September 15, 2020

An Interview with Dyeing Teacher Masaru Hori 1/3

At Kawashima Textile School, a skilled dyeing professional teaches as a full-time instructor. Masaru Hori (81). After working for 42 years at the Dyeing Department of Kawashima Textile Manufacturers Ltd. (now Kawashima Selkon Textile Co., Ltd.) and retiring, he was assigned to Kawashima Textile School, and has been teaching the basics of dyeing, natural and synthetic dyeing, datamaking, kanzome (instinctive dyeing) for over 20 years. We interviewed Mr. Hori, who is popular amongst students from Japan and abroad for his high professionalism and calm personality. The interviewer is another full-time instructor who is also a graduate, Hirokazu Kondo.

We will be looking back on his work with dyeing in 3 parts. In part 1 we introduce stories about his first encounter with dyeing, basic movements of thread dyeing and tips on adjusting color, and about working on the interior fabrics of facilities related to the Imperial Palace.

◆ The ultimate of dyeing with your instinct is when the thread calls to you

-Please tell us about how you started to work in dyeing.

After graduating from high school, I was employed at Kawashima Textile Manufacturers Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Kawashima Textile”), and was assigned to the Dyeing Department. My high school was a technical school, and of the three departments of Chemistry, Machinery, and Textile, I chose Chemistry, since in those days (1950s), it was difficult to get a job, and my parents told me that it would be easier that way. After joining the company I was assigned to the Dyeing Department of Arts and Crafts Weaving, and at the beginning I didn't like it very much, and was unhappy for the first 1-2 years. My parents often told me "Ishi no ue ni san nen (three years on a cold stone will make the stone warm)" and to do my best. But now I am glad I was assigned to the Dyeing Department, since I am here today thanks to focusing on dyeing until retirement.

-Did you start dyeing by hand without any experience?

Yes. In those days, we didn't have dyeing machines, so everything was dyed by hand. We worked in pairs and dyed 10-20 kilograms of thread every day. We, the newcomers, were called "Aibou (partner)" and did subordinate work such as setting the threads on the dyeing rods, and rinsing and wringing out the threads afterwards, for about 2 years. It was very hard work, especially in the summer, handling heavy wet threads in the heat from the steam.

-Did you learn the work by watching?

Rather than learning by watching, first I acquired the basic movements of dyeing. We were taught a lot about how to handle the thread, not just dyeing, such as how to move the thread or rotate it in the dyebath when dyeing, how to wash it, how to hang or wring it out. Learning the process of color matching would be much later.

-That is a necessary process, isn't it, since the weaving process comes after dyeing, it would affect that step if the threads are in disorder. How did you move on to dyeing?

Because of the aging staff and the increase in the workload, I was able to gradually work on color matching. Dyeing is to first do color matching. Color matching is difficult, even for professionals, and you are taught a certain amount, but to improve your skills, your ability and instinct is important.

-Is there anything you kept in mind, to work on your instinct?

The most important thing is to dye a lot. You won't get better at color matching by being taught. You quickly forget things you are taught. We add the dyestuff by instinct, but there is an infinite amount of colours in the world, so it would take 3-4 years or more to be able to dye them. The ultimate of dyeing with your instinct, is when you look at the thread when dyeing, and the thread calls to you how much of what dyestuff it needs. When looking at a color, which dyestuff you need at what ratio will run in your mind, without actually having to dye it. Back then, I would think about that in my daily life, like on walks, when I encountered a rare color.

Kawashima Textile Manufacturers Ltd. Dyeing Factory in 1958.
19-year-old Hori Sensei is in the front row, second from the right.

◆ Bringing out the full potential of the dyestuff

-What kind of work did you do after you started working in the dyeing process?

Theater curtains, float curtains*, obi and restoration work of cultural assets. Dyeing might be fun as a hobby, but that's not the case when it's a job. There is a deadline, and the responsibility for the quality when it becomes a product, and sometimes complaints about discoloration. Of course, it could be the ability of the dyestuff used, but also that the dyeing method was not good, either. I've always tried to dye in a way that brings out the full potential of the dyestuff.

*Curtains decorating the floats in festivals, such as the Gion Festival.

-Looking back on the 42 years at Kawashima Textile, was there something that you worked on that you really enjoyed?

Besides the daily work, I sometimes felt glad to have been dyeing when working on special orders. Although they were just short moments in my long dyeing career.

Back then, I was involved in many projects for the Imperial Household Agency, such as the interior (curtains, upholstery, etc.) and the jacquard velvet wall covering during the construction of the Akasaka Guest House. A memorable project among them all was the Seiden-Matsu-no-Ma (State Room) of the Imperial Palace, where the enthronement ceremony (October 22, 2019) was held. Behind the Emperor's throne, there is a large screen with a pattern of pine called Daiomatsu woven with golden thread on a purple ground. I dyed the thread for that, starting from the proposal of colors. There are a variety of purples, but that color is so noble, it is called Imperial Purple. I had many meetings with the person in charge of the design, and test dyed several times. I was very happy when I was finally told, "this color is good." I remember that work when I see the state room on TV. When the screen is shown on official events broadcast on TV, I would like for everyone to look at the shade of Imperial Purple.

There was also some work with the Fujinoki Tomb near Hōryū-ji in Nara. A stone coffin was found as a result of the excavation. I participated in a project to restore the fabric worn by the person buried in it. Since I was busy with my daily work, I wasn't that interested in the history of dyeing and ancient dyeing until then, but I took that opportunity to read references and study.

Continued to part 2 (Sep. 23, 2020)