Learning hikizome with Kyoto dye artist Takeshi Nakajima

Hikizome, a traditional Japanese technique of painting with a brush to dye fabrics, is unlike anything I’ve seen before. Unlike conventional thought, fabric is suspended in the air during painting, at once miraculous and poetic. The act of painting becomes a balance of many forces; the movement of the hand, the brush, and the fabric in a choreography with each other. Hikizome artist Takeshi Nakajima adds that “weather, temperature, and humidity” are also at play in the creation of each day’s textiles.

The delicate yuzen dyeing on kimono fabrics in a thing of beauty (see example #7), however the vivid and expressive strokes of Takeshi Nakajima’s contemporary textiles captured my attention. Takeshi’s studio lies at the base of the Arashiyama mountains in western Kyoto, majestically shrouded in rain mist clouds on the morning I visited. He’s converted a storage building for agriculture into a dye work studio below and a stylish tatami mat showroom loft above. Narrow lengths of cotton and linen float from one corner to another, suspended from tension pipes that extend from floor to ceiling.  

Takeshi’s painted textiles have been made into lightweight summer kimonos and accessories, upholstery for contemporary furniture, wall artwork for restaurants, noren curtains and sliding doors for stores, and even an upcoming collaboration of washi lanterns for a restaurant. 

On our first visit, Takeshi showed me the tools of the trade: wood clamps, bamboo rods, and animal hair brushes. In addition to hand-painting with dye, Takeshi also uses katazome stencils and resist paste (read more in this post) to create certain designs. He demonstrated how to attach delicately curved bamboo rods with tiny hooks on both edges of the fabric to hold it taut. Holding onto these rods also allows him to steady the surface without touching the fabric.

For our second visit, Takeshi invited me over to try my hand at painting, an experience that was a highlight of my time in Kyoto! The opportunity to try hikizome firsthand gave me irreplaceable insight into the technique and artistry involved. It was a wonderful afternoon spending studio time with Takeshi, trying out a shikebiki technique (see #2), and taking our coffee breaks on the porch with eager mosquitos.

I’m so excited for future opportunities to collaborate with Takeshi, combining his beautiful hand-painted fabrics with my designs. If you are interested in placing an order for a NOT design or a custom garment with Takeshi Nakajima’s textiles, send me a message at jenny@notaligne.com. If you are in New York City, make an appointment at NOT’s studio to see swatches of his fabrics in person.

Enjoy a photo diary from my visit to Takeshi’s studio as well as from our workshop:

Dye craftsman Takeshi Nakajima stands outside his studio

Bamboo tools and dye color swatches at Takeshi Nakajima's studio

Takeshi Nakajima showroom and selection of hand painted fabrics

Designer Jenny Lai holds up hand painted fabrics by Takeshi Nakajima

Designer Jenny Lai with textile dye artist Takeshi Nakajima

Workshop photos thanks to Takeshi:

Jenny Lai painting dye on fabric with hikizome technique

Jenny Lai applying first layer of color on floating fabricJenny Lai inspecting final finished painted fabric

Detail on fine stripes of shikebiki painting by Jenny Lai

Detail on handpainted dye fabric
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