Silk,onsen, and life of a sericulture farm. (Part. 1)

What will today bring?

Today I am in Isobe, Annaka-shi Gunma Prefecture. I have no commitments today-but plenty of possibilities.

There is a public onsen across the street here-a definite possibility and open from 10 AM to 9 PM. I saw a vegetable market along the walk to our stay location but when I walked back it was closed. Will probably check that out later. Some local ramen may be eaten. It is Sunday so who knows.

I have some reading, some watercolors, and the general area to check out. This area is known as an onsen (hot springs/spa) area and apparently the onsen symbol universally used throughout Japan originated in this area from a 17th century map denoting a local spa site. The Japanese government attempted to “update” this symbol in 2016 in preparation for the 2020 Olympics but was met with stiff resistance across the country and backed down.

Steam rising from a pool of water is the traditional symbol of onsen

The Usui River runs through and many onsen operate throughout the area. We stayed in an onsen hotel near here during the tour that was enjoyed by all. It was convenient to several of the places we visited in Gunma Prefecture.

Maneki-neko- beckoning cat welcomes visitors to Isobe at this small bridge crossing the river. It was a splendid crisp day!

From the Isobe location, the Silk Study Tour visited a sericulture farming couple-Nobue Higashi and her husband. I’ve written about our visits here in the past but every time I visit I pick up new information.

For example, the artificial chow that is fed to newly hatched larvae is made of two ingredients-mulberry leaf and soy bean meal. Previously, I thought it was completely from mulberry leaf. I have also read that in some cases agar is added. Most larger sericultures order silkworms that are hatched and raised in a clean facility and delivered to them at the beginning of 4th instar. They then finish raising them to cocoon stage feeding solely mulberry leaf.

During our visit to Nobue and Wataru’s sericulture farm, we fed the early stage fourth instar silkworms branches of mulberry leaf from their nearby field. They gave us a demonstration of their cutting and storage process. It was raining so the mulberry leaf had to dry before giving it to the silkworms.

All fed! By the time they reach the fifth instar they are being fed 300kg of mulberry. That’s a lot of mulberry to cut!

Following this visit, we moved to TonCara to experience silk reeling and mawata (spreading the cocoon for yarn making or for other uses) making.

I love it when people are so wowed with the process! I live for these moments during the tour.

A lovely lunch was served before we left and we were on our way to visit the Tomioka Silk Mill-a World Heritage Site.

Today I am recovering from a workshop work day at Nobue and Wataru’s sericulture farm. A total of 45,000 silkworms were moved into the upstairs cocooning space. It was quite the physical job! Next post will cover that process.

many more moons

Some last minute doings in preparation for the Silk Study tour has kept me busy. There are several pieces I am finishing to take along with me. Usually, I like to take something I have made as omiyage but this time, so much has been going on I haven’t been able to do that desire justice. As time nears I shed many of those small things and accept it all for how it is-it’s just fine.

I have been considering how and where I want to blog while I am gone and I’ve pretty much decided to abandon using my free WP tour blog I started many years ago. I was looking it over and I just can’t stand the ads on the free blog so will just use this place (my main place anyway) as a place to record the tour. It already costs plenty to keep this site active, ad free, and juiced up with enough memory storage for all the visual content so no need to add to this. I was surprised to see the old tour site had all the youtube vids removed as I guess the free sites no longer play nice with youtube without a bounty. So much has changed with blogging over time I sometimes struggle to keep up with it all!

Here are a few views of a moon scarf I’ve been working on. Made it an “idea sample” for those in the moon circle subscription group. The base is recycled kimono lining silk habutai I indigo dyed. I didn’t photograph the back side (I think I did in a previous post) but I stitched it flat before folding it over(so the edges meet in the center back). I hate to cut any selvedges off! I used silk thread to stitch the center back through to the front invisibly. If you have been receiving moons, you will recognize many of them here.

Speaking of the moon circle subscription, April moons all went out with a note advising that May moons will ship with June moons due to the silk study tour so I hope that is ok with everyone. Just a reminder…

I also finished this piece which again is all indigo dyed. The cloth is all silk tsumugi-although all panels (4) are different. This time I tried out putting in some darts to get a nicer fit and after giving it a test run wearing it to a get together, I like it. This is the third one of these I’ve made. Quite simple and easy to wear-great for warm summer days in Japan and very comfortable.

It was artichoke day again today- the second picking of my very prolific stand of artichoke plants. Never had to water them at all this year due to all our rain. Very delicious! I need to spread the plants out after I cut them back the end of this season.

I’m wondering how the garden will be when I get back? It’s already a jungle out there and no time to really tame it before I leave!

I’m excited to get recharged and inspired as we travel through Japan and explore not just the textile stops, but also to absorb the familiar sights, sounds, and feelings I have whenever I am in Japan. The challenges of this trip have already opened up new future possibilities as challenges will do when you work through them and discover solutions. It’s a good reminder. Life is like that. In fact, that’s how this whole tour began… with a willingness to jump in, take a risk and act on the unknown opportunity placed in my path. So many great things start this way. I’m very grateful.
Take the chance. Sometimes you have to recognize an opportunity even when they aren’t always obvious! The Art of Noticing applies here.

many moons


It’s been over a month since a new post popped into your inbox and I’m thankful to say -I’m back!
I caught some crazy virus -not covid, not the flu, not an UTI or anything testable that could come up positive. But a fever and headaches kept me seriously down for over a week and at least another week just becoming human again. Today I am finally starting to feel myself and regain some energy and desire to actually do things.
And there are many things to do!
To begin with, the Silk Study Tour to Japan leaves May 11-not that far off! There have been many challenges this time which equates to more behind the scenes work, but all is well and we look forward to another fabulous and fine adventure. For those who have been on the tour before and know my Japan side partner, Hirata san, you will be glad to know that he is recovering well from a pacemaker implantation that took everyone by surprise. He will not be with us in person but will be directing from Stage Right, virtually. In his place, his daughter Shio will accompany us and with her skills as a translator Walt Disney Attractions for over 15 years as well as a certificate as a Japanese National Tourist Guide all is very, very good! We will of course see Hirata san in Kamakura but beyond that, we carry on without him. His wife Rumiko and her good friend and kimono expert Megumi will join us for the Kyoto segment. Rumiko herself has recently completed some cancer treatments and is feeling well. We welcome her and Megumi on our adventure! I will send a private email to those who have been on past tours with their new address so if you want to drop them a card, I know it would be appreciated.

As usual, I will be blogging a bit along the way as time permits so stay tuned for that.

Old print of a woman tending silkworms.

A friend (Lanie Lipson of Slow Cloth fame) recently brought a quote to my attention that really resonated with me. The quote is from Milton Glaser whom I was not familiar with until I looked him up and realized that we all know his work.

“You feel differently towards the world when you make things” ~ Milton Glaser

I’ll just leave it here for now- back again and much sooner!

Neko Chan

Today I put some more Neko Chan kits in the shop. I tend to do this in bulk (well, “bulk” for me on this item is about 12). I had an order for one that was getting stale and I had used up the previous batch. I knew I had an old post on the neko chan and I wanted to send the link for it to the person who ordered it telling the history. Alas, after hunting down the post I remembered it had been a difficult one sharing some sad news so I decided to copy just the Neko Chan kit portion and make a separate updated post that can be referred back to and linked to the shop item.

I always enjoy putting these kits together since I get to rifle through the indigo fabrics and refresh my memory as to where I collected this or that. Plus I’m reminded of Mom and Nana.
I was also inspired to make a new one so I cut an extra for myself! I’ll come back and add a photo when I get it done. (It won’t be super soon- just when I get to it) So here is the original part about Neko chan…

Over the past couple of weeks I have been going through some of my collected Japanese fabrics as well as cleaning out a cupboard or two. In one of the cupboards I found an old hand stitched cat doll my grandmother had made. It is so basic, yet with a lot of personality. Made with what looks like a cotton toweling and red thread it seems to have been an exercise in hand sewing practice. The face and her name are drawn on with a (now faded) marker of some sort. Interestingly, in one place where the stitching came undone the material that was used to stuff the piece was showing. It is stuffed with women’s nylons. Since nylons were not available commercially to women until around 1940, I had to reassess who/when this little cat was made. So either my Nana made this for my mom (maybe a class?) or my mom made it and for some reason my Nana’s name was written on it for identifying purposes. My mom would have been around 10 in the early ’40’s. Nana was born in 1901. Both Nana and mom loved cats (what a shock right?). This little guy is probably about 80 years old…

Back to the fabric sorting/organizing and I wondered…what if I made a little cat based on Nana’s cat? So I did. What if I made one for my grandson with some photos and a story? What if I made a pattern and a kit with instructions using some of the Japanese fabrics I have? And so it is… a quick and fun little project for a child or just the child inside us all. Added to the shop here.

The original post in full exists here.

timekeeper, pathfinder, wonderer

A little wander…

I recently completed another life season of full moons-12 to be exact. (2023 will be a year with 13 full moons- we get a bonus moon in August this year.) I was wondering…

That is a total of 804 lunar cycles in my now 65 years! This number made me wonder about the moons I make. Last year (2022) I estimate that I made and sent out about 1400 indigo moons. I imagine that this year may be similar. I like seeing and thinking about the numbers this way. It gives me a certain perspective of time. When I’m gone from here, some of those moons will remain in the pieces that included them. Some of those makers will be gone but the pieces they made will be cherished by those who received them. Maybe some of these pieces will be rediscovered by someone who has no idea where they came from, but someone noticed, ran their hand across the cloth, saw a moon, and wondered. Some will turn to dust.

Since I started making shibori, dying silk and cloth with indigo and other dyes, I have made moons. This started in 2006- seventeen years ago now. I started with two simple pennies, a clothespin, and a square of recycled silk. It was a simple way to teach kids about dyeing cloth. Of course it has evolved, but it really still can be, just that simple.

I love the moon. Over the years, I’ve used it as a touchstone, as something I can go back to over and over again. We all look up at the same moon, we all live and die under the same moon-we are all not so different when viewed this way. The moon’s calm beauty can be counted on to exist, even when obscured by cloudy days or nights. Our circumstances of birth may vary greatly, but we can all look up at the same beautiful moon with wonder and hope.

Sixty-five is a good place to be. A good place to stop and reflect. It’s a good place to cherish past memories, family and friends, and also a good place to appreciate the “now” moments. Right now is where it is at!

Right now it is still cold and rainy-plus snow in low elevations not seen around here in decades! If you aren’t tired of snow photos from SoCal yet…here’s one I took yesterday morning. The snow is deep and more is coming.

Right now the garden is enjoying the rain. The cold is slowing the season here. I saw today that snow has blanketed the Antelope Poppy Reserve! Not a bit of green to be seen! But under the snow the poppies persist! Looking like a superbloom is in the works.

The butterfly amaryllis is starting to bloom, the orange orchid is setting blooms, the avocado is flower laden. And there was a double rainbow!

It’s just been too cold, wet, and windy to work in the outside studio. Not to mention that the wind and rain tore apart the outdoor covered space. Once all this weather is past I will have to replace it. One thing at a time!
In the meantime, I’m working on indoor things-like putting together the listing for fabric packs I will collect in Japan during the Silk Study Tour and send out upon my return. I’ve developed a keen eye for what I look for and over the many years have educated myself to hunt down and pick out the best. It’s been a real education! I ‘ve put together many collections over the years but this time I’m going to do it a little differently…check out the listing below.

Sign up for the 2023 Foraged Fabrics Collection here.

Sign up for the Moon Circle here.

silk jacquard with silver thread running through, like stars in the midnight sky…march moons

SIgn up for the Silk Study Tour to Japan here (2 spots still open)

antique silk thread twisting machine

Finishing out this post, the wind is actually whistling through this 100 year old California bungalow, drum practice beats in the background and three black cats have the zoomies out my window here!

Moons over Amami

These special moons are made with an unexpected cloth-a coarse homespun cotton cloth that had a layer of silk mawata stretched across it. I wondered…

Mawata is made from silk cocoons that are softened with hot water and soda ash before stretching them out on a frame. We also know them here as silk hankies. They can be used to spin silk yarn or are often used as quilt batting by stretching 50-100 cocoons into a thick, yet lightweight, layer of wonderful silk batting!

After asking around, the best answer I could find was that the silk mawata was there to help keep the two cloths together so the exterior and interior fabrics wouldn’t slip around. Another use for silk!

I put a dozen of these into the shop.

On the shibori side of things, Asiadyer sent me a couple of images of some shibori scraps he came across. They are a great little study in double arashi. Wrapping my mind around the concept, and the cloth around a pole, I made an attempt. I will make some adjustments and have another go at it. The result I got started out ok, but the second wrapping did not achieve the result I was looking for. Even still, some shibori was made!

These things drive me a bit crazy until I figure them out…

And yes, it’s February! We welcome the approaching Spring, warmer weather, and February moons for the circle. I chose and cut the fabric today. One is some fabulous kimono silk woven and dyed on Amami Oshima. Indigo, tannin and mud dyed then painstakingly woven. Even a small scrap is a treasure. The other is the leftover cloth from a dress I made from a repurposed meisen silk kimono a few years ago.
Links to my previous posts about dyeing and weaving on Amami oshima here and here.

If you want to sign up for the 2023 Moon Circle…here’s the link.

Getting in touch with reality

Some days are a real mix of duties.

Today, I:

-filed and paid my state sales tax return

-returned many emails

-attended to the Tour banking

-made indigo moons!! Yay!⬅️

-shipped some orders

-vacuumed and cleaned house

-videoed for phil

-pulled some weeds and trimmed the apricot tree

-made dinner

-attended to my social media

-posted this!

I had to make this list because at one point I actually felt I didn’t get anything done today.

I needed to remind myself.

Moons for komebukuro.

new moons and a shop update

A while back I hosted a zoom workshop where participants and I refashioned a kimono into a more easily wearable garment by shortening and removing sleeves.This project leaves you with some fabric to use later. One of the pieces I reworked was a wonderful hemp unlined summer kimono that was kasuri woven with a wonderful 40’s or 50’s design like meisen. This very bold and colorful piece is now wearable as a lightweight over-jacket. The leftover cloth was set aside until now. I did a little test to see if I liked it to start out the January moon circle. I LOVED IT! wow…what fun. Laying out the cloth for the moons, each one is uniquely fun! Being a bit of an open weave I wondered if the indigo would leak a bit into the moon-it didn’t. And the cloth took the dye beautifully without completely overwhelming the design. Each of course is a bit different.

The other smaller moon this month is indigo dyed onto some beautiful silk jacquard I had been stingily hoarding since I was at the end of the bolt. It has a delicate chrysanthemum (kiku) pattern on a slightly off white (natural) silk. The weight is light- like for a nagajuban (silk under kimono).

While you can join the moon circle anytime, if you want the January moons featured here you need to sign up prior to Jan 30. Thanks to everyone who is currently subscribed and especially to those who joined for a second time!

I also added some items back into the shop- Neko chan kit, indigo treasure packs, and indigo yardage in 3 shades.

lots of inspiration!

The madder I dug is still drying since it’s been so wet here lately. Maybe it will figure in February or March moons. It’s still cold here (for us!) we’re lucky if it gets to 60 and the nights are in the low 40’s. The garagio is still cold and wet! Looking forward to the forecast of ten sunny dry days ahead! Hopefully we will continue to get some rain in the next couple of months. I hope to get at some of the weeds outside. There is a forest of cassia seeds sprouting! Yikes!

On another note, I got up at 2 AM on Tuesday to hear Nobue Higashi’s sericulture lecture on Zoom. It was very interesting! I saw a mulberry field machine that helps pick the mulberry. It claims to be able to do the work of 10 people in collecting mulberry for feeding the silkworms. She also mentioned and showed some images of a machine that is kind of like a ferris wheel for silkworms. As the bins of worms circulate, feeding is easily done to many worms in a smaller space. I understand that the reason these are not in wide use these days is that the parts are not available to repair them when they break down. Hirata san and I once visited a sericulture farm about ten years ago that used this method. It was interesting and I have since wondered why it’s not used more.
She also had a nice section on the commercial hatching and raising of the young silkworms (before they are distributed to the farmers). I knew about this but had never seen the inside of these facilities. If you are interested in this lecture series, you can still sign up (see last post for details).

I’m really looking forward to meeting up with Nobue and all the artisans along our way on the Silk Study Tour to Japan in May. Join us?

Sericulture in Japan Today and Colors by Ken Nordine!

Just a quick update with some fun stuff.

First, last Sunday at Phil’s rehearsal the sound guy Kevin was playing Ken Nordine through the system during setup. I was fascinated! Never knew anything about him nor had I heard his albuns. But I did know that voice- and you probably do too. So I went down the rabbit hole to learn more.
Phil bought us a turntable over the holidays so we could enjoy the hundreds of vinyls we have. It has been so much fun! We not only enjoy the music, the memories invoked, but the album covers and inserts! Took me back to my HS bedroom and the basements of friends on a Friday or Saturday night.
So now I am on the search for Ken Nordine’s album “Colors” which is what Kevin was playing. Some of you may know it but it was new to me and ever so fun! Among other things, Ken Nordine is known for his “word jazz” recordings. His voice is like silk and so communicative! CDs can be found but albums at an affordable price less so. But I am patient… we will see. Until then, I have downloaded the record. Also found the accompanying book for a few bucks. Maybe the grandson will learn colors ala Ken Nordine! One of the people in the audience that day was Carol who by a very weird set of circumstances was a PE and dance instructor at Burbank High when ny SIL (who lives in NZ) and was her PE teacher! Carol and I got to talking and she had this album (Colors) and used it for improv with her dancers back then. She could even recite some of the words all these years later. Great conversation. She’s somewhere in her 80’s now.

OK- the next wonderful thing is going to take a bit of explaining and some links for you to check out. If you don’t know of Nobue Higashi, she is the sericulturist we have been visiting since 2015 on the Silk Study Tour. Previous to that, we had been visiting Koyata san’s home where he kept a small cocoonery (I now think he is over 100!). Nobue san’s enterprise has grown and her and her husband may be the youngest serious sericulture farmers in Japan now! They are keeping tradition alive while at the same time creating a very niche market for her customizable and hand reeled silk from the cocoons they raise. It’s a HUGE endeavor that has taken her 20 years to get to this place. Her history is fascinating!
She is giving an online zoom series of 7 lectures on sericulture that begin January 17th. Her lecture series will cover domestic sericulture, it’s history in Japan- mainly focusing on Gunma Prefecture and the connections to Yokohama as it relates to silk exports, silk cocoons and the variety of strains, the history of silk reeling, silk technologies and how they changed and expanded silk in the industrialization of Japan, hand reeling (her specialty) from the Edo period to now, and the cultural aspects of all of the aforementioned! I’m sure I left out something!
Of course the lectures are on JST so for me here they are at 2:30 AM PST- but you will be able to access them for three weeks afterwards. The series cost is ¥14,000 which is about $103 USD. If you are interested in the series, you can sign up here. I had to actually send an email so they could prepare a payment request as the website seems to only allow signups inside Japan. Email is seraph(at)

The series is in Japanese but they may try to get some notes done in English afterwards to accompany the lectures. In any case, I am signed up!

If you want a little encouragement, they have shared this hour long bio on Nobue and how she came to do this miraculous thing… then visit the vimeo link. The password is “silkworm” and it does have English subtitles. They have allowed me to share this with you in hopes of spreading this important knowledge.
The series is being hosted by these folks who order custom reeled silk from Nobue which they use as warp for their beautiful woven kudzu cloth. All of this is a labor of love!

Here are some photos of our visits with Nobue and her husband over the years…

We can’t wait to see her again in May on the Silk Study Tour to Japan! We will have a workshop with her at Ton-cara where everyone gets to reel some silk and make silk mawata.