November 27th was the last day of my indigo workshop in Nakatsugawa. It was my seventh time to come to ShizukuJiaiKobo, and the last date of the “tanemakikaraaizome workshop”, a six-time course through the seasons of indigo that I attended.
I cannot possibly fully express here how enriching this experience was for me but I will try a little.
To quickly explain the different steps we learned, it went something like this:
In April, we planted the seeds. Once the seedlings got to be about 10-15cm in height, we spaced them out, that was in June. We did a first harvesting of the leaves and then let them dry in August, it was so HOT!!! In September, we learned about making sukumo from the dried up indigo leaves. Sukumo is a fermented indigo compost that is made from the dried indigo leaves and water. Through fermentation (which lasts a little bit over a month), all the blue goodness of the leaves gets condensed into little black balls, that then are dried. The next step is aidate, which is when the sukumo is mixed with alcaline water to make the dye bath that is used to dye what it is that you want to dye~ we learned about this process in October and then dyed our tenugui the last time, in November. From the plants, we also collected seeds for next year so that the cycle goes on. Each dye bath made in this way has a limited lifetime, when the dye bath is ready to retire, the indigo water is poured into the field, where it rests, back where it was born. a full cycle.
Every single step is absolutely amazing, quite magical, and completely natural.
I got to fall in love with Nakatsugawa, with my fellow students, with our teacher Miki Totsuka, with every single step, smell, texture involved in the process, with the meditation room in which we slept, and the big ginko tree near Miki’s house. I cannot forget to mention that Nakatsugawa is famous for kurikinton, which is a sweet paste made of sugar and chestnut, perfect in size and taste, ever so yummy… I cannot tell you how many kurikinton I ended up consuming this season… but what I can say is that it was pure pleasure every single time!
There are many plants that can make indigo color. We planted kojouko seeds, which give beautiful pink flowers. From the seeds, to blue on cotton. Seeing the plants grow was an amazing experience: witnessing their strength and resilience, observing the leaves as they get loving from the water through their roots, and light from the sun; in the end, receiving the gift of the indigo blue onto the organic cotton pieces of cloths that we had prepared. Truly a gift of nature. Everyone’s cloth came out unique in its own way, and beautiful!
Mikisan taught us many things. I am still letting everything seep in… One of the things I love about Mikisan is that she always reminds us to try to FEEL how we would feel if we were the plants, would we be hot, thirsty etc… She does practically everything at her indigo farm alone, I respect her so much for her patience with us, and am grateful for every step she has taken so far and shared with us. It took her ten years(!!!) to finally be able to succeed at the aidate process. Thanks to her generosity, we might succeed a little faster… but she also taught us that it is not about time, or quantity or making things easy… It is clearly about love and communication, with the plants, with yourself, with nature and with something even greater.
Before starting coming to this workshop, I had no idea what I was going to do after learning all this. I still don’t have much of an idea but the more I am involved with indigo, the more I feel I want to have it be part of my life, the more I want to be part of the life, story, and history of indigo.
thank you thank you thank you Mikisan.