The Denim Underground

I have just come back from dyeing indigo in the mountains of Fujino for my 5th or sixth consecutive year. It always feels great going out there and immersing myself in nature for a few days. Osaka for all of its culture is starved of nature and the outdoors. It also gives me some time to think about things and of course have incredible discussion with Bryan-san. If you didn’t know this is the year of the monkey which happens to be my year in the Chinese zodiac. The conversations this year weren’t so much on what has happened but where we are heading.

For the past few months I have been contemplating all sorts of random ideas and the thought of denim and fashion is never out of mind. The Weather Underground was a political group that took extreme actions but had fairly simple ideals. These kinds of extreme actions and simple ideas are quite apart of society at this very minute. So, that is where I developed this idea called “The Denim Underground”. Maybe it is a sort of anti-fashion anti-heritage idea, but maybe it really isn’t anti anything. I kind of like fashion in the regard it operates as the artistic expression of clothing, and what can be achieved psychologically by meditation-styling. Pairing your mood with your clothes for me at least, helps for functioning on a daily basis. Eventually someday I will iron this out and create some sort of manifesto or something…

Anyways… Damage and wear, and paint and patches. This is my jam. I love… no, I adore workwear. The function is obvious and specific. Workwear is also like this fantastic base for simple clothing. Pockets in meaningful and useful places, reinforcement points, durable fabrics. It is like the everyday persons uniform. Narita-san reworked these Kapital multi pocket pants for me. White pants with white patches and paint, for me this is bliss. It is so simple but at the same time looks fantastic. They’re not exactly dirty but they’re not exactly clean either. White is such an odd color to deal with… it’s this modern/heritage “summer” color that really looks better totally fucked up and dirty.

So this kind of balance between fashion (damage, distressing, whatever-you-want-to-call-it) and simple everyday workwear is the aim of The Denim Underground. Wash and wear. Patch and darn -and re-dye…

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Re-dyeing is the ultimate fun part. Once you wear the hell out of your clothes, repair them, the opportunity of re-dyeing presents itself. You can dye with this curious red stuff called madder, this comes from the roots of an insignificant evergreen. Green, the green leaves of the indigo plant Persicaria tinctoriaAs the leaves of the indigo plant dry the release the most heavenly of fragrances and the gradually change from green to a very unusual dark blue. Recently I have started experimenting with over-dyeing some antique french linen night gowns and random garments. They come out looking fantastic after a few dips in indigo. The color is consistent and the texture is really lovely. Madder and indigo; the two most important dyes in terms of everyday clothing from ancient times to  now. Think of red and blue bandannas. In many ethnic and folk communities all-over the world you can find these two dyes and colors blended together in any number of techniques.

From my own research into the history of bandannas, the importance of madder dye is noted again and again. From India to Scotland, the color was the base for most of the textiles. Especially hard wearing ones such as rugs and wraps. It wasn’t until the invention of fastcolor (synthetic dyes) did people stop re-dyeing their clothing.

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So here is a pic of the second year of doing Oak Street Bookmakers indigo rough-out trench boots. I learned an impressive amount last year dyeing them. These are them after they have been dyed, and rinsed. They are still wet and look much darker than usual. This project has been incredibly interesting working on. The variations in the hides, brings out the individual uniqueness in each pair. Sometimes the pairs don’t even come out matched completely, which I think makes these boots very personal and very interesting. Definitely something I would include to be apart of the philosophy of The Denim Underground.

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But before I nod off, I want to explain this amazing piece of clothing. It comes from Albania, it is from the 1800’s its made from yaks wool and there are apparently only two of these in existence currently. This is one of them. The other is in a museum somewhere. It is a piece of folk clothing made in one small village somewhere in Albania. It really blows my mind that there is still stuff like this out there. Sitting in some cedar chest… You can see it is hand-spun and hand-woven which equates to an extraordinary amount of time. Not only in actually making it, but learning the skills to make it. It is simply pure function, every part has been designed around functionality and durability. Also the silhouette and structure is similar to Japanese fishermans work jackets with the shorter sleeves, mid-length and massive weight. Very interesting…

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Kapital | Century Denim No. 123-S

Kapital Century Denim 123s

“We don’t have a theology. We don’t have an ideology. We dance.”  -Power of Myth

Well, the wait is over… the cat is out of the bag. The new Century Denim is here and boy oh boy it is something. Starting with the fabric, I am sure most of you are aware that this is 100% original fabric for Kapital. The process includes 4 different, non-related factories. One thread spinning factory, one indigo rope dyeing factory, one weaving factory (on one loom… yes one loom), and finally a finishing factory.

Each of the threads are spun differently to create a specific texture and tension for this very special denim. This is an industry first for triple indigo denim. For the diehard indigo fanatics, this is your denim…

Kapital Century Denim 123s (Post Soak)
Monkey Cisco Post Soak (Size 34)

The threads are rope-dyed using 3 different indigo dyes. Kapital’s No. 1 (American Indigo), No. 2 (Japanese Indigo), and No. 3 (Hon-ai or natural indigo), are woven together to create this new Century Denim, hence the 123s. The first thing that may come to mind is the kendo-gi. But this is so much different, so much more elegant. The denim twill weave, mixed with sashiko thread is indigo heaven. The dye method and weaving technique are different and much more complicated.

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For protective purposes, neither the dyeing factory or weaving factory would allow photographs. I will try to describe though words, the process.

The threads are rope-dyed in their three respective indigos. Rope dyeing allows the center of each thread to have a white core or in Japanese nakashiro. Over time and with regular wearing and washing the indigo little by little falls off and the white core is slowly revealed. In comparison to cheese, or hank-dyed items, rope-dyeing reveals much more thread texture and color gradation desirable for denim.

The fabric is woven on a specialized weaving machine, all of the Century Denim fabric is woven on this one single machine. The weave is more dense than previous versions of Century Denim, and the shrinkage is more consistent. The texture is also slightly rougher after washing, and the hand of the fabric is more comfortable. If the topic of weaving peaks some interest, and if you happen to be in Japan, have a visit to the Toyota Industrial Museum.

The crocking on these is unreal. Most contact in the raw state will leave blue stains on almost everything. Your legs will be temporarily dyed blue as will your socks, underwear, shoes, shirt, and jacket. That said, it creates its own very unique aesthetic. Two soaks will alleviate most of the crocking issues. I would recommend avoid tossing these in the washing machine for a while, to avoid marbling and uneven indigo loss.

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There is no wear sample available, so how they will fade and evolve over time is the fun part. The Century Denim 123s will be available for a limited time from February 2016 (Update: Monkey Cisco Century Denim 123S will be available in limited quantities in May) in the Monkey Cisco fit. Which is a new iteration of the Cisco fit. Being the year of the monkey this year… The changes are somewhat significant, the rise is deeper, and the seat is roomier. That means the thighs are more comfortable and there is a slight taper from the knee. The leg opening and taper are still just wide enough to wear Pecos boots (my personal favorite). The full line will be released in August with the 2016 AW collection. For the time being keep an eye on the instagram hashtag #centurydenim123s and this blog for further updates.

Haramaki, Double Indigo Denim, and Slovenly Style

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The chilly weather has arrived… The outerwear has come out, and it is time to start layering again. This year I have primarily focused on dark indigo and deep reds. Combining the two to make a nice foundation for the next several months of personal styling. Kapital last year (and this year), made a very simple double indigo denim fabric (meaning warp and weft are indigo dyed). It all started with Ringo Man Pants, and this riders jacket (rigid). Starting off dark, the indigo quickly starts to get that shininess to it that is so irresistible. After a few washes the denim texture comes out.

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Tora-san from the series “Otoko wa tsurai yo” wears one of my favorite styles. The tummy-wrap or haramaki has a slovenly image in Japan, but more recently some fashion houses have picked up on this vibe. The mamori or talisman hanging around his neck is the finishing touch. To make it a more modern Wayousechu vibe; replace the check blazer for a riders jacket, and change the lid to a knit cap or open-crown cowboy hat. The tummy wraps are available just about anywhere in Japan, but I opted to get a 100% wool one, that has a dirty-old-man vibe.

I found this piece of saki-ori fabric earlier this year and it has been my working color pallet. It almost looks like the cloud layers of Jupiter… Most of everything I buy will be color-based and fit-based from one piece of fabric, photo or theme. I usually incorporate form and items from a variety of sources. These Egyptian split toe socks are the perfect red. It is no secret I love Japanese movies… but more than ever I have been re-re-watching Ozu Yasujiro movies, the colors and shots in Floating Weeds are some of my favorites. You can also get some idea where Wes Anderson got inspiration from…

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This Kapital Juban Shirt is the ultimate layering piece. With a mid-deep collar, light distressing and details it has been in frequent rotation. It is a great east-meets-west piece and not only comfortable, but also looks great with almost anything. As the name suggests the premise is that of a layer shirt, although an actual juban layer doesn’t have buttons.

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Here is my own personal haramaki styling. One a heavy indigo, with a contrasting golden brown haramaki. Tezomeya indigo henley-neck t, and Mittan silk/cotton jacket. The second one here is the that hybrid Japanese-American style with a riders jacket and Kapital Nouvelle pants, that have a thick rib-knit waist band that kinda has that tummy wrap vibe. With a sarrouel fit they are slouchy, comfy, and just the right amount of modern…

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Oak Street Bootmakers | Indigo Rough-out Trench Boot

Indigo Vat

For about the last year or so George at Oak Street Bookmakers and I have been kicking around the idea of indigo-dyed leather. I had my concerns and decided to consult a few local indigo professionals and decided on doing them entirely in fermented indigo. This is the real deal… You can order them here.

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I did all the dyeing myself at my friend’s house in Fujino, just outside of Tokyo. We tried dyeing the sewn uppers first, and also individual pieces.

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Of course with leather, there isn’t much more you can do than dip them and rinse them and dip and rinse many times. Rinsing the leather was a key step in getting the color just right. You can read more on the process at Bryan’s blog.

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The texture on the rough-out really brings out a nice color. The color isn’t a greenish indigo but a more denim blue hue. One that looks particularly good with the natural sole. I am curious to see how they will evolve over time…

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Junk Trove

Maybe it was an early exposure to Oscar the Grouch growing up… junk has an ever-increasing appeal.

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Junk: vintage items, that have either been remade or repaired using old or worn materials.

The Depression era Thunderbird necklaces from Santo Domingo really worked up a storm of ideas about saving and reusing materials to make new things. Take for instance this Depression era bolo tie, using wire to string a pair of turquoise nuggets on a piece of leather cord. The entirely hand made appearance is really neat. Also using an old thunderbird earring strung on old trade beads looks cute! This also connected some new dots to boro, denim repair, and Japanese aesthetics.

Interestingly enough it would be nice to dwell more on the idea of nature-worshiping societies (Native Americans and Shinto for example) generally regarding leftovers as material, not trash. Definitely something more to consider there…

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Anyways back on topic. Junk. For the sake of avoiding confusion Junk is not a negative word in this context. It is just the state in which the object exists. The state of Junk. The majority of junk is overlooked by pickers and vintage collectors, there is an abundance of it out there and it is really up to the individual to find their preferred junk.

Take for instance denim repair.

DSCF3879A combination here of machine stitched repairs and hand stitching creates a sort of folk/junk art that has a personality. It isn’t clean or precise, but there is a beauty to it.

DSCF3883I assume from looking and observing denim repair photos on the net and instagram that there is a preference for “clean” repairs. The word clean here suggests that the stitching is not seen and the repair is almost invisible. This is the opposite of Junk. Junk has to have character, it really has to be unique.

Friend and constant source of inspiration John Dennis, of Sam Roberts LA understands the Junk aesthetic well. He constantly incorporates miscellaneous items into his products. Old coins, trade beads, and 19th century calico fabric just to name a few. They’re beautiful, and especially easy to arrange into an individual style.

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Kanekichi Knitting Factory

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Just an hour or so out of Osaka there is the city (prefecture of the same name) of Wakayama. Just outside the city I had the esteemed pleasure of visiting the Kanekichi knitting factory. Founded in 1920 they are one of the few remaining “tsuri-ami-ki” or loop-wheel knitting machine factories still around. They use old European and Japanese made loop-wheel, double knit and circle knitting machines. My eye was on the loop-wheel knitting machines, as these are the knitting machines that Tezomeya products are made on.

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The first thing upon entering the factory floor was the amount of cotton dust floating around. It is very fine and accumulates like snow on anything sitting still. The noise is completely different from a denim factory or weaving factory, the sound is almost like a gathering of innumerable crickets.

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The products are incredible, and the sheer amount of variety of fabrics that can be made on these knitting machines is astounding. The most popular being reverse knit (sweatshirts), and loop-wheel t-shirt knits.

There are several aspects to these machines that allow them to turn out superb fabric. The first are the “bearded” needles, and they allow the yarn to be knit under virtually no tension by not pulling on the thread. There are more than 1000 needles on each of these machines. Each and every needle is placed by hand, exactly spaced by the craftsman’s eyes. A completely analog process…

The second aspect is that only one or two threads are being knit at a time. This process is slow, but the end result is a much fluffier material. The third is that the fabric falls onto a carriage that rotates with the machine. The fabric falls naturally and is not pulled, rolled,  or put under tension.

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The machines spin around under the top knitting mechanism, and is quite mesmerizing to watch. Since these are not modern machines they require a more craftsman approach to operating, and need more arduous attention. There were several factory staff constantly checking each running machine. After walking around and seeing the other machines I came to realize what makes the fabric that comes off of these superior to circle “sinker” type knitting machines. That, there is nothing lost in the process. If you put pure organic cotton thread on these machines the quality of that cotton comes out in the knit fabric. The only way to achieve this level of quality is through loop-wheel knitting machines.

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BTWXTBA | Hikeshibanten Beach Vest

We have been hard at work thinking up new ideas. We have changed direction slightly, and Narita-san had a great idea of making beach vests out of various fabrics.

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This first one we have come up with is made from a hikeshibanten or “firefighter jacket”. These are worn by volunteer firefighters as a durable work over-jacket. They are usually reinforced with sashiko to give them durability. They are usually marked with some town naming or some sort of slogan. The one we used for the vest has a huge kanji on the back. With the kamon “family crest” this fabric has some interesting details.

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The construction is a pattern cut from a jacket that Narita-san turned into a prototype beach vest. The trim is made from strips of dead stock indigo cotton fabric sewn together. The trim along with the base fabric will age and fade as it is washed and worn. This beach vest has 4 pockets like the original, however the pockets are big enough for a phone or any daily carry items. The sashiko fabric is lightweight and tough.

Expect to see more versions of these. This one is available on my Etsy store.

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Inspiration 2014 Preview | Part 2: Tezomeya

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So I thought I would shed a little light on what we are cooking up at Tezomeya for Inspiration this year.

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We will be featuring the wide assortment of natural dyes. So look forward to the basque shirts.Inspiration 2014 Tezomeya 1

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We will also be featuring a new product that I asked Masaaki to make: a v-neck pocket-t. This will be available in the full range of colors and sizes and only at our booth.Inspiration 2014 Tezomeya 6

Most of the other products I had featured this summer will also be available, such as the Japanese paper woven scarf, long sleeve and short sleeve t’s, and other goodies. So please take advantage of this chance to look at most of the available products first-hand. We are also planning on running an indigo vat both days and maybe even some kakishibu. See you there!
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Tezomeya | Beauty in Process

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I caught up with Masaaki recently about a few things before the end of the year. Some readers may or may not be aware that in Japan people tend to tie off loose ends before the end of the year. Especially since we are planning something big for early next year…Tezomeya December 2013 3

Please enjoy some of the simple beauty of the Tezomeya process, and some newly featured products.
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Fall 2013 – Yagu, Rain, Sukiyaki

Summer is finally going into hibernation, and a cooler autumn air has lifted my spirits. It also means it is time to play with more layers.

I have recently developed a deep affection for Tibetan bead necklaces. The green-tophus one was made by a very awesome lady in Tibet. More on her another time…

This Tezomeya broad-shirt has curious elastic stitching around the collar, cuffs and arm seams. The stretch and crinkling of the fabric is extraordinary, only time will tell how the color will evolve. The elasticity means greater freedom of movement, and the shirt holds an interesting shape. I wanted to bring this with me this summer but it felt out of season.

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Kapital did this fantastic rain-camo western shirt. The slim western shirt fit combined with the camo is something I really enjoy wearing. It also means mixing it with other military garments will be a snap. I like how it mixes with the natural brown of kakishibu. Fall 2013  1

These wooden skull beads compliment the greens and brown of the camo so well. I really like the opal snaps. There is some obscure subtlety to this shirt. Kapital Fall 2013  2

The Kapital suki-yaki western shirt is one of my favorite things ever made. I love interesting new designs, especially ones that combine two very different ideas. One idea here is the samue and the other is the American western shirt. There are several ways to wear this shirt, I prefer the cross-over with a deep neck line. In a more Japanese style, it meshes well with Century Denim. Fall 2013  5

I love style that mixes well and doesn’t really have an era attached to it. This shirt is a perfect example of great design with the right fabric. The pattern must have been a nightmare to figure out but all the details, shapes, and placement of snaps is genius. You wouldn’t feel out of place wearing this in Kyoto or San Francisco. But maybe I have been living in Japan too long and listening to Neil Young too much…
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Yagu is bascially bedclothes in Japanese. As to not waste even a single thread, families in the colder parts of Japan stuffed their sleeping kimonos with thread as insulation. Here the guys at Kountry replicated a similar effect. The various colored threads paired with the white sashiko and zig-zap stitching is original and the texture is so deep.
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Brown Tabby Works X The Bandanna Almanac

I have been gathering worn out, and faded items over the past few years. Narita-san and I have teamed up to bring these items back to life with a more shibui feel to them. Through detailed repairs we bring out the faded beauty of each item, their individual stories become apparent by keeping the stains and scars. We also add some more function to them by stitching pockets and altering the length of some items. All items and future items are/will be available on my new Etsy site. Kishoten…, means: introduction, development, turn… and the conclusion is up to each customer. From the Japanese 起承転結.

The first item we have completed is this noragi. I wanted to keep the original repairs and fabric on this piece, so we shortened the length and added pockets to the font side. The addition of a blanket pin acts as a closure, to keep the rustic theme.

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The second item is this Red Cross Army vest. The worsted wool in Army green has a mother-made feel to it. Probably because these were hand-knit by housewives and volunteers during the two world wars. This one had several holes in it. So we used some old sock yarn and hand-darned each hold. This adds a little colorful contrast to the otherwise mute khaki green.

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The third is my personal favorite. I found a Harley Davidson dude’s Lee Storm Rider. There was a lot of wear and damage to the entire piece that made it very unique. We cut out the back panel and put in a repurposed Chimayo fabric from a Kapital vest. The holes we are all patched with indigo thread. The collar features a nice contrast green corduroy patch, and the blanket lining inside was patched with fabric from a Warner Brothers Costume Department tunic.

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“Shibui in Chicago” | Independence Chicago X The Bandanna Almanac

Independence Chicago and this blog have teamed up to bring Chicago a very exclusive look at some special items not available outside of Japan. Readers will be already familiar with the stories and names, but most have never had a hands-on look. I want to extend my thanks to Independence for offering to host this event.

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Independence Chicago
47 E Oak St, Chicago, IL ‎(312) 675-2105
Saturday, July 20th. 3pm-7pm. Google Maps

Items from Tezomeya, in Kyoto.

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A few hand-made items from Narita-san of Brown Tabby
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And more…

Metamorphosis

met·a·mor·pho·sis
n. 
A marked change in appearance, character, condition, or function.

Function modification, character transition, development; a tangible story written in thread. The clothes you wear often carry the marks of your life. Stains and tears are brief moments. Slow worn fades and patchwork are lengthy periods of time unique to the individual. If you care for your things they change with you. To keep your wardrobe changing without creating waste, repair, modify, recycle, and repurpose. A well-designed  high-quality garment can last a lifetime.

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This was an old Kapital Tobi denim shirt. Narita-san at Brown Tabby did some reconstruction and repair to it for me. The saki-ori elbow pads are made from strips of vintage bandanas. We are of the mind that if you are just staring at it you are wasting it. This shirt was a great design to begin with, from the kohaze clasps at the cuffs, to the reinforced stitching on the shoulders. The repairs to the wear brought out more of the character of this shirt. The gradual change from new to old is a beautiful thing: modification and metamorphosis.

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The Kapital Century Denim 7S started out sumi -grey last September. After two coatings of kakishibu the grey disappeared but after many much wear and tear the grey has started to peek out from under its brown coat. Natural dyes tend to fade rather quickly, which is why they appeal to me so much. Nothing permanent, as to keep that attentive eye sharp.

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This Tezomeya t-shirt was a kakishibu color . But after a dip in wood vinegar it came out this smoke brown-black. The black will show its brown heart little by little. The color of 憲法色 (kenbouiro) is extraordinary and time consuming. The smokey smell of wood vinegar remains even after several washes.

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This in an ancient piece of Japanese linen used for mosquito netting. It was smoked, and then dyed in indigo with this subtle “Edo Wave” pattern. The two colors merge so beautifully the camera does not do justice. The texture of the linen has that charming characteristic of rural Japan.

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