A conversation with Reiko Sudo, Nuno Corporation
Cofounder and artistic director of Nuno, Reiko Sudo has propelled traditional Japanese textiles into an unlikely realm. Although skilled in time-honored methods of fabric weaving and dyeing, Sudo also seeks to upset safe conventions in her craft, and considers virtually any process fair game for experimentation. She has employed unusual treatments such as metal sputtering, blowtorching, rust dyeing, and three-dimensional weaving in order to achieve new possibilities in textiles.
The world of textiles has changed so much recently. There’s a lot more experimentation, especially with non-petroleum-based resources.
That’s true—but new synthetics can also be made without any new petroleum. There are new technologies for recycling postconsumer polyesters, new plastics developed from polylactic acid, and textiles that are wholly reclaimable. Without using new oil at all, we can recycle anything from shopping bags and raincoats to hospital uniforms; all kinds of polyester products can be recycled indefinitely.
It’s a pity the Japanese rarely use furoshiki carrier-wraps any more, especially considering the excessive amount of gratuitous disposable packaging today.1
Today’s shopping bags can be considered a continuation of the furoshiki—carry them, flatten and store them, then carry them again.
What’s this textile called?
This is Origami Pleats. It’s made from reclaimed polyester in large panels, so it can be used to partition spaces in architectural applications. It’s designed to be used in large quantities; otherwise it’s pointless for the mill to invest the time in making it.
Can you incorporate non-petroleum materials like polylactic acid?
Sure, there’s plenty of room in the threads. For one meter [three feet three inches] of fabric, we use from sixteen hundred to seventeen hundred threads, so there’s enough interstitial space. It stretches like spandex, and has highly overspun threads that contract to create a pattern, making the fabric more three-dimensional. Have you heard of sputtering?2 It was developed by the automotive industry. This new Spattering Gloss in the Stainless Steel series is even more open.
Is it metal?
It’s an alloy formed right on the surface of the textile. The threads are incredibly thin microfibers.
Can you make a shirt out of this material?
Yes, we have one right here.
Incredible—it’s so soft.
It’s soft, but it will set off an airport security alarm [laughs].
Where do you make these textiles?
We work with at least fifty mills around Japan.
That many? That must be difficult to manage.
How did you first develop an interest in textiles?
I began drawing kimono patterns in college, which led to textile design.
Does Nuno attempt to combine traditional and contemporary approaches?
I have knowledge of traditional approaches, but I’m constantly thinking about how to modify or enhance them—like incorporating shibori into contemporary fabrics.3 It’s good to learn from history, but at the same time we have to remember that the people who developed these traditional techniques were inspired by the same things that move us today. Prehistoric people developed tools for knitting and cutting. We can marvel at their inventions—like thread—but did those people realize they were making a profound discovery? Today’s discoveries are similar—we’re not surprised to see people using computers or cars. It’s the same thing.
You have been quite prolific in your textile creations. How long does it typically take to realize an idea?
I think of new textile designs and techniques every day. It may take just a minute to form an idea, but five to ten years to execute it. These things take time.
What kind of process is involved?
I have twelve staff members, all of whom are designers. They frequently throw out ideas. The sputtering technology is an example of an idea we wanted to test. We developed a large wall hanging called Deep Roots out of stainless steel and cotton for Mandarin Oriental Tokyo—the back is red and the front is gray. We made a stainless-steel mesh that we then burned by hand using a gas torch. The fiber was originally developed to strengthen radial tires, yet the knitted fabric structure makes it look soft. It discolors as it burns—like a stainless-steel frying pan [laughs].
Read the rest of this conversation in the book Matter in the Floating World: Conversations with Leading Japanese Architects and Designers, published by Princeton Architectural Press.
1. Furoshiki are traditional Japanese cloths used to wrap and carry gifts, clothes, or other items.
2. Sputtering is a process in which thin metallic films are deposited when ionized gas molecules displace atoms of another material, and these atoms bond to a substrate. Sputtering is used for various commercial and scientific applications. According to research conducted at the Victoria & Albert museum, this particular Nuno fabric is “made of polyester that has been calendered mirror smooth and ‘sputter-plated’ with three powdered metals (chromium, nickel and iron). This gives it a metallic shine.” http://www.vam.ac.uk/res_cons/conservation/journal/number_44/polyester-fabrics/index.html
3. Shibori, or shiborizome, is a Japanese method of dyeing cloth dating to the eighth century that involves folding, binding, twisting, and other physical manipulations.