resist dyeing

11ISS in Japan: Part 6 – Nagoya, Tokyo + beyond

Plenary Sessions were held at Nagoya Congress Center.

July 1, Day 3 of the 11th International Shibori Symposium involved Plenary Sessions, lectures and presentations at the Nagoya Congress Center. Notable to me were Jian Liu’s discussion of analysis of natural dye identifications in Qing Dynasty Silks. New technology is allowing for exciting discoveries of dye colors from Safflower, Sappan wood, Indigo, Pagoda tree, Amur Cork, Young fustic and Turmeric dye sources; their research is involved with developing a Japanese dye database. Prehistoric textiles from 500 BC were the first to use resist dye techniques. The first Biennale of Natural Dyes will take place in China in 2019.


Below, a monument oddly scaled to the architecture of the Center. I had to read more, and this is what the plaque said:  Sforza Monument (Reconstruction). Leonardo da Vinci… was commanded by Lord Ludovico of Milan to create the world’s largest statue, a work which was to depict General Francesco Sforza mounted on horseback. By November of 1493 Leonardo had completed a clay model of the horse alone which measured 7.2 meters in height. Unfortunately, war interrupted his work at that point; the planned bronze casting was discontinued, and the clay model was destroyed. The reconstruction of the “phantom statue” began with the construction of a two meter clay model based upon the study of Professor Tanaka of Madrid, manuscripts discovered in 1967 as well as a number of preparatory sketches. The model was enlarged using computer technology, and the final version of the statue molded in plastic (FRP), as the legs would not be able to support the weight of a bronze casting… Displayed in the Tokai Bank Pavilion at the World Design Expo ’89 and donated by the Tokai Bank, Ltd.

 Another interesting presentation by Juxin Zhen of the China Academy of Art showed the process and development of carved wooden blocks that served as clamp resists, but with holes inserted that could be plugged or open for direct spot dyeing.

A reception and celebration that evening provided ample food plus an exciting performance of puppets and music by an Arimatsu performance troupe, and a demonstration of imperial kimono dress from earlier times. The governor and mayor attended the event.

 Above, the puppetry curtains were drawn back so we could observe the inner workings, in which a puppet dips a brush in ink, then paints a character on paper.

On July 2, we traveled via bullet train and bus to Tokyo, making a stop at Shibori: Fusion and Diffusion, the ISS2018-organized contemporary shibori exhibition and reception at Tama Art University Museum. This was a stellar show of contemporary work featuring primarily Asian artists, but also work by Westerners. We also had lively mini-presentations, “Pecha-Kucha” style, by selected attendees. Then we traveled to Tokyo.

Although I found out later we were not encouraged to photograph the exhibition, I found the installation and lighting so compelling that I am including a few shots. A catalog is available. Shown: Nagai Hitomi, Iyanaga Yasuko and Tanaka Takaaki (foreground)
Ushio Takumi
Yashiro Rieko
Left to right: Jiang Kinor & Xu Rui, Bamba Masae, and Tsubaki Misao

Our final day in Tokyo allowed for individual exploration of exhibitions and shopping opportunities. Our group started with the Amuse Museum, where we viewed stunning Boro textiles from an impoverished area in northern Japan. We also visited PIGMENT, the wonderful store selling pigments, brushes and more in a beautifully articulated setting. Then we visited NUNO fabrics and stores for Issey Miyake and other designers. We crisscrossed the city via subway. The day ended with a buffet dinner for attendees, a way of welcoming attendees for the second half of the Symposium. It also offered those of us leaving the Symposium a chance to wrap up and say goodbye. Most attendees continued on to Yamagatsu in northern Japan. A number of us continued on home, including me.

Coming up to PIGMENT, the shop. 




 Our last impression was the upcoming Star Festival, set for July 7. We all wrote down our wishes on this bamboo structure.

It was all such a fabulous adventure. My thanks goes to everyone who spent time organizing and thinking through this stellar event.

11ISS in Japan: Part 5 – Shibori + Boro Fest!


Continuing my visit to Japan for the 11th International Shibori Symposium: on the start of a very hot day, we toured the popular Nagoya Castle, with its remodeled living quarters, screens and beautiful ornamentation. In it, we were able to visit an outstanding exhibition of traditional Japanese Kimono, in Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu – Narumi Shibori.

from Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu - Narumi Shibori, 11ISS from Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu - Narumi Shibori, 11ISS from Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu - Narumi Shibori, 11ISS from Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu - Narumi Shibori, 11ISS

We also visited Nagoya City Museum, where Arashi Master Hayakawa Kaei demonstrated how he creates arashi shibori using updated, automated tools. Again, he is another example of someone who attended art school in painting and returned to his family with its long dyeing tradition, to become a master dyer. And finally, we visited the Furukawa Museum, located in a beautiful Japanese home, displaying fragments of ancient fabrics. It was here that fifteen of us attended a lecture and showing of a 1630 book displaying textile patterns that included both dyeing and embroidery. Next to me sat Catherine Liu, who, it turns out, is from Iowa City, attending the Book Arts Program in University of Iowa’s Center for the Book. We both met for the first time at that lecture. Very small world.

And finally, in Tokyo, we visited the Amuse Museum, where we viewed stunning Boro textiles from an impoverished area in northern Japan. Also shown are boots made from salmon skin. The fins served as traction in icy conditions.

11ISS in Japan: Part 2 – Inland Sea

Continuing my adventure at the International 11th International Shibori Symposium, 2018, early Saturday morning we traveled by bus, then ferry, to the “art site” islands of Inujima, Teshima and Naoshima. The day was foggy and cloudy, making it perfect for photography. The mix of nature, sounds of sea and birds, smells and contemporary art was powerful. One could easily spend a full day on each of these islands. Inujima is the site of the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, set in a former copper smelting plant, one large art installation involving perceptual tricks from mirrors and shafts of light in low-light situations. The island also houses 5 Art House projects by leading architects, nestled in and around traditional village houses. Visiting them took you on well-marked trails through the villages, which became a visual experience in and of itself.

Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, exterior
Art House Projects on Inujima
Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, exterior
Art House Projects on Inujima
Art House Projects on Inujima


The next island, Teshima, is home to the Teshima Art Museum and other art houses. Like most of the larger museums, the Teshima did not allow photography, but it was a deeply felt experience in an amazing outdoor space. Some of the many island visitors rent bicycles to visit it and the other art spaces.

Benesse House

Finally, we traveled to Naoshima, where we stayed at the well known Benesse House for two nights. The Benesse is an upscale hotel within a museum. Naoshima has a host of other art sites: the more informal Art House Projects in the town of Honmura,  and the monumental Lee Ufan Museum and Benessee Art Museum up the hillside. I was particularly impressed with the Lee Ufan Museum, with its particular combination of art, video, sculptural stone. Installations at the sea along the road completed the experience, which for me also included some drawing and photography of one of my pieces on the pier. The smell of the sea along with the kelp beds and small fish was evocative. The plastic trash caught in the tides was sad. We ended up the evening with another really long, big meal at Benessee house.

This is actually a Shrine, an Art House project with thick cast glass steps
Lee Ufan Museum. Interior photos not permitted.
Cai Guo-Qiang, Cultural Melting Bath: Project for Naoshima 1990
Shinro Ohtake, Shipyard Works
Testing some of my own scrolls
More of my own work
Works by Karel Appel and Niki de Saint Phalle at the Benesse House
Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin, 1994

Another iconic pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, at the harbor

11ISS in Japan: Part 3 – Nagoya + Arimatsu

The Symposium started with a reception of the stunning Takeda Collection of Kimono in its headquarters in Narumi (see photo above). The next two days, we all traveled the 30 minutes to Arimatsu by train, to tour this historic center for shibori production, attend 3-hour workshops, shop and dine. Arimatsu is home to shibori practitioners still in production, with approaches to shibori and clothing designs ranging from traditional to more contemporary. Many use indigo and other natural dyes; others use chemical dyes.

Our workshops often involved 3 languages. Shown here, our Japanese to English, Chinese and our Japanese master, Kaiichiro Okamoto, far right

My first workshop was Kaki-shibu (Persimmon Tannin) shibori dyeing with Kaiichiro Okamoto, a master dyer who also packages the persimmon compound for sale. I wanted to explore its use for paper and fabric as a natural alternative to polymer medium. According to what we were told, persimmon is more of a coating than a dye, but in a dilute state, can be used to dye silk with a color that develops and deepens over three months and is darker depending on the number of dippings. We used it in a thickened state for shibori-tied washi paper, which was then dried and ironed. There is an ancient history of this in Japan. With 500 kinds of persimmons available, the ones that have the most tannins are used. In Japan, up to 60% of green persimmons are taken off the tree in a green state to preserve the remaining 40% as the best fruit. The paste is made from these green persimmons, which are crushed, then naturally fermented for 1-3 years. No heat is needed, and no water is added. The paste does smell strongly while fermenting; it was not so while using it in class.

working on tying shibori knots on washi paper
Concentrated persimmon paste ready to brush on our shibori-tied washi paper
We were given silk scarves with these lovely shibori ties, ready for dipping into the persimmon dye solution. Below, washi paper has been coated. Right, using fans to dry the silk scarves following dipping, on a humid day. Below that, examining samples dyed with persimmon by the family
My samples of washi paper and silk scarf will darken over the next few months.

  Then it was time for a luscious looking bento box. The perforated vegetable is thinly sliced lotus.


Fantastic contemporary indigo-dyed shibori examples by the Yuusokai.

Typical traditional buildings devoted to shibori production or now, as restaurants, in Arimatsu. Clockwise from upper right below, examples from the History of Japanese Shibori at the Tamesaburo Furukawa Memorial Hall in Arimatsu,  a woman demonstrates shobori knot tying, and another great little shop.

Below: even the grates have shibori patterns. Flower arrangement and shadow on tent of pop-up sale. Australian artist Barbara Rogers sells her clamp resist silk scarves at the pop up sale.


Sylvia Riley, from Australia, exhibits her hand-printed Yukata garment in Kimono Inspiration Challenge: Yukata from Abroad exhibition. Detail shown below.

My second workshop was Itajime (clamped board resist) Shibori with Masatsugu Hamajima. This technique is one I was already familiar with, although the workshop taught me some additional tips and provided ideas for more elaborate clamp designs. It was interesting to learn that boards made from wood ended up superior to plexiglass, as they can float in the dye bath when dipping the bundled packet. Plexiglass tends to make the bundles sink, not allowing for multiple dippings. It was enlightening to see more complex wooden clamps that were also described in our later plenary presentations. It was also interesting to learn that this family had supplied dyed indigo shibori to Africa after World War II, a project developed under the Marshall Plan, designed to assist the Japanese economies ravaged by war. In addition to the War, shibori villages had also been affected by changes in the feudal system, which had created more infusion of funds into local villages than what came later.  In Arimatsu, dyers had developed shortcuts and technological improvements to make the process faster and more consistent. And contemporary approaches to shibori textural alterations also made use of the physical transformations of the cloth, creating expandable garments, bags and other items.

Selection of clamps used two sided by Matsatsugu Hamajima.
More elaborate clamp resist by Masatsugu Hamajima.


Artist Amy Nyugen (right) and husband and business partner Ky, and Kim Eichler-Messmer all explore the foundational roots of shibori as they relate to their own work.

Below: the train is always an experience, but they are clean, punctual and well run. Plus, images of Nagoya Castle, which has recently been restored. The large white tower will come next; it was once restored in concrete and will now feature original materials.



Oaxaca Tales: The Textile Museum, Weaving with Duck Down and other textile tales

More textile discoveries at the 10th International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca, Mexico. Several exhibitions of historical and indigenous textiles were featured at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, with spillover exhibition areas in the San Pablo Cultural Center.

Perhaps the most intriguing exhibit centered around a mystery textile discovered by at a flea market in the 1980s. Entitled The Plumed Weavings, its centerpiece is, quoting the Textile Museum signage,  “the ‘tlamachtentli de Madeline’, thus named in honor of Madeline Humm de Mollet, as it was she that discovered it in a Puebla flea market towards the end of the 1980s. The tlamachtentli is only a fragment of what must have been a most extraordinary huipil; notwithstanding, among its threads we were able to discern the technical sophistication and the aesthetics of indigenous art from over 300 years ago. Only five other textiles with similar characteristics as this weaving have been documented; three of them are located in Mexico, one in Rome and another in New York. All six are Mexican… and share a very special peculiarity; each one has different varieties of cotton thread that have been twisted or spun with duck down.

…While it is possible to find the use of feathers in other regions of the world (like the Andes, the Amazon, the islands of the Pacific and even in western USA) all indications are that plumed threads are exclusive to Mesoamerican culture, and in particular, to the cultures that established themselves in what we now know as Mexico.”

The research into these textiles was then shared with current day weavers from Puebla, Guerrero and Oaxaca. The exhibition displays examples of modern-day pieces resurrecting these almost long lost techniques. An excellent set of videos documented the process.

Additional exhibits focused on the use of resist dye techniques globally. Here are a few favorite pictures. Many other pieces were just as sublime.


The Studio Day: Creativity & the Great Balancing Act

Last September, I engaged in a much-needed weekend in my studio. Looking upon my upcoming role as Surface Design Association President, I knew I MUST prioritize making time for balance and creative work, so critical to making the rest of  life function well. In that,  I am just like 99.9% of our SDA members and all my other colleagues I know outside of SDA. All ages, all stages.

Suddenly I had an idea: talk about the importance of a studio day.  A day later, I read that I’m not alone in my thinking. Here’s the piece in the New York Times.

What follows are the closing comments I made at SDA’s Made/Aware: Socially-Engaged Practices Intensive at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. (Read a wonderful summary of this event, written by Tamryn McDermott for SDA’s NewsBlog.) I appeared in my studio garb, my SDA “uniform” —apron, t-shirt and torn jeans, rubber gloves in my pockets. I spoke to this gathering of artists, educators, students, makers, who among them have amassed an impressive list of accomplishments and inquiry, with dedication and enthusiasm.

This is what I said, illustrated here with photos from my past:

We are first and foremost, a community of makers. Many of us working in textile and new media do this as a tactile antidote to our increasingly digital world. In whatever stages of life you find yourself—longtime artist, recent college grad, juggling paid employment, or retired but wanting to rekindle a longtime interest —creative work is never an easy fit into a busy life. The quest for work-life balance challenges all of us and increasingly is part of a national conversation, as recent media articles have pointed out.

Four friends at the Surface Design Conference, Kansas City Art Institute

SDA helps us to promote connections with our fellow makers. Our group of largely textile-centric makers is the most diverse of any national textile organizations available to us. The SDA Journal, Blog, and our members show us a broader way of thinking about what we do, as do SDA’s tools such as exhibitions, grants and fellow aficionados to talk shop with.

How do YOU make time for creativity? No one path fits all. Creative success is rarely about being secluded and monastic, — it’s about living fully within our lives, a frame of mind. Often, it’s about enjoying the ride, the process rather than the final outcome.

My own life confirms this. I joined SDA as a recent college grad and worked in my studio in addition to jobs and new motherhood. I always referred to my studio work as my fourth child. If I didn’t pay attention, it screamed and hollered. There was a time when my creative moment coincided with Mr Rogers Neighborhood on Public Television.

looms are great jungle gyms for toys

Archive photo: Astrid finishing handwoven ikat wall piece

learning fold and dip dye

Later, I saw firsthand how the kind of creative thinking that artists employ brought new ideas to the table in our  Downtown District, where I worked as a long time manager for Iowa Artisans Gallery, a 4000 square foot business with 200 artists, and served on committees for community initiatives. And it wasn’t just me. For a time, the interim head of the local Area Chamber of Commerce was a graphic designer who injected new life into the organization. As a business manager/owner, I hired artists with both retail and creative abilities, or others who simply wanted to be creative, encouraging them to pursue and fulfill their own personal life destinies as artists of all stripes.

Iowa Artisans Gallery staff, 2015

Throughout this time, I always tried to guard my studio day on Fridays.  Make no mistake: work-life balance is an issue for everyone I know.

I invite you to join me in making time for creativity during a weekly Studio Day, whether it’s by learning/contemplation only, or by active doing, —for an hour a day, a day a week, or many days every month, whatever fits. And wouldn’t it be great if SDA, as an organization, took a “studio day.” (Mind you, I’m not saying we should shut down our website  for a day a week, just that our Board, staff and members can commune together in that great notion.) We share the importance of creativity to the structure and balance of our lives.  Let the community of SDA members inspire us to be more than who we are working alone. It is not selfish. It is about good self-management practices that make us more meaningfully productive in all of life.

Lastly if you believe in SDA and its community, here are a few easy things you can do to help strengthen this organization. First, invite a friend to join the SDA community. Our membership numbers are crucial to publishing our robust, quarterly Journal. And there’s more, but that’s for a future discussion. Second, thank our advertising partners and suggest new ones. (I’ll do it here for the ones I have used for years in my own work: shout-outs and thanks to ProChemical & Dye, Testfabrics, Dharma Trading.) They wonder if their ads are unseen, down some big black hole. WE NOTICE!

So, I’ve come to the end of this little talk, and on behalf of the SDA Board, Staff and all of our volunteers, I wish you a safe and inspired journey home, to the heart of your creative work and life and your very own SDA uniform! Ciao!

Gallery staff having a painting day

Astrid teaching at Penland School of Crafts

Cat learning screenprinting at Home Ec Workshop

35 years of textile samples, part 5: weaving, intaglio & miscellaneous

And how about all of those other areas of experimentation? I was once a weaver and a spinner, and I first learned to print and dye textiles because  as a student, I was printing large etching plates on canvas. From there, I wanted to alter the surfaces on which I printed, and I started weaving. I was living in a geodesic dome in the lovely countryside surrounding Bloomington, Indiana, where I went to school. We hoisted the 300 pound Kessenich loom up a ladder and into the dome. We were crazy kids. In one of my first dye baths there, the water turned clear. That’s never happened since. It was a good thing, too, because we didn’t have running water. The pump froze and cracked during a wickedly cold winter. I was discovering how in love I was with the world of fiber.

two samples of handwoven fabrics, tie dyed and screen printed/handpainted, by Astrid Hilger Bennett


Handwoven, screenprinted fabric using Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Printing on wool, samples from a workshop, very nice, thin wool, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Intaglio (etching) samples printed on different fabrics, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Intaglio (etching) plates printed on silk, cotton, in a “book” by Astrid Hilger Bennett
stitched, woven bands, no dyeing, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
More stitched, woven bands, no dyeing, assembled by Astrid Hilger Bennett



35 years of textile samples, part 4: non-stitched resists

Resists have always fascinated me. A resist is a substance or a mechanism used to prevent dye or colorant from acting upon a surface. My very first experiments with resist were done in high school art class. My teacher was more interested in discussing politics, so I taught myself how to do batik using paraffin. Although batik was a favorite, I found removing the wax to be a  tedious and expensive process when a dry cleaner was used. This post shows samples of other resists: dextrin, potato starch, cassava, and Japanese Tsutsugaki with rice paste, as well as discharge.

Batik on silk, samples
Batik (beeswax and paraffin) on silk by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Cassava resist on cotton, fiber reactive dyes
“Presist” resist or cassava resist on rayon, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Tsutsugaki sample using rice paste resist on cotton and Japanese dyes, from a Tsutsugaki workshop at the Surface Design Conference in Seattle, 1991. Tsutsugaki is a class of very ordinary Japanese textiles, often decorated with auspicious symbols, used in ordinary households. 
Discharge samples on rayon by Astrid Hilger Bennett. Not one of my favorite techniques due to products that are not considered nontoxic.

Potato dextrin used as a resist, Procion MX dyes, workshop samples by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Potato dextrin resist on cotton
More potato dextrin resist
Potato dextrin on silk

35 years of textile samples, part 2: stitched & clamped resists

In the previous post, I described needing a storage container and finding myself immersed in sorting through a career’s worth of textile samples and explorations. Here is Part 2 of this archive, stitched and clamped resists on cotton and silk, using Procion MX dyes. This is a tradition more popularly known as tie dye, but it stems from a rich textile heritage that is very considered and carefully made.

Bound resist cotton, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Bound resist cotton, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Clamp resist cotton, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Bound resist silk, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Clamp resist on silk, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Clamp resist and silk resist on silk, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Stitch resist, silk



35 years of textile samples, part 3: stitch resist (shibori, tritik)

This is the third in a series of posts revisiting a treasure trove of textile samples made while learning new techniques. In search of a storage box, I found myself delving into forgotten experiments and exciting processes of learning. The other posts involved early screen prints and bound and clamp resists. These techniques have many names and fall under shibori and tritik.

So much fun! Stitch resist on silk dipped in an indigo vat, by Astrid Hilger Bennett. Unlike chemical dyes, which tend to wick up into the fiber, indigo stops the minute it perceives a barrier, such as a fold. The result is a clean, crisp pattern.
Indigo stitch resist on silk by Astrid Hilger Bennett, detail
Shibori stitch resist on silk using Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett