Everything started in 2015 in the small town of Fujino, which is about a two-hour drive west of Tokyo. At that time, Kanchalee Ann Ngamdamronk just quit her textile design job in Bangkok and decided to go to Japan to take part in a two-month shibori and indigo dyeing workshop run by Bryan Whitehead in Fujino. It was at Whitehead’s studio that she met Serge Tishkin, who had been a student of Whitehead for many years already.
Serge: Staying in a far-flung mountain hamlet surrounded by nature and the folks that live in everyday communion with the land. What impressed us the most was definitely the ingenuity and creativity with which people can make incredible objects of beauty from basic natural materials. The rural craftsmen in that area have a particular attention to detail and a deep connection with their surroundings. Knowing when and how to harvest the different dyes from the forest, how to process the various types of wildcrafted textile fibers like silk and ramie and how to make the wooden tools to weave something like a bolt of kimono are all tied to ancestral wisdoms. Watching and following someone as they harvest, spin threads, extract colours and create a design all via a direct partnership with the forests around them is a special thing to witness.
Ann: After coming back from the tranquil countryside of rural Japan, I took on various design projects in Bangkok and it really struck me how stressful life can be there. Bangkok can be such a hectic city that even if you go out to run some simple errands you easily end up spending half a day in your car stuck in traffic. Since moving to Chiang Mai, I have found the necessary time and breathing space to focus on developing my work as well as myself as an artist and designer.
Slowstitch Studio is located in the Eastern part of Chiang Mai, where the outlines of mountain ranges are visible all around, with the most prominent mountain of the city Doi Suthep looking directly at us from the studio’s windows. The studio itself is a small two storey house with an outdoor dyeing space where we tend to our five indigo vats. Off to the side there is a space with gas stoves for working with hot dyes when we extract natural colours from plants. During the daytime it’s a lively space while in the evenings it quietens down as everyone goes home.
Ann: Just thread, needle and fabric. That’s part of the beauty of the technique – you can create some very interesting and complex designs with basic tools.
Different designs require different techniques, but mostly we start with dotting out the patterns and then drawing lines.
Serge: Once the template is drawn the meditatively repetitive process of stitching begins. It requires attention and mindfulness but once you’re in the rhythm of stitching you can start to feel your mind at peace while flowing with the process.
Fast fashion brands like to use faster and cheaper chemical dyeing methods, it’s not only destroying the natural environment, but also lacking regulation and education. Slowstitch Studio’s mission is to bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary ways of life and create beautiful textiles for the modern age that honour and celebrate the human touch.
Ann: Many of our works are created using a time intensive process called shibori, which are achieved by stitching the fabric by hand, pulling the threads to compress the piece and dyeing it in our indigo vats or other non-toxic dyes. The process takes many days and the result is always unexpected, every piece is unique.
Ann: Natural dyes play an important part at our studio. Leaves, roots and flowers from various dye plants are sourced locally whenever possible and gently simmered for several hours to make potent colourful extracts. We also use indigo to dye many of our pieces in deep navy blue tones or combine it with the other dyes to create new colours.
Serge: We need to stitch hundreds of lines on each and every meter of fabric, and it takes days or weeks to complete. By adjusting the stitching method to the thickness and characteristics of different fabrics, we can create variations in the patterns. Adding multiple colours to the combination opens up many doors for creative exploration!
Ann: To give these fragments a second life we began making patchworks and embellishing the connections with textural embroidery. Silk screen printing, bundle dyeing with natural dye powders and flowers, digital printing and katazome stencil dyeing are a few other techniques we’ve used. These breathe new life into fragments of cloth which is exciting since each dyed piece takes a long time to create.
Even more recently, they have begun to grow their own indigo plant crops locally, and establish an “edible forest garden” (a perennial polyculture of multipurpose plants that make up a self-sustaining woodland) , which will integrate edibles together with plants that can be harvested for their use in textile work. Through this method and creation, it could foster our interaction with our immediate environment.
他們在布料上製作圖案的第一個實驗，是在曼谷 Ann 的廚房裡，運用當地收穫的天然染料和來自泰國偏遠省份的手織面料。他們也在網站上提供一些天然扎染的材料包，教大家在家中製作天然染色絲綢。
Their first experiments in creating patterns on cloth were made at Ann’s kitchen in Bangkok, using locally harvested natural dyes and handwoven fabrics from far-flung provinces in Thailand. They also offer natural shibori dyeing kits on their website, teaching people how to make natural dye silk at home.
“Most plants produce pigments, and one of the simplest textile dyeing methods is to put plant materials and fabric together in an aluminum pot and simmer them over low heat. The source of colours can come from the most unexpected places. The pomegranate peels, which are discarded by street vendors selling juice, can be a source of yellow and blue-green colours. Even our daily food such as onion skins can produce beautiful golden and orange tones. Turmeric, coffee, red cabbage, and black beans are all household items that can be easily found in the kitchen. Experimentation is the key to opening new doors.”