Featured for April: Rob Jones - The Universe Decided
When Rob Jones went on a Shibori and indigo dyeing course in 2011 and first saw the fabric coming out of the vat, changing colour from yellow to green to blue, he was hooked. ‘I never tire of it, it’s magic!’ Although he had done jewellery-making and other classes at West Dean College, Rob admits that he’d never seen Shibori, the ancient Japanese art of resist dyeing before then. As soon as he tried it something clicked, ‘It was literally a lightbulb moment and I thought “I love it, I love it so much!”’
At the time Rob was still working as an eCommerce manager in the retail sector. Although he felt drawn to a more creative life, he never imagined giving up his well-paid online career to be a Shibori textiles designer. In his spare time over the next few years Rob spent many hours practicing at home, as well as learning new techniques on short courses, and finding out what he could about Shibori through reading books and blogs.
His curiosity led him to Bryan Whitehead, a Canadian-born Japanese textiles expert who has been living and working in Japan for nearly 30 years. In 2014 Rob went to study with Bryan at his farmhouse and workshop just outside Tokyo. The visit was a complete immersion into Japanese textiles. Through Bryan he was able to meet other master craftspeople and families who specialise in katazome and katagami (stencil dyeing). ‘It is awe-inspiring to watch a real master working.’ This life-changing experience set him on the path to becoming a full-time maker. In 2015 Rob felt the timing was right to set up his own Shibori and natural dyeing business, Romor Designs. ‘I quite like seeing where the world takes me, I’m open to new things. The universe decided.’
Shibori comes from the verb ‘shiboru’ meaning ‘to wring or squeeze’. It is in fact comprised of hundreds of dyeing techniques including stitching, binding, clamping and pole dyeing - each with endless processes requiring years of study and with a rich history spanning centuries. Shibori is a slow craft that requires hours of stitching and pulling up of threads as well as the indigo dyeing itself, before the fabric is ready to be unpicked and the beautiful pattern is revealed.
Rob loves colour and patterns and is endlessly fascinated by the way natural dyes move through fabric. ‘Although I determine the form of the patterns I create, I still get excited to see how the dye has moved every time I open a new piece’.
Romor Designs specialises in creating handmade lampshades, cushions, bags and scarves of exquisite quality. The rich colours and patterns of Rob’s fabrics take on a new life when the lampshades are lit, allowing their intricacy and detail to be fully seen and appreciated. The different marbling, blocking and striped effects that emerge depend on so many different factors: how the fabric has been scrunched up or wrapped around a pole, which dye is used and how long the fabric is left in the dye. Rob says he has to be prepared to accept that each time it will be different but he loves that this means each piece is unique. This is one of the reasons that Romor Designs is founded on the Japanese principle of ‘wabi sabi’ the acceptance of beauty in randomness.
Rob is passionate about building on the centuries of tradition and skill behind Shibori.Having practiced Shibori full-time for 2 and a half years he is still learning his craft and is keen to learn new techniques. He believes in taking the work in new directions by adding his own twist to traditional methods by breaking existing patterns and making them his own. Rob also enjoys introducing people to the art of shibori and katagami stenciling at a number of workshops around London including his own studio space in Hackney. He feels there is a lot to be gained for both him and his students because ‘teaching helps you refine what you do’.
Although becoming a Shibori textiles designer and indigo dyer is a career change for Rob, he takes inspiration from Itchiku Kubota. Kubota was a master craftsman who specialised in tsujigahana, the art of kimono decoration. Kubota started when he was 60 and continued until his death aged 86. ‘It took him 26 years to become a master and it gives me hope that I can do the same!’
Find out more about Romor Designs and Rob Jones here.
All images by Craft Editions and courtesy of Romor Designs.