) are the most important books on the historical and practical practice of the Japanese creation of shaped-resist patterns on cloth. These books discuss the way fabric can be “tied, clamped, folded, or held back during dyeing, to keep some areas from taking color.”

Jan Morris recently offered a class on Arashi Shibori through Botanical Colors in Seattle. Botanical Colors, owned by Kathy Hattori, sells natural dyes and accessories.


Hattori invited Morris to run a workshop in the Sunset Hills, Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. Jan Morris, in this excellent workshop, taught 12 students the practicalities of making a variety of indigo dye pots, and techniques for different types of Arashi Shibori and Karamatsu Shibori. Working on five hot days, the students learned to wrap fabric on PVA piping in a technically correct manner to produce a variety of designs.


The way the fabric was wrapped and re-wrapped produced a variety of designs. Fabric samples were dipped in the different indigo dyes, numerous times, unwrapped and washed to unveil magnificent designs.



The class also learned to tie samples to make Karamatsu Shibori. Incorporated with the Arashi Shibori, beautiful designs were produced by the students.



Kathy Hattori had prepared large “garbage can” pots of indigo where students could dye their “poles” in groups. Arashi

Apparently Jan Morris will be returning in a few years to teach with Botanical Colors again. The class, in August, was full with a waiting list. There were twelve lucky participants from across the US. An interested student of surface design should get on the Botanical Colors mailing list for this class and others. Meanwhile, the books are a wonderful source of inspiration for the student of shaped-resist dyeing.