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Artist Naomi Yamamoto teaches ancient art of indigo dyeing at CREATE! Arts Festival

Naomi Yamamoto
Artist Naomi Yamamoto has been offering workshops on indigo dyeing for about six years.

Dyeing fabrics with indigo has a long history around the world. In Ancient Egypt, the pharaoh’s boat was supposedly instantly recognizable along the Nile River. That was because of its deep purple sail, coloured with dyes from indigo plants. Indigo has also been discovered in fabric in Peru dating back 6,000 years.

Moreover, the Dutch tried planting indigo in Taiwan as a colonizer during the 17th century with the hope of bringing it back to the Netherlands. And in recent years, this natural dye has made an amazing comeback in fabrics and even visual art in Taiwan.

Now, Vancouverites will have a chance to learn how to dye clothing in indigo at the CREATE! Arts Festival. Artist Naomi Yamamoto will offer three workshops over the two-day event on July 23 and 24.

“Everything is supplied so they just show up,” Yamamoto tells Pancouver over Zoom. “On Saturday, it’s set up in the park. On Sunday, it’s in the studio.”

Naomi Yamamoto. Photo by Jessica Sung
Photo by Jessica Sung.

She offers small samples of fabrics for people to dye. She also has a bucket and walks them through the process. Workshop attendees are also welcome to bring along their own articles of clothing to be dyed. However, Yamamoto emphasizes that it’s not possible to use natural indigo on synthetic fibres.

“Silk is probably the best,” she advises. “It just seems to absorb it. It really retains a vibrant sheen.”

The use of natural indigo dyes has a long history in Japan. According to Yamamoto, people would initially soak these dyes into textiles for utilitarian purposes.

“A lot of farmers would use it to dye their clothes because it has a natural repellant for insects,” she says. “Also, apparently, it extends the longevity of the fabric.”

Indigo 2
One of Naomi Yamamoto’s workshops will be outside, whereas the other two are in her studio.

Fabrics remain in indigo for at least 15 minutes

Indigo comes from a variety of plants. Yamamoto became interested in the dyeing process while studying for a fine arts degree several years ago from the Alberta College of Art and Design (now called Alberta University of the Arts). After graduating, she began doing leatherwork. About six years ago, she began offering workshops on dyeing fabrics with indigo.

She says that a fabric must remain in the dye for a minimum of 15 minutes. And it can stay there for a longer period of time to achieve a darker colour.

“You have to let it air out, ideally for a week, but it could be shorter,” Yamamoto adds. “Then you would rinse it and then it’s permanent.”

Indigo

She shares the same name as former North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA named Naomi Yamamoto, which occasionally creates confusion. In fact, they’ve never met.

This is the third year that the artist Naomi Yamamoto will offer workshops at the Create! Arts Festival. In the past, she’s also participated in the Powell Street Festival, which celebrates the history and culture of Japanese Canadians.

Yamamoto named her company Flight Path Designs.

“I came up with the logo first,” she says. “It’s a bird that’s flying away from this chain. I was thinking of that imagery.”

Photo by Jessica Sung.
Photo by Jessica Sung.

The third annual Create! Arts Festival takes place in Strathcona Park (857 Malkin Avenue) and in various studios in East Vancouver on July 23 aand 24. See the schedule online. Follow Flight Path Designs on Instagram @flightpath. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.