Category Archives: sericulture

back to the future-again

The story goes something like this:

One day Richard and I were emailing back and forth about this and that.  Mostly about textiles and old things he had come across and how they could be saved and utilized.  And about him coming here from Japan to teach another workshop.  And about how he had gone into the attic of an old farmhouse and found some remnants of the family’s sericulture activities.  At the time I was putting together the “Silk Experience, Then and Now” exhibit for last year’s Houston’s International Quilt Festival.  He had found some examples of the straw cocoon bedding and of the cardboard cocoon trays which followed years later.  He saved me some samples that I was able to display at the show.  A couple of weeks later, he emailed me to say that he had come across some washi “cocoon bags”- was I interested?  Without hesitation I said yes! Get what you can, I said, not really knowing what they were but instinctually sure they were important somehow.  If you saw the exhibit last year you saw these remarkable examples of what I consider to be folk craft-handmade objects that served a purpose in daily life. I love stuff like this.  Everyday objects that are used but also are beautiful both visually and for the fact that they fit into the structure of everyday life of the time in which they were produced by craftsman of those times.  Eventually, he had the opportunity to acquire a few more.

cocoon bags at exhibit

cocoon bags at exhibit

Now,  I have been to the main sericulture/silk museums in Japan as well as seen the collection of items at the Tokyo Silk Science Institute associated with Tokyo University.  I had never before seen anything like these washi bags!  I wondered…

cotton coon bag with markings

cotton cocoon bag with markings

I started researching online.  Couldn’t find anything.  In fact, vintage or antique washi itself was rare to find.  Mostly now you find a scrapbooking product claiming to be vintage washi tape.  An image search of “vintage Japanese washi” comes up with this page.  Not e x a c t l y…

this is washi

this is washi

What we have surmised so far is this- that these bags were made in Mino City-known for it’s papermaking and it’s close proximity to where they were discovered by Richard.  That they are easily over 100 years old. That some are treated with kakishibu (persimmon tannin) and others were dyed with tumeric (the yellow ones or yellow patches on them).  That they predate the use of cotton bags for silk cocoon transportation and storage.  That they were regularly sent back for repair and patching when needed and in the end, they were abandoned in favor of cotton bags.  Since Mino was a center of papermaking, they may be a somewhat regional object-using what comes naturally and is close at hand.  Hence, why I have yet to see them in other areas like Gunma or Yokohama which are more north.

Imagine!  Giant gusseted cocoon bags made of thick fibrous paper, patched, repaired and saved for tens of decades.  I have saved one out to give as a gift to the Yokohama Silk Museum if they are interested.  I have not seen one there.  I have saved myself one and have it hanging on a wall where I can see it every day and wonder.  Some people have expressed an interest in using the paper itself in their own artwork.  Either way, these pieces have ki or 気 which is another way to say vital life energy.  That they have resurfaced after all these years is so interesting to me.  We have several of them available in the shop.  It’s a joint effort between us to find these pieces good homes where they can continue to produce 気.

in the shop now

year end announcements…

I am tying up some loose ends on things that have been in the works around here for a while.  Everything takes longer than expected it seems-especially around the holidays when there are lots of comings and goings.

Today the wind died down a bit (not completely) but the surfers were devoted to getting into the water which leaves me in complete and blissful silence to work on these unfinished details.

workshop

First- the In Studio Workshop with Richard Carbin and myself  is available in the shop. Just click here to visit the listing and read through it carefully. If you have any questions,  just use the contact form or email me.  Leaving a comment here is OK too- I can reply privately via your comment.

arashi shibori    ++++  mandalas  ===?????  

I’m excited to collaborate with Richard again.  Ours has been an wonderful pairing of interests and talents. We met virtually via Flickr several years ago becoming fans of each others work.  Richard is an ex-pat living in Nagoya Japan with his wife and two boys. In June 2009 when Phil & I visited Nagoya for the Arimatsu Shibori Festival, we made a pact to meet up and get to know each other better and in person. We visited late into the night and although our work is completely different we shared a passion for Japan, silk, and dyeing.  Afterwards, we continued getting to know each other online via Facebook and via email and decided to create a collaborative workshop. Our online workshop Indigo Mandalas (born of the original In Studio workshop last year) was the first internationally collaborative online workshop as far as I know.  We continue to inspire and draw on each others experience and interests using the internet & media, learning as we grow.

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Secondly, the Silk Study Tour to Japan is filling nicely.  We only have 4 spots (out of 20) left so,  if you think a trip to Japan to see silk sericulture, beautiful textiles, a natural dye workshop and more are in your future for May of 2013-contact me soon.  We never really know if we will repeat this tour-so far our third biennial tour. Life has a way of keeping us on our toes and in the present which is a good thing and keeps up from putting off those things that we really want to do but somehow don’t. More and more I realize that today is the day!   Click the link for details and feel free to contact me if you you have any questions at all. I’m getting excited all over again.  New things await us in Japan every time we go!

yes, it matters how a thing is done.

craft to industry, guild to union, cottage to factory. this is what is generally considered as progress.

sometimes, progress has a high price to pay.  some things become streamlined, simplified. other things become automated, even people become cogs in the automation (and consumption) wheel. other things become lost and forgotten.  do we stop to think of what these prices extract from us?

i am still reading. speaking of SustainAbility,  the current essay asks the question “how have we been able to sustain such unsustainability for so long?”. a good question

i think it helps to know the history of this. how did we get here?  the earth is plentiful in it’s bounty but we are poor and careless consumers of it’s offerings. in his essay titled “The Historical Production (and Consumption) of Unsustainability: Technology, Policy, and Culture”,  Benjamin Cohen restates a cultural axiom of technology and risk this way:

“The more we seek to control nature, the more risk we create.”

hmmm…i think we can all think of some pretty big examples of this. some might say Monsanto, others might say Fukushima,  or monoculture.  most of this progress has distanced consumers from producers. a move over time from the qualitative to quantitative gave rise to more human control over the natural world.

by distancing ourselves from the gathering of energy materials and water sources, the growing of food, the making of product in far away places extracts a toll not only on those locales and their culture and environments but on us physically, morally, and spiritually.

ah…such big thoughts for such a lazy hot day like today. a morning earthquake here shook us up a bit and reminded us that nature is truly in charge. but what does craft have to do with all this?  i wonder…

silkworm workers prepare straw bedding for cocooning

yesterday i was testing out more cocoons and and was wondering about tsumugi.i have been experimenting with this. i like that it requires almost no equipment.  i remembered seeing this video a while back and went to watch it again.  the part i was most interested in seeing again begins at 3:07.

i am stacking up a few good books to take to the woods next weekend.  some i have already read or partially read and want more time with.  one of them is Azby Brown’s book “just enough- lessons in living green from traditional japan”. i really enjoy this book.

i am also gathering up food from the garden to take and we are looking forward to this annual retreat where we are able to separate ourselves from daily city life. where i can sit with nothing more than the squaw hole covered granite stones listening to the sound of water rushing below and the winds whispering in the oaks overhead.  this former Sierra Miwok summer camp, later a travelers lodge visited by those traveling to the Yosemite valley by foot or horseback (perhaps even John Muir and Ansel Adams), and even later still the summer camp for the Oakland Council of Girl Scouts- bringing girls into the woods for an experience to last a lifetime.  now in private hands of old friends who kindly offer its use to us we thank them and all the past caretakers who have allowed it to remain wild with its history quite intact.

i will even be stopping by a local gallery on the way in to drop off some nigella seeds for a blog reader and quilter in the area.  perhaps we will meet up at some point- but once i am in i tend to stay put. i have some stitching i intend to take as well.

a few orders must be finished, some emails sent, so off to continue that now…

oh- and richard send me one more very intriguing item for the silk exhibit- a straw bed for silkworm cocooning- so interesting.

from an old farmhouse in rural Japan

harvesting from previously sown seeds

a year and a half ago I sowed some
seeds in Japan. even longer ago than that, seeds were sown in Yokohama. yesterday’s mail brought a wonderful bounty of silk related items from Richard. I did some burn tests to confirm my thoughts-

20120804-103917.hjpg

4 of the 6 pieces are silk. the poly pieces will go to the thrift store unless someone speaks up for them. I have no use for them here. I especially liked this-

20120804-104623.jpg
silk kimono lining that had been repaired to still be usefull. I will continue to wonder how I will utilize this in a piece- feature and highlight it even. it’s a fine piece of cloth.
saving the best for last, Richard has added a lively piece for display in the upcoming silk exhibit in Houston-an old washi cocoon bag that was used to transport cocoons. it is very large and visually rich. come see it in Houston this fall. we are telling a story in silk with this special exhibit.

and in case you would like to provide some seeds of your own,  you can visit Maura here to plant some mustard seeds. Maura is a great gardener of many things.

according to wikipedia,

The earliest reference to mustard is in India from a story of Gautama Siddhārtha (सिद्धार्थ गौतम) in the 5th century BCE. Gautama Buddha told the story of the grieving mother (Kisa Gotami) and the mustard seed. When a mother loses her only son, she takes his body to the Buddha to find a cure. The Buddha asks her to bring a handful of mustard seeds from a family that has never lost a child, husband, parent or friend. When the mother is unable to find such a house in her village, she realizes that death is common to all, and she cannot be selfish in her grief.[1][2] The Buddha stated that if an individual were to pick a single mustard seed every hundred years from a seven-mile cube worth of mustard seeds, then by the time the last seed is picked, the age of the world cycle would still continue. (If a mustard seed is 3 mm in diameter, then taking one seed every 100 years from a seven-mile cube of seeds, would take 936 quintillion years, 68 billion times the age of the universe.)[3]

Silk Study Tour to Japan 2013

Just a quick post today to give you the link for the 2013 Silk Study Tour to Japan.

If you are interested in seeing a few photos from previous tours, you can visit a Silk Study tour flickr set where I have posted a small number of the many photos I have collected over the years. This next year will be the 3rd biennial tour. We will learn more, visit new locations and this year we have arranged to have a day long workshop in the studio of a natural dyer whose family has been dyeing for several generations.  When we were there this past May he showed us the most magnificent indigo dyed silk! It was dyed with fresh leaf indigo and I was stunned at the beautiful color he achieved. He tells us he only dyes seasonally and locally, meaning he collects dyestuff from surrounding areas and only when they are in season. This is not a new idea to him although it is an idea that is currently getting more attention these days.

fresh leaf indigo dyed raw silk

Of course there will be so many things to discover and learn, friends and memories to make and keep.  Inspiration to last a lifetime.

This month will be keeping me busy teaching a couple of classes at HGA’s Convergence followed by the International Quilt Festival here in Long Beach.  The Houston Quilt Festival catalogs have gone out and you can start signing up by mail now.  I think you will be able to start signing up online in a couple of weeks. For now, you can order the catalog by mail here.

I’m even more excited about Houston this year as I will be teaching two classes that are firsts for me there- an all day indigo silk dyeing class and also a silk mawata making class.  I am also part of a team organizing a special silk exhibit on the convention’s exhibit area.  A lot going on…but now must get back to making.

Mata-ne!

Stumbling around

I’ve been meaning to do a little post about this for a week or so now. Ribbon dyeing has kept me at the dyepot and the flower sewing table.

Here is how it ended (badly):

a mess- and a waste

It started by my wondering why I needed to peel the cocoons before cooking them to soften the sericin before making mawata.  The silkworms spin a loose hammock of silk in which to suspend the cocoons and each cocoon has a beautiful halo (kibisu) of this silk.  Seemed a waste to peel it off.  Why not just leave it and add to the mawata?  Sometimes wondering leads you astray as it did here.

After cooking the cocoons, they became hopelessly tangled with each other and when trying to separate them they proved impossible.  I soaked them longer, I spun some of it directly from the water (interesting) but in the end most was relegated to the compost pile.

So I learned that yes, peeling the cocoons is best when making mawata.  Most people are not facing this issue as they are buying commercial cocoons where the outer silk has already been mechanically removed. Live and learn.

It did lead me to wonder about wet spinning directly from cocoons though…

Update on the silkmoths-

There are a few still here but most are gone and I have been collecting and storing eggs for next year.

And, I have been peeling the cocoons and using the silk as batting for the shibori leaves and flowers.

And a new flower style-

hanamayu- はなまゆ

Over the weekend the silk moths began to emerge.  This year I separated out a half dozen or so of the best white and yellow cocoons for mating.  Last year,  I let them mix and got a lot of variations.  We will see where this leads.

Mr Koizumi, the former Director of the Yokohama Silk Center show us cocoons from all the past periods of Japan’s sericulture history. So many types!

When I was at the Silk Center in Yokohama recently, I picked up a book on silk cocoon flowers (hanamayu- はなまゆ or cocoon flower) by artist Tomiko Sakai. She is a Nagoya native and has been making her fantastic floral creations for over 20 years. Each diminutive blossom is often fashioned into larger sprays with each complete floral work worthy of display at the most formal event. Imagine wedding, tea ceremony, formal entry, or any honorific occasion. One day, I would love to see some of her work in person. She uses only the finest of Gunma produced silk cocoons.  I see that an exhibit of her work was sponsored by both the Gunma Prefectural Government and the Tokyo Silk Science Research Center-both entities that we have visited on previous Silk Study tours.  I wonder…

The book is all in Japanese and was the only one in stock but has an ISBN 0f 4-89977-174-6 which you might be able to track down if desired.  I think the title is something like “Flower Born of a Silk Cocoon” but don’t quote me on that. I will contact the museum in Yokohama prior to our visit there next year and ask about the possibility of having a few in stock for our group when we are there.

The flowers are not anything like the ones I recently did but I would like to see what I could create based on some of her works.  Her craftsmanship (or perhaps the craftsmanship of her studio directed by her) is supreme.  She also uses some of the stained cocoons, incorporating the natural stains created by the emerging moths into the works.  My recent trials pale in comparison!

And on Saturday, I had the privilege of giving an indigo shibori workshop for a group of great high school kids here in So Cal.  Their teacher, Debra, has been the art teacher at this school (gr 7-12) for 32 years and you can tell that she loves her work and that her students love her.  This is a great credit to her, as difficult as it is to be a teacher in the public school system these days, she is full of energy and ideas for her students.  As she told me, she was in the right place at the right time and this is a very special school.  The students were wonderful and we all had a great time.  Several of the students are off to college soon and this was a great way for them to end the year.  A few pics:

the group and Debra waving from the back

gathering threads

discovering the results and wondering

resisting the temptations to pull it up and look

they got a glimpse of arashi shibori too-

volvo doubles as a clothes line…

some results- they all did a sample stitched piece before trying the dragonfly motif

and before i left i turned the drying indigo

me waving to you and the dried and separated first indigo harvest

early summer garden- happy to say that i have been meeting my personal challenge to feed us at least something daily out of the garden here for over a year. may it continue!

Thanks to Cathy Bullington of Elephant Booty for the idea to save all the various harvests through the summer and use an ice chest for a composting bin.  Also, thanks to jude for  introducing me to Debra’s blog Artisun through the link in her sidebar.

Now back to the dyepot, cocoons.