Going to wash clothes into the river I think it's one of the experiences that were never in my plans. Ironically it seems to be the best technique to make the white in the indigo-dyed textiles brighter and sharper.
Not only we had to wash the fabrics in the freshwater of the river, but we also had to hit them vigorously against the rocks. That way, the pigments that are not properly attached to the fibers come off.
We did it in the middle of November in the mountains, on the outskirts of Tokyo.
On a cold winter morning, a group of indigo shibori students went with Bryan Whitehead to the river. With our fabrics dyed and previously washed, we headed full of expectations towards the river.
The river runs deep encased between mountains. When we got there, we took off our shoes and went down using a precarious iron stair embedded in a concrete wall to the river bed. In that part of the river, there were some small walls that I supposed to function as speed-reducers of the current. There, we washed our fabrics and hit them vigorously against the concrete.
Although our fabrics had already been washed, when hitting them, large amounts of indigo began to come off. In a few minutes, the water of the river ran in an indigo blue color, which is not toxic or polluting.
With this method, we achieved our purpose to make the white whiter in our textiles.
After a while, my feet were cold, transparent, and insensitive, my back was sore, and my body was exhausted. Still, undoubtedly happy with such experience. My clothes were wet and dotted with indigo, my hair and face with blue freckles.
When we finished our task, we climbed the stairs with buckets full of wet cloths.
While we were on our way home, gunfire began to rumble throughout the mountains. Yes! Shots over our heads. It turns out that one of the neighbors was shooting to scare the monkeys that approach the plantations. Well, I wanted to think it was that, because all the time I was there I never saw any monkey. When Bryan finally managed to stop the neighbor shooting, we headed home with our freshly washed fabrics.
We managed to go to the river to wash our indigo shibori textiles two or three times more.
Eventually, we had to run to rescue our fabrics down the river, luckily some of us were always downstream willing to save them.
This is one of the many beautiful memories of my stay in Japan learning ancient techniques of Indigo Shibori.