Sukumo is a traditional Japanese indigo dyeing process that uses tade (polygonum tinctorum) leaves compost, water, wood ash, lime, sake and wheat bran.
Indigo dyers know how hard it is to come by sukumo outside of Japan. Even though there is a smattering of brave souls growing and making sukumo in the US, it’s primarily for select private use. I had not come across any organisation that makes sukumo accessible to regular folks, like myself…
…until I heard of Buaisou.
Buaisou is an indigo collective started by two young farmer-dyers – Kenta Watanabe and Kakuo Kaji. They have a farm in Tokushima, Japan, a place renowned for indigo leaf farming and for it’s tradition of composting the indigo leaves into sukumo. The Brooklyn branch of Buaisou holds several workshops with the sukumo vat, created with ingredients shipped from their farm! They also sell hand-made sukumo-dyed accessories.
Getting to a working sukumo vat takes much time and effort. Composting the tade leaves takes months, requiring constant temperature and humidity control, turning the leaves at regular intervals and ensuring they get enough oxygen. Now for the chemistry in making a sukumo vat – the wood-ash and lime act as the base; the wheat bran and sake aid the fermentation, which takes 12-15 days. From beginning to end, the entire process could last half a year! It’s not known as “the hell vat” for no reason. This simplified video (courtesy: Buaisou) shows the entire process.
Back in August, I attended a katazome workshop at Buaisou Brooklyn. Katazome is a stencil and paste resist technique. At the workshop, we were provided nori (rice paste) resist, a choice of stencils, some linen and shinshi (bamboo sticks to hold up the fabric). Sayaka Tomaya, the studio Director took us through the process.
The vat provided was a clear, dark murky green (different from Michel Garcia’s 1-2-3 vat which is brown). Here’s how the linen looked after two dips of a minute each.
Since it was a 2hr workshop, 2 dips is all we could manage. A couple of surprises for me,
1. The paste provided a strong resist for the two dips, despite the fact that I dried it for just over half an hour. Usually it’s dried overnight (I’m assuming that’s a must if you’re dipping 5 -15 times).
2. Very little indigo bled when I washed the linen. In fact, it was more of a clear liquid rather than something blue. Later at home, I washed it for the second time and it did not bleed at all. I am still wondering if it would have bled had I dipped it more number of times? Please do share if you have an insight.
Here are some of my samples.
Buaisou offers a ‘KOUYA: Bring Your Garments’ option to dip your fabrics (as many times you want) at minimum of $30 per session or $8.50 per oz. Back in the day, Japanese villagers would bring their clothing and fabric to dye at the local indigo dye shop or Kouya. It’s a fabulous offer considering how difficult it is to make sukumo. I would’ve liked to make more swatch samples to cover all the different shades especially the “Japan Blue”. Just wish I’d had more time.
At the time of the workshop, Kenta and Kakuo were in Japan and I didn’t get a chance to meet them. I still have a lot of questions about sukumo and it’s maintenance. For the time being, I’m just happy that they decided to open up the world of sukumo to the rest of us. Finishing this off with a brilliant midori wall-hanging made by the Team Buaisou.