Two weeks ago, friends of ours took us to see the historic town of Arimatsu.It still has a lot of Edo period buildings.
Located on the Tokaido (ancient road from Tokyo to Kyoto), Arimatsu is famous for ‘shibori’ or tie-dyed cloth. The cloth is tied up with rope before dying, thus preventing certain parts of the cloth from being dyed. It’s not just fuzzy circular patterns, it really leads to intricate patterns.
It turns out we could have a go at shibori ourselves. Our friends had arranged for a workshop in the local museum. Upon arrival, we were immediately given a piece of cloth and a needle and were put to work. Two ladies of a respectable age with at least 50 years of shibori experience each, taught these clumsy gaijin how to make a simple shibori cloth. Unfortunately we could not see the dying process but they will send us the finished cloth once it has been dyed.
Of course when these ladies have a go at it themselves, it’s a whole other story.
Hiroshige made an ukiyoe (woodblock print) about Arimatsu in the series ‘The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido’, in which ‘shibori’ is pictured. You can see shops selling the cloth and someone sitting inside the shop tying some cloth in preparation for dying, or perhaps untying the knots after dying.