In Praise of Mechanical Resists

Mechanical resists are one of the most basic and enduring mark-making techniques on cloth, and although not structural, are as fundamental to the history of textiles as spinning, weaving and felting.  This class of resists includes stitching, folding, clamping, binding (including Ikat), and wrapping, and is known collectively in Japan as shibori. The results are quite complex at times for such a seemingly simple process.  Key to these resists is the dye process:  all resists are only made manifest through that alchemy (whether through immersion or direct application).

In mechanical resist dyeing there is a subtle dance of control and surrender.  Even the most skilled practitioners, who can produce a great deal of precision, allow that it is still a loose and ultimately imprecise practice (with the possible exception of stitched resists).  But that is its inherent beauty – and the root of my attraction to it.  Much of my textile production is exacting and not forgiving – This process allows me to step out of the way and let the surface unfold on its own.  Of course, I am still exercising my will over the process while I bind, stitch, etc., but after that, I let the serendipity of the dye pot take over.  And since the hand and heart of the binder/stitcher/clamper is as essential to the alchemy as the dye chemistry, I know no two pieces created will be alike….It is thrilling every time for me to witness the “emergent” in each piece (especially after folding/wrapping and binding).

There are many wonderful books on this topic, including the definitive texts written by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, as well as one classic volume by Jack Lenore Larsen (see the “Books” tab).

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