Selvedge Issue 81 Japan Blue

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Publisher Names by Selvedge
Selvedge Issue 81 Japan Blue

Issue 81: Japan Blue

'Typhoon Lan obliterated the Naruto whirlpools during my visit to Tokushima last October. While so much of Japan suffered devastating loss as a result of the storm, in fact, it is due to the frequent typhoons and subsequent flooding of the Shinmachi River that prevent rice paddies from being sustainable in the region, allowing indigo, harvested before the typhoon season, to take hold. This lead to Tokushima becoming the centre of the indigo trade in the 19th century and home to wealthy indigo merchants. Today it is the undisputed indigo capital of the world.

‘Japan Blue’ was coined by an English scholar who, visiting Japan in the 18th century, was struck by blue’s overwhelming presence. The Japanese archipelago is surrounded by it; it is observed in every doorway and in everyone’s clothes. This blue, it seemed, belonged to the country, and still does. Japan has a complex and obscure culture, and it was due to the diligence of my gracious hosts Mr. Koji Ida and Mr. Shohei Sagawa of the Japanese Export Trade Organsation and Tokushima City Council that I was able to even scratch the surface.

My itinerary introduced me to the cult of the craftsman at the Awa Yuzen atelier. With great patience I was shown stencils in constant use for 200 years, and tried my hand at paste resist as a young assistant darted between the vats, only to reveal he had in fact fallen in twice during his apprenticeship. We then moved to Nagao Orifu, where the sounds and smells were familiar and I was struck by its similarity to the woollen mills of Yorkshire. Then to Okamoto Orifu Factory, where master craftsmen are working to satisfy the world’s hunger for Japanese selvedge denim, weaving on old Toyota looms, rope-dying his cotton and contrasting their indigo with persimmon. Finally, to conclude my visit, to Mr Sato; who together with the half dozen or so Water Masters maintains the sukumo tradition that makes Japanese indigo darker and more intense than anywhere in the world. In this issue, we celebrate Japan Blue and the country’s rich textile culture.’

Polly Leonard, Founder, Selvedge Magazine

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Our Story

Selvedge is a magazine that acknowledges the significance of textiles as a part of everyone’s story.  We are surrounded by cloth from the cradle to the grave and by exploring our universal emotional connection to fibre we share the stories and values that mean the most to us. From why we love the sound of a needle pulling thread through taut linen, to why we are fascinated by the clothes we wear and the fibres we unknowingly rely on. There are many sides to every story and Selvedge is dedicated to finding and nurturing textiles from every angle. We believe that textiles unite all humanity and in surveying the development of society it is clear that from a spider’s web to the world-wide web, textiles appear as the protagonist.

It is with this thought that we hope to widen our net as well as our own horizons with everything we do. Join us and make our stories part of your story.


The Magazine

At the heart of the Selvedge story is a cerebral and sensual addiction to cloth and with that an appreciation of the beautifully made and carefully considered.  Having been drawn to textiles since childhood, Polly Leonard studied embroidery and weaving and taught textiles for ten years.  Frustrated at the lack of infrastructure to support talented artisans and the wider community of enthusiasts, Polly took a leap of faith in April 2004 and created the magazine she wanted to read – Selvedge. Today Selvedge is still exploring and understanding the history, future, politics and aesthetics of textiles with its own distinct voice.

Since its launch Selvedge has become much more than a magazine. As well as a valuable source of inspiration  for designers and devotees alike, the Selvedge brand has flourished not only into a spring board for makers and artisans but a strong community of textile lovers, with workshops and fairs.

As a publication we broaden our own horizons and fall more in love with textiles with every issue. Because we believe that the most interesting and evocative textile stories deserve to be shown in the best possible light, we work to ensure that every page is as carefully considered and beautiful as the textile stories within it.