Matsue Chiba, the successor of the Shoai Hiyashi Zome dyeing technique, lives near Mount Kurikoma of Miyagi, Japan. Cherishing the teachings of her grandmother-in-law Ayano, who was named a living national treasure in her time, Chiba is involved in the entire Shoai Hiyashi Zome process from planting the seeds to dyeing the textiles.

■ Early summer with Aizome

The main ingredient of the Aizome, the Aidama, is carefully dried out by creating a hollow in the center of the ball-shape. The Aidama is light and hard in texture and can be used for up to two years with proper drying.

In May, when the weather becomes warmer, the process of making the dye (Aidate) begins. The Aidama, lye made from wood charcoal and lukewarm water is mixed together in a vat to create the Aidate.

It takes ten days to make the Aidate and during that time, the liquid in the vat needs to be mixed twice a day by hand, at 4 am and 4 pm. Chiba’s son handles this part of the process. For the first few days, the liquid is brown in color, which gradually turns to the beautiful indigo color characteristic of Aizome.

The next step is the dyeing process. Handkerchiefs and other small fabrics are dyed first to check the quality of the dye. “When it’s cold, the dye is light and pale in color, but I go ahead with the dyeing process anyway regardless of the weather, because this creates a wider range of colors for people to choose from,” explained Chiba. The dyes used for Shoai Hiyashi Zome are stored at the natural temperature, which means that it will create unexpected beautiful patterns depending on the weather.

■ Successors of Shoai Hiyashi Zome

Whenever Chiba is lost, she says that she remembers the words of her grandmother. One of the rooms in her atelier has two looms. “I learnt a lot from my grandmother in this room,” she explained. “At the time, we were really busy working with the dyes and taking care of our fields. When it was raining, we couldn’t go out to the fields, and I was relieved because we’d get some time to relax,” she continued.

Now, Chiba gazes at the photo of her grandmother along with the works she left behind when creating new textiles. At her age, she worries about her health and how long she can continue to work, yet she showed us with enthusiasm the thread that she plans to use for her next piece.

【Editor’s Note】
Preserving the traditions of Shoai Hiyashi Zome seems like a simple task, but seeing Matsue Chiba’s efforts firsthand, we see the amount of time and work she puts into the process. The natural textiles she creates express her kind emotions and endeavors.

Next to Chiba’s atelier, Kurihara city runs “Iland Monji”, where visitors can experience the techniques of Aizome and learn about the process.

【Iland Monji】
Address: 103 Kajiya, Kurikomamonji, Kurihara-shi, Miyagi 989-5361
Tel: 0228-47-2141
Admission: adults 300 yen, children 150 yen (additional fees apply for participation in activities)
Closed: Wednesdays
*Call to confirm opening hours

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