Hori's Japan Blue is a small hand-dye studio located in Queens, New York. The blue dyeing process is done using natural indigo which is extracted from the plant “Indigofera Tinctoria” cultivated in India.
Indigo blue is known as the color of blue jeans. The color and texture of denim is loved by many worldwide. The blue is something specific to human beings. The sky… The sea.. .
When I began to dye with natural indigo here in the US years ago, I was using strong chemicals such as caustic soda and thiourea dioxide with the natural indigo which makes the most important dye process of “reduction” much easier and much faster. By this process, indigo becomes soluble and can now penetrate deep into the fibers.
But I had faced to a problem. My asthma seriously became worse because of the release of vapors that were made in the chemical reaction process. Later on I found the caution in the instructions of thiourea dioxide which says I should wear a respirator mask to prevent bronchial problems to protect my lungs.
This happening forced me to use the traditional indigo dye method using all natural materials and a process which is more complicated, more difficult, and much more time consuming. To be ready to dye, using thiourea dioxide takes 1 hour. The natural process takes 7 to 10 days and even costs more!
In this method, a natural living fermentation process using bacteria and enzymes makes ”reduction” possible and this process of using bacteria and enzymes is the same way wine, beer, cheese, yogurt, bread, Japanese sake, miso, soy sauce and fermented soy bean ”natto” is made.
To keep the bacteria and enzymes alive, I have to adjust and regulate the indigo vat environment every day such as temperature, pH and food (they eat!).
However, after a few years of repeated trial and error, I have perfected this method and my indigo vats have became stable to dye, also my body and mind are quite fine too, even better with this traditional dye method.
The Apparel industry has been using chemicals to dye fabric and yarn including synthetic indigo, of which German chemist Adolf Baeyer had made in late 19th century and almost every pair of blue jeans are dyed this way for the last century.
But the experiences I have had with the use of strong chemicals have helped me to notice that the faster or easier way is not always the only way, and it not always “must be”. Also I realized through my own body’s reaction that our body and mind is friendly with the nature because we are all part of it.
When I had a flight from Tokyo to New York more than 15 years ago, I wanted to be an artist like many others. There was a hammer, a saw, a screwdriver, a wrench and a measuring tape in my luggage bag besides painting materials and sketch books.
Recalling my childhood and youth, I used to make small wooden boats, moon landscapes using cardboard and aluminum foil, plastic models, bookshelves, cabinets, a guitar (!), a vacuum tube radio and amplifier, a cement pond and more and more. So, all tools have to be with me as my extended hands to do things myself.
Here in New York, after giving up as an artist, I still have kept my hands moving. I made several long sleeve shirts and pants. To make these, I cut patterns after taking used shirts and pants apart.
When I dye indigo now, I feel the same excitement that I used to feel, and I remember that when I was really into making something, my mother always screamed “Masayuki, eat first!” Now my wife does.
After I started to dye indigo, I became more aware to watch colors around me. Soon, I realized that the flowers in front of the grocery store on the street corner are too bright as they are compared to the flowers at the farmer’s market in Union Square Park. I also realized that most of the colors on the clothes we now wear didn’t exist 100 years ago (only 100 years ago!)
The blue of natural indigo, one of the oldest dye colors among many natural dyes, are not very bright like other chemical blue dye staffs. However, this world’s oldest dye color has many kind of shades and hues, and shows different faces depending on what kind of fabric is to be dyed, or how deep the color is to be dyed.
Also you may realize that the color gets brighter after washing several times, because impurities will be washing out too.
In addition, indigo blue on a computer screen become brighter than its actual color even though it's corrected by a graphics editing software like Photoshop, because monitors emits brightness itself.
The indigo dye has many varieties of methods to create the patterns on. I was fascinated by the most simple and primitive method among them called “Sibori” (tie dye) which had rapidly developed and populated about 400 years ago in Japan.
Now in Japan, there are over 100 Shibori techniques that have been inherited since then. The principle of Shibori is quite simple. The part of the fabric tied by strings will remain as white (original color) and the rest not tied will be dyed indigo blue.
Once the fabric is tied, I can not see how the pattern will come out until the dye process is completed and the strings are untied. Right after I untie them, there are no words to say when the unexpected pattern appears into my sight with harmony of my own will and nature’s will.
I’ am absorbed in making Shibori simpler and bringing Shibori to the modern era. Simplicity rather than complexity, contingency rather than inevitability and imperfection rather than perfection. That's my beauty.