From its humble origins as a cotton boll, its fibers are plucked and stretched and twisted into multi-ply threads that are stripped down to single ply then twisted into strands to make a sturdier thread for weaving and stitching, the cotton thread has been a staple for Japanese cloth for centuries. Studies vary, but the cotton culture has been actively maintained since the 15th century, having been introduced in the late Nara period or early Heian around the 9th century.
Its fortuitous meeting with indigo in about the 15th century and their dance in the dexterous hands and sensitive minds of Japanese craftsmen has produced a tradition of extraordinary indigo textiles that is unparalleled in the world. (this report might be biased!)
It is ongoing today in the workplaces of increasing numbers of dedicated dyers, spinners, and weavers throughout Japan.
Last week I had the excitement of visiting one such enterprise. Japan Blue Textile Company in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, where two brothers maintain their family business in a compound of spinning and dyeing and weaving and rolling and selling their work in a manner not far advanced from their industrial beginnings, working on ancient weaving machines thumping away at their work.
Not afraid to stitch or dye, Shoji Tsujimura enjoys experimenting with his own clothes and devising new variations with indigo.
I was happily surprised to learn that there are a number of weaving and dyeing companies in the surrounding area.
In this hands-on industry, there are never enough hands to man the dye pots and the loom upwarping, the weavings, the overseeing. More people are necessary to perpetuate this tenuous industry. Here a man bends to the somewhat mechanized task of wringing out the indigo dyed fibers.
The aibana, indigo flower in the indigo brew needs stirring and tending to each day to maintain its vitality to produce rich tones of indigo.
Tedious bindings of threads produce striking blue and white threads.
The ultimate blue and white thread is one mysteriously blended in alternating shades of indigo.
In Japan a red thread is thought to connect lovers and is often alluded to at wedding ceremonies. But to my mind, it is an indigo thread that connects people and weaves them together, in Japan and beyond: from blue jeans to uniforms to flags. You find it everywhere, the indigo thread of destiny.
Spools of indigo thread feed into the clackety looms that operate on programmed design cards at Japan Blue Textile Company.
Smooth sailing in the weaving room.
Experienced eyes oversee the looms and check for errors.
Too much to do, too few to do it is an often heard remark in these labor intensive enterprises.
Tall spindly bobbins of various indigo threads are grooved by time and use in the weaving process.
End result! Brilliant blues in varying shades and weaves and textures of indigo cotton and hemp show the infinite variety and hand of the color blue!
Perfect for cushions, clothing for table, for daily living, and clothes to wear.
Indigo brings tranquility and simple elegance to wherever it is used.
Coming soon to Blue & White will be cool indigo jackets and handsome shirts for men. Get with it. Wear something with hand and heart and history.
For centuries indigo threads have been the foundation of Japanese textiles. Here a 19th century Yogi of stenciled karakusa with crane roundels has deepened into a soft shade of indigo with white motifs with a unique family crest on the back. It was probably created as part of a dowry and filled with cotton or silk batting as a sleeping kimono. From Amy Katoh’s collection of antique indigo textiles that she is reluctantly winnowing.
Indigo threads of all kinds are hanging in the window of the shop now and for sale at Blue & White. They brighten life with their endless variations and shades of eternal blue.