Combining a passion to dye with the Shibori technique
to create beautiful and unique textiles
Being fascinated with dyeing using the Shibori technique while having fun creating new patterns on fabric, Ann-Kanchalee Ngamdamronk and Serg-Sergey Tishkin, her Russian partner, set up Slowstitch Studio, a textile design and production studio that uses natural dyes.
“I moved to Chiang Mai from Bangkok to work as a textile designer. I had the opportunity to experience many types of crafting and craft-related work, but I wasn’t doing it myself. It reminded me of crafting when I was in school and had to both design and make things myself. So, I decided to take a short course in Japan about dyeing techniques called ‘Shibori’, which is known as the science of tie-dyeing. When I came back to Thailand, I brought back the skills I had learned to practice on them. I started to work on fabrics that interested me while writing an educational blog about my work. When people interested in my work started contacting me, I began to see the possibilities that led to the creation of this brand. The name “Slowstitch Studio” comes from the lengthy process of sewing and tightly binding fabric to create patterns after dyeing.”
Simple but detailed
“Shibori is fairly simple, in my opinion, since it involves working using only fabrics, needles, threads and dyes. However, our results are diverse and different from those normally associated with this technique, giving us a unique identity that sets us apart from others. Every pattern is made using the sewing process. We’ve spent years developing our Shibori-inspired sewing methods, using traditional Japanese technique blended with contemporary techniques to create our own style.”
Ann said that Slowstitch started using natural dyes, which meant she had to use textiles made of natural fiber such as cotton, linen and silk because they absorb colors better than synthetic fibers. The natural colors she uses mostly come leaves, wood chips, fruits and the roots of plants that can be found locally, rendering colors like indigo, yellow, pink, gray and red. Despite the limitations of natural colors that cannot create every hue desired, and the difficulty of dyeing using plants, the results are both safe for the wearer and environmentally friendly.
“The selection of fabrics for each design is determined by the suitability of the technique to be used. If we use a slightly spangled technique, we tend to use linen as it is more resistant, leaving few traces of sewing. This is unlike silk, which damages more easily,” she said.
Ann compared the tie-dyeing technique with the sewing-dyeing technique. Tie dyeing is done using twine or rubber bands to tie the fabric before dyeing, resulting in the pattern that was tied. This is the tie-dye work that we generally see. However, using Slowstitch’s sewing-dyeing technique, many more designs can be created than by tie-dyeing. The resulting patterns can be graphic, with sophisticated lines that look uniquely modern due to the technique.
“We play with patterns in our work. Using Shibori to repeatedly sew and dye, we wonder how a pattern will evolve and how we might want to combine it with other designs. Once we have thought a process through, however, work usually flows smoothly. We have adapted traditional Japanese designs, giving them a contemporary feel with our style. Each new design inspires us to develop the next one.”
The simple workflow that Ann described includes drawing or marking sewing locations on the prepared fabric, sewing along those points and then pulling each thread to create a neat but wrinkled crease before tying it tightly for dyeing. If it’s indigo dye, it will take about 7–10 rounds of dyeing to get a deep indigo shade, which is the signature look of Slowstitch’s rich, dark, yet bright colors. In the case of other natural dyes, the color will be infused through boiling. Each work takes different amounts of time depending on the intricacy of the stitched pattern. A scarf, for example may take between two days up to a week.
“Slowstitch’s signature pieces are scarves. We don’t want to cut any part of the fabric to make clothes, so most of the work is usually square-shaped, such as scarves and pillowcases. We cut the material to suit the work to be sewn and dyed. To minimize waste, scraps of cloth that have been cut off will be designed into other pieces, such as small bags, decorations, or patterns on other fabrics. We are textile lovers, so when we create patterns on fabric, we want it all to be used.”
Details shows value
Ann told us about a beautiful red scarf with a pattern that resembles a point of light. She said that red is a rare color in nature, and that they create it from the roots of the Madder tree in India; the design was of course their own. They call it the firefly pattern, which, like most of Slowstitch’s patterns, is abstract, its interpretation depending on the person looking at it. The process is not difficult, and this piece sells well since its soft, shiny silk is comfortable and suits the climate in Thailand, she said. Another piece she showed us is a linen shirt made of left-over fabrics from other pieces. The shirt is designed to be worn either to the front or back and combines pieces sewed and dyed in different ways to create a patchwork put together with patchwork embroidery using a frame. The technique of sewing thick threads to join pieces is unusual and makes the work distinct, uniquely so since each piece is different and cannot be replicated.
“Every piece of ours is 100 percent handmade at every step of the production. Even when we use the same patterns and techniques, the tensile strength of each person’s yarn or needle varies, and the creases in each piece of fabric are different. The outcome of the whole process is therefore unpredictable, which can make it a bit of a challenge to work on,” said Ann.
“Communicating with customers about prices is also important. Aside from helping customers understand how complicated it is to make our products, we also like to make sure they understand the exclusivity of our studio’s designs and how we have developed them ourselves. This is the cost of inventiveness in the creative process. But it is not only this, for we have trained our employees ourselves, and we give them appropriate welfare. We therefore use social media channels to explain that the value of our work is not just about the crafting itself, but also about the balance between production and design.”
Value that comes with change
Slowstitch started their online presence by selling and communicating with their customers through a website and social media. After 2–3 years, they decided to open a store in the craft community of Loang Him Kao, an old neighborhood in San Kamphaeng district, Chiang Mai. Ann said that telling people about their products via social media is quite difficult. She prefers customers to come and see the real thing. Having a store helps them expand their customer base and make the brand better known, she says.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Slowstitch was affected like any other brand. Customers couldn’t come to the store and online sales declined. Therefore, they turned to social media via Facebook and Instagram to increase promotion, adding workshops to bring in some traffic. Most of the workshops are short-term due to time constraints for tourists. They teach tie-dyeing and dyeing with natural colors. However, tourists who are interested in learning Shibori in the Slowstitch way will need to stay longer as each step, especially the sewing and dyeing, takes quite a long time. Slowstitch also provides online workshops that teach those interested in textile crafts through videos. These workshops have received great feedback from foreign customers. In addition, they also act as personal mentors for certain communities, such as the Lisu artisans who have the skills to complement the work of Slowstitch, who sends them dyed material to be sewn in traditional tribal ways.
“Crafting is a job that takes skill and time. It connects us with our humanity since we work with our hands and must focus with the eye and mind, and it brings individuals and community together by building careers and teams of artisans, who work together to provide the skills necessary. For example, we require the digital skills to help connect us with the outside world and make crafting more widely known. Luckily, more young designers familiar with such skills are coming up from the new generation in Chiang Mai, and it is exciting to see how contemporary design is being combined with traditional craftsmanship in the North.”
Change the frame of mind to freedom of creativity
“I would like to continue developing Slowstitch-style textures, but I don’t want to stop at just crafts and natural colors, for this is only a part of our passion. We’ve spent 6–7 years with the brand now, and I feel like there’s still more fun to be had by creating things digitally and in print, doing things differently from the way we have before. To diversify ourselves from our old patterns, we are now adapting our original weave patterns by making them more digital while retaining the aura and inspiration of our own original patterns,” Ann said.
Slowstitch’s story will continue in a new chapter that crosses over into a different craft. This is just a beginning in the future of handmade textiles that will not stop, Ann predicts.
Address : 13/18 San Klang, Kamphaeng, Chiang Mai 50130
Tel : 088 916 6492
Facebook : slowstitchstudio
Email: [email protected]