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Amy Nguyen, textile artist, shibori artist

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Shibori is a Japanese word used for a variety of different ways of working with and designing textiles to manipulate their shape, color and decorative design elements. Textile artist Amy Nguyen uses Itajame and Arashi shibori in her designs.

When working in the Itajame style the cloth is placed between two flat objects such as acrylic, Plexiglas, or wood which are clamped and tied together with string—the fabric poking out of the clamped area receives color (the fabric between the clamped wood resists the color).

Arashi is a form of polewrapping shibori where the cloth is tightly bound on a pole on the diagonal, then thread is used to bind the cloth. The next step is to tightly scrunch the cloth on the pole to give it a pleated diagonal design—the fabric underneath the string resists the dye.

Several years ago textile artist Amy Nguyen became fascinated with shibori art and describes it this way “I think

of shibori as being like origami with its many different types of folding or of making an eight-sided snowflake out of paper. Fan folding, triangle folding, clamping one area, manipulating and distorting.”

Growing up in Goshen, New York Amy was surrounded by bolts of fabrics, skeins of yarn, sewing machines, ribbons and hundreds of spools of thread. Her mother sewed and knitted all of Amy’s and her brother and sister’s clothing and is today an accomplished quilter who, from time to time, offers artistic advice to her daughter.

As a child she loved pouring over her mother’s pattern books. She made her first quilt while in her early teens and since then has designed her own clothes. Amy graduated from the College of Charleston in South Carolina where she earned her degree in painting and costume development.

While in school she developed an interest in photography and graphic design. Little did she know that these tools would come into play later in her life with her interest in shibori. It was after collaborating on a project with batik artist Mary Ellen Fraser that Nguyen decided to create her paintings on fabric. In the mid- 1990’s she decided to study shibori with Yoshiko Wada and Joy Boutrup at the Penland School of Crafts.

Today, working out of her tiny apartment/work space in Boston, she uses bolts of white silk organza, chiffon and pure silk to create her kimonos, jackets, scarves, and flowing vests. Her husband is of Vietnamese ancestry and it is from him that she gets a love for oriental designs. Her tiny pantry serves as her dyeing room, her dye box being pieces of cardboard that she has taped together, which she lines with wet newspaper when using. For clamping and manipulating the fabric she’ll use vise grips, pieces of wood, clothes pins, and anything else she deems suitable, even salad tongs.

When she is doing something in Arashi she uses string, yarns, ribbons or threads. Whether working in Itajame or Arashi Amy hand stitches the biases on all of her designs. To get a leaf pattern she sews in microscopic

size stitches to create the leaf vein in the material. Amy believes that the greatest asset in shibori is the texture that stitching gives each piece of work.

Amy is drawn to the shibori technique because of the way the artist has to work the fabric with a strong personal intensity. Standing all of 5 feet 2 inches and weighing one hundred pounds she is a formidable force when it comes to working the cloths in the shibori process. She looks at it this way “I don’t have to go to a gym to work out. I get my exercise with all the pulling, wrenching and twisting I do for my art. Sometimes I have to enlist the help of my husband Ky, but mostly I’m working alone”.

She manipulates the fabric before and after placing it in the dye bath and even over-dyeing it. If she wants the silk to be softer, as in a kimono, using a chemical process she removes the sericin from the material (the glue like substance that the silk worm leaves behind). If she is working with an idea of leaving certain aspects of the design stiffer for stitching, she

clamps these off before removing the sericin.

She says that the shibori technique of dyeing is like a potter putting on glaze—you don’t know what you’re going to get with the finished product. For her the most beautiful thing about the dye work is the flow it gives in uniting the materials. Like other shibori artists she takes many steps in creating her designs (in some more than thirty); planning, pattern, cutting, clamping, the dye process(es), opening, folding again and again, measuring, more clamping, more tying, and, finally, pressing.

One simple, elegant kimono takes two weeks, scarves about five hours, and the more intricate and elaborate designs, jackets and coats can take several weeks.

In a former life Amy was an administrator in academic affairs at the New England Institute of Art in Boston. She was doing that full time during the day and her shibori designing at night. In 2009 she took a massive leap of faith, giving up her day job to create shibori art full time. That leap paid off in that she is doing what she loves and doing it beautifully. She is living her American dream.

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