A Way of Life: A Thread That Connects

Lorraine Pai January 6, 2010 2

Artist Kiku Dewa

You may have watched her untying intricate knots, garbanzo beans spilling from boldly dyed fabrics at the Aki Matsuri or Cherry Blossom Festival. For the past 20 years, Kikuko Dewa, has shared her mastery of the shibori arts with young children and adults. The Japanese art of ‘shibori’, meaning ‘to squeeze or press’ integrates stitching and tightly wound thread around cloth and objects to create a dye resist. Folding and clamping techniques used for shibori textiles date to the sixth century for court nobles, and eventually to all people. Shibori techniques are used the world over, in Africa, India, and East Asia. Although Dewa’s work is based on traditional techniques, her artistic approach is largely experimental, allowing ‘accidents’ to fuel the process. She creates textural patterns using marbles, golf balls, seed pods, potatoes, balloons and sticks in her palette of materials to tie, stamp and form her work. When threads are untied and clamps removed, the emerging fabrics reveal an exciting fusion of color and pattern.

Dewa uses natural dyes that she finds in her daily environment. Plant materials to make the dyes include cherry blossoms, blackberries, madrona bark, and grasses, and indigo plants grown in or around the Danny Woo Garden near her home in the International District. Dewa’s methods for dying the materials are also unconventional, whether cooking from pots in her kitchen, to automotive oil pans with mounds of gravel to achieve different effects. The resulting work is as unique as the process is enjoyable for her.

A sample scarf by Dewa

As a fifth generation descendant of weavers, Dewa was raised in the Nishijin district of Kyoto, Japan, also famous for traditional kimono weaving and textile design. She eventually developed a passion for the avante garde, drawing inspiration from Japanese and European clothing designers including Junya Watanabe and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcon and revolutionary textile and clothing designer Issey Miyake. Dewa then strengthened her shibori education by studying dying methods in Nagoya, Kyoto and northern Tohoku, and workshops with Hiroyuki Shindo, an international Shibori artist based in Kyoto.

After marrying and immigrating to the U.S., Dewa spent much of her career as a seamstress, and raised a family of five children. During that time, she pursued her interest in clothing design, and eventually opened ‘Ikko’ in the Greenwood neighborhood. In the eight years as a clothing designer, Dewa often used antique kimono silks in creating tailored one of a kind pieces.

Throughout the years, Dewa’s prolific work in fashion design, textile arts, theater installations and costuming has been shown locally at the Seattle Art Museum, the Wing Luke Asian Museum, Kobo and Wa Sabi Dou Galleries. Her work has also been exhibited in galleries throughout Kyoto. With an interest in theater arts, Dewa created costume design and theater set for Seattle based performance artists Byron Au Yong, and costume design for the Degenerate Art Ensemble and other notable artist’s productions.

Dewa’s work will be featured in a show at Antioch University in January of 2010. She will be exhibiting a large format ‘Flower Garden’ wall installation, using blackberry, tea, and indigo dyes. Another piece, ‘Chanterelles in the Forest’, will be a sculptural series of pleated fiber sculptures dyed with persimmon tannins.

2 Comments »

  1. Mary Ann Kirkpatrick January 29, 2010 at 5:49 pm -

    I would very much like to be in personal touch with Kiku who crafted my wedding garment (1991) from silk kimono lining I had purchased in a market in Kyoto. Lost touch over the years. Phone 425-742-1638. mkirkp42@comcast.net Do call or email,Mary Ann Kirkpatrick

  2. Lorilee Mossman May 26, 2010 at 6:58 pm -

    Such a lovely write-up! I’m so delighted you decided to write about it.