Artists often relate to colors with a special intensity, but Tokyo’s Tatz Miki has dedicated his life and passion to a single hue — indigo.
Though surrounded by the ubiquitous and deeply symbolic shade since childhood, it wasn’t until he saw traditional indigo dyeing in Tokushima Prefecture that it truly captured his interest — and heart.
Awestruck by the way a swath of fabric pulled from the vat of fermenting indigo leaves magically transformed itself from a grassy greenish tint to a brilliant blue as it oxidized in the air, he realized it was the perfect medium for connecting his heritage and his artistic passion.
He began experimenting with fermenting natural indigo in his spare time, dyeing various fabrics, ingredients and dipping methods to create a uniquely vibrant and lively luster.
The Tatz Miki signature collection of eight scarves in ranging shades of indigo called <LES BLEUS> has been featured at exhibitions around the world, including major installations in Tokyo, Paris, Milan and New York. We spoke with him about his work on a recent trip to his atelier.
Q: When we first saw your scarves, we were hard at work on our own INDIGO collection, and knew we wanted to bring them to our TATCHA friends. Why have you remained intrigued by indigo after all these years?
A: It’s not a simple color for one thing; it is a mixture of red and blue. I’m inspired by the fact that I’m working with a living creature, and that my main job is to help grow the fermentation process. When the dye is more strongly fermented, the color appears more strongly.
Q: What is your secret recipe? What makes your scarves look so different from other naturally dyed fabrics?
A: Over time my technique has become more organic, simple and natural. I use a traditional method called aidate, a natural fermentation similar to what is used to make cheese, wine, Champagne, sake and many other many fermented foods. The depth of the color is determined by the number of times the fabric is dipped in the dye. The darkest scarves are dipped over 80 times and even have UV protection due to the type of tadeai (fresh indigo leaves) and quality of sukumo (the fermented leaves) and how the fermentation process progresses. Therefore, each color differs. Just like wine, each year, the results are different even when using leaves from the same producer. This means each piece is truly one of a kind.
Q: Why do you create only scarves, not dresses or other types of clothing or housewares?
A: Clothes always start with a square of fabric, and then to make the clothing you must cut it into pieces. But I see the making of clothing as the making of the fabric — the threads and weaving that can take thousands of hours to make. It’s most valuable in its most primal, pristine, perfect state — and therefore more luxurious. When I go to the Himalayas to pick up the raw silk that I use for the scarves, I see the mountain people creating the yarn with their hands, and when you make cloth with your hands you see the time and caring that went into it, so I don't really want to cut it. I also want to highlight, not the style, but the color. In Japan they don’t really see natural indigo any more and I want to show people the charm and the sheen, because that’s the truth of indigo.
Q: Why did you decide to work with wild silk?
A: Most people avoid using silk with natural indigo because it’s very difficult, and it can react and actually kill the dye itself, and it also tends to make the strings thinner. Because it’s not processed it doesn’t change the DNA of the silk … and it also allows indigo to express its color more fully.
Q: Because there is so much thought and detail that goes into your process, do you think of yourself more as a conceptual designer or a textile artist?
A: I consider myself more of an artist and a healer than a craftsman because of the many properties of indigo. I love the fact that a simple scarf, something so thin, can also be so warm and help people feel calm and protected when they wear it. It is my hope that the power of this natural blue touches many people’s hearts. It’s a very thrilling color, one that actually moves. I can dye it over and over and the color comes up again. I want people to feel that clothing is a living creature thing. These days people are more aware of what they eat, and care more about whether it is organic, or where it came from. What they wear, not so much yet. I want people to feel that what you’re wearing — whether it’s cotton, or silk, or wool or whatever it is, that it is a living thing and that you need to care about what you wear. I didn’t used to feel this way, but now I do.
Q: How long does it take to dye a scarf, and how many are made in a year?
A: Depending on how many times a scarf is dipped in the dye bath, it can take a few hours or as long as two months to reach the desired hue. I make only about 100 scarves each year.
Q: Tell us about the TATCHA scarf, and what your focus was as you created this special version?
A: The Amour is dipped around 40-50 times, and stopped just before the blue and red have mixed together. What I like best about it is that people who have never met Japanese indigo will have the chance to experience it in this way and see what indigo can do. Amour says it all.
Chief Treasure Hunter
published March 2014Ingredients, Design, Interviews
Photo 1: Vicky Tsai visiting Tatz Miki, wearing a naturally dyed indigo shirt, during a recent visit to his Tokyo studio. Photography by Miki Chishaki
Photo 2: The process begins with a mixture called sukumo, or fermented leaves from the indigo plant.
Photo 3: Tatz Miki prefers to use wild silk for many of his scarves because it produces a richer color, even though it is very fragile and difficult to work with.
Photo 4: Using an iPad, Tatz explains the many steps required to achieve the hue of his signature scarves.
Photo 6: As part of a demonstration, Tatz squeezes dye from a square of cloth so visitors can watch as it turns from an earthy green to a brilliant blue shade.
Photo 7: In a matter of seconds, the blue color becomes more intense as the botanical oxidizes in the air.
Photo 8: A closer detail of one of Tatz Miki's signature scarves.
Photo 9: Before he handles the finished scarves, Tatz puts on indigo gloves to protect the fibers and the color.
Photo 10: Tatz Miki wraps his scarves into rosettes to show the color variations achieved by different amounts of dye.