Last Monday was a very special day. Bryan [Whitehead] showed us the way to meet one of Japan’s indigo masters, Noguchi san. It is there, at his workshop in Hachioji, were he has been creating textiles all his life. Apparently his studio hasn’t changed much over the years, they moved in after the big Kantō earthquake of 1923 and today, the only thing that sabotages the traditional character of the place, is the odd plastic thing here and there. We were warned it was going to be good and it really was. For the first time I saw, and dyed in, traditional underground vats.
Noguchi san has followed five previous generations of indigo masters and is currently training his son to become one too. He makes mostly stencil dyed fabric for Yukata (summer Kimono) in his own fermentation vats.
Our aim for the day was to learn why his textiles have a different kind of blue – that special blue that is hiding something under the indigo, and how he makes the black dye of his festival banner letterings. The answer for both questions was soy beans and soot.
We’ve tried making soot dye with Bryan before and we had good results, nice and soft grey shades. However, Noguchi san has a slightly different approach. He lets soy beans in water over night and grinds them using a mortar and pestle, adding some water to the mix half way through. Then, using a piece of cloth, he filters the paste and separates the soy milk, then he dips a bag filled with soot powder into the milk. Depending of the concentration of soot in the mix, it has to be applied one or more times to the fabric to achieve the colour you want. We wanted black.
In the photo above, Noguchi san and his son, writing my name with fresh soot dye. When it dried, we outlined the characters with rice paste and dipped it in the indigo vat. What’s interesting about soot dye is that it can be used on its own – for grey or black, or it can be used as an under-dye before indigo. The result is a perfect match; natural shades of greyish-blues.
We wandered around the workshop and had a look at Noguchi san fabrics and Katagami collection. He also gave us handkerchiefs as presents, he had previously stenciled them with a Shōwa era pattern and we dyed them with him on the day.
But apart from all the indigo fun, the novelty of the soot and the delightful sight of such an authentic place, there was a sentimental add on to our visit. Seeing my teacher next to his teacher (pictured above), in the place where the’ve spent many hours together in the past. And there they were, seeming very used to each other’s movements and sharing with us what they know best. I feel truly thankful.