When I was a child in Japan, I asked my dad where the blue came from. The color was obviously already making an impression. Much later, in my own dye explorations I realized that he had no idea, but had a ready answer. At this point, he’d taken me on long car rides deep in the countryside where we encountered farmers coming home from their work in the rice paddies or farms. They wore traditional clothing in deep blues with subtle white patterning. It was standard, daily dress for one engaged in any kind of manual labor. To clarify – my parents were missionaries to Japan for many years and I spent my childhood there.
The color was in other places too. In my neighborhood, where Oshima Tsumugi weavers worked, a friend’s mother’s fingers were stained a deep black blue from the threads she wove daily. The dye vats were hidden in a room behind the line of apartments where they lived. It was forbidden territory, so I was careful not to go near there.
That was then. Little did I realize that I would “carry” these experiences with me when I started working creatively in America as an adult. The deep blue was part of my visual language, but it was many years later when I finally encountered indigo in a workshop given by Rowland and Chinami Ricketts at NC State University. That experience started a deep exploration.
I work in Shibori – a “collection” of cloth resist techniques practiced around the globe, but my perspective is obviously through the Japanese lens. Memory, referencing that long ago experience, nature, language, the commonalities between my two homes are ideas that find themselves in my cloth. Indigo, of course, is the strongest element in this creative pursuit.
Indigo has been a journey. It has brought exposure to other cultures, their perceptions and histories from around the globe as well as from home. It has involved research and continued practice. It has also brought engagement with my community through teaching, custom dye work and exhibiting. As it involves living bacteria, it seems to have a persona. It can be stubborn, mysterious, baffling or generous and agreeing - a constant challenge.
I’m sometimes asked if I work in other colors - yes, I can and do on occasion, but it’s indigo that calls. It has an immediacy and richness like no other dye. It’s more than that. I can wear it and essentially carry it with me wherever or whenever I want. Essentially, it’s home.
To view more of Susan’s work please visit her Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/sfennell.