Many thing going on here…I guess I’ll start with sericulture and the silkworms. My friend Nobue Higashi and her husband have just finished their spring crop of silk cocoons. It’s pretty impressive. You can see her blog here (just click your translate button to read in English as I do- it’s too complicated for my poor Japanese even if the google translate sucks-you’ll get the jist of it). My current dream is to take more workshops at Ton-Cara. Somehow…
My small batch of silkworms (quantity unknown) are doing very well. Eating every mulberry leaf in sight. I’m expecting them to slow down any day and vomit up their guts (nice visual huh?). Then they will rest a bit and start to swing their cute little heads around while in the “praying” position. I have prepared the cocooning frames and straw bedding. I have my mini sericulturists making their own cocoon forms from TP tubes cut in half an glued together. On a sad note, one set of the silkworms suffered from grasserie and a garden burial was prepared. We are not sure of the cause but two things are possible contenders- tainted mulberry leaves from a street tree in the city or just from not enough aeration due to laying leaves without branches. I think tainted leaves might be it. In any case, so goes sericulture. The other neighborhood family’s silkworms are fine and have been eating the same leaves as mine. I will send a new batch over to them later today so they can watch the cocooning.
I have been dyeing a bit also, indigo and otherwise. I collected the seed pods from the feathery senna that last year I discovered gives a nice rich gold. I also collected and tested the knife edge wattle and discovered that those pods gave a nice rich brown. All this was done on silk with alum. A lovely green was was the result of over dyeing the senna dyed silk with indigo from the fermentation vat.
I had a chance to speak on the phone with Karren Brito in Oaxaca today where we are still hopeful of her receiving the zakuri I sent her way. It’s not easy dealing with bureaucracy there. But I was really interested in her conversation about sericulture in Mexico and the history of it there. I actually did do some online searching and couldn’t find much but she had a lot to share about it. Maybe one day…
This was my Solstice project, more or less. Still not done but who’s rushing these days? It has a great feel in my hand while stitching on it. The back is an old linen tablecloth with great weight and drape. The front is a variety of cotton, silk, and linen scraps that were used to test dye the new indigo fermentation vat. The silk embroidery thread was gifted from Katrina quite some time ago. It’s from a stash her mother’s friend discovered when clearing out a house. It’s about 100 years old. I thought I had blogged about it but can’t find the post to link here. It’s great to stitch with. Amazing really. I’m not used to such luxurious embroidery thread!
And in moon news…just a few to add today.
And the old cat Milo has decided to join life downstairs after secluding himself upstairs for the past 8 years. We don’t know why, but we are enjoying his company in the garden, the studio and the rest of the downstairs. The dogs give him space for the most part.
First of all, I want to say a little something here about my friend who passed away last week from breast cancer. Some of you who attend the Houston Quilt Festival or Roundtop/Marbuger know her. I’ve mentioned her here on various occasions as hers was always my favorite booth at the Houston Quilt Festival. Not only was she brilliant, she was a lover of good cloth, cloth with a history. Carola Pfau and I became friends over ten years ago after meeting at the show. Her booth, Textile Treasures, was always just that- a treasure trove of interesting and instructive textiles she had collected from around the world, most predominately from Japan and Germany. Over the years we bonded over that cloth, shared vendor frustrations and joys (we shared many of the same wonderful customers at the show), helped each other out, and had more than a few delicious after show dinners. I have lots of stories I could tell about my times with Carola but the best thing I can share about her is her will to live, to live life her way, and to leave this earthly realm a better place for her having been here. She spent the last number of years enjoying traveling in her RV with her beloved cats making new friends, visiting old ones, and sharing her adventures and tribulations with all of us online. Her recent favorite saying was FUCK CANCER! I will miss her… A couple of stories… One year I eyed a particularly nice piece of hand spun and handwoven european linen in her booth and just knew it was worthy of some indigo dyeing. I bought the piece, $100 for a 2 yard cut (special vendor discount applied) and returned from the show with it. It was about 20″ wide, had lots of character, texture, and potential. I was actually a bit intimidated by it. I didn’t want to ruin it! I hung it on the back of a door near my flower making table and just looked at it for a year. Finally, I made the attempt. I sketched out a plan and set up to dye the piece. I opted for simplicity, applying some itajime techniques I learned from Satoh san. Satisfied with the result, it must have been two shows after making the purchase, I took it back to the Houston show, hung it on the edge of the booth, and put a price on it. Carola wandered by the booth and admired it and asked the price. I asked if she remembered this cloth. She laughed when she realized I had bought it from her. She ended up taking it back to her booth. We had a good laugh about that. I was so pleased she liked it enough to buy it back (vendor discount applied). Carola had spent a lot of time and had lived in Japan with her husband Makoto. One year, when I was going to Japan, she insisted I stay in her room at their apartment in Tokyo. She was in Austin but Makoto was fine with it she said. It was a great visit. Makoto loved to haunt the temple sales and flea markets which was exactly what I wanted to do. We spent a couple of days having the best time shopping for textiles, some for me and others for Carola that I knew would sell at the shows Carola was doing at the time. It was that trip that I found the used zakuri (silk reeling device) that I brought back with me (more on the zakuri later in the post). Makoto had a nice collection of porcelain sake cups he was adding to. He also took me to see the Mingei Museum for the first time. (old blog post on this here) Treasured memories AND textiles! Right around the time I met her, I remember her telling about her attempt to get her license renewed at the DMV. She sent me this link. It is classic Carola! I went back and watched it. It also reminded me of how she took no prisoners with the medical and insurance companies during her fight to get the healthcare she needed and wanted after her breast cancer diagnosis. She visited me in her travel van early on in order to get access to cannabis edibles that were available here in CA but not in TX. They helped her sleep when difficult treatments and medications did not. Her sister wrote a blog post in memoriam to Carola. Ahhh Carola…you will be missed, remembered dearly and hilariously! Sayonara Carola- mata ne!
Continuing along about the zakuri I purchased in Japan, I recently received a note from my favorite shibori expert Karren Brito. She was interested in procuring a zakuri that she could pass along to friends in Oaxacca that are raising silkworms there. Since workshops here are not happening for a while, I thought that that the zakuri I purchased in Japan with Makoto would be doing more service there than here. I have the other one I am using and I loved the idea of sending it to Karren and the silk workers down there. She tells me that they have been raising silkworms in Mexico for 500 years! I did not know this. She also tells me that in order to get silkworm eggs from the government for commercial rearing, you must have 200 mulberry trees. Interesting! Boxed up and sent via DHL, the zakuri is now stuck in customs in Mexico City…we await clearance. Apparently, being made of wood, there is a concern. Wish us luck!
In silkworm news here, the “tiny masters” have entered the 3rd instar (stage). It’s much easier to clean the trays now they are larger. I have a couple of neighborhood kids raising 20 each. It’s a good project for kids. Two are elementary schoolers and the other is a HS student. I sent them all several interesting links to study. They asked me if they could let them emerge, mate, and lay eggs. Yes!
As for the numbers…we reached 100 deaths this past weekend and are now up to 108 as of today. I need to rip more strips of indigo fabric… 😦
It’s been hot here lately-mid to upper 90’s even here at the beach. Thankfully, today started a cooling trend. The garden is coming along nicely-lots of vegetables!
And, finally, I was putting together various test scraps from the fermentation vat for a base when I heard about Carola. It prompted me to dig into some of the linen I still had from her, cut a strip and dye a moon. This is now morphing into something else entirely.
I was thinking that this post would be about looking back to various Silk Study Tours to Japan and when I started to go through photos of trips going back to 2009, I became overwhelmed. So many photos, so many memories…I think this weekend I will add some new photos to this page. There is also the small blog I did in 2011 on the tour. Perhaps this will do for now.
So, I went and fed the silkworms instead. Then I pulled some cocoons out of the freezer and reeled about 60 or so. Not too many, just 60. I want to get better at this so…practice!
I also want to get to the point where I am adept at twisting them to create something akin to 8ply. That would be about 240 individual strands of silk as I reel about 22-25 cocoons at a time.Perhaps I will dye them in the ferm vat and embroider or sew with them. perhaps I will save up for my desire to actually weave a bit of cloth from cocoons I raised, reeled, and dyed. The reeling went well after initially working out a couple of bugs. Then I realized I need to get a few more itomaki (bobbins) in order to really do this. I found that one of my antique ones actually works with my newer zakuri, so that’s a start. I will go forward with these two just to get a sense of going and a direction. Doing this while raising a small batch of silkworms seems appropriate and even more interesting to me. I had my friend Nobue Higashi on my mind the entire time as she is such an expert at both sericulture and silk reeling. She is now feeding their first set of silkworms of the season. They have reached their 4th instar now. See her latest blog post here. I don’t post much to IG these days but a recent post of a time lapse of the silkworms eating brought the attention of someone I was not familiar with and found very interesting. Lisa Onaga has some very interesting writings and research on her blog. It’s more for the “silk nerd” but I know there are some of you out there because some of you have gone on the silk tour-and some more than once! I’ve been reaching out to some of the past participants to check in with them and touch base- very nice to connect! It’s a long list so won’t get to everyone but feel free to reach out in this direction as well.
The other day I was working on the new indigo vat (update- it’s doing great!) and realized I was really upset about something I had read on twitter earlier. I read the words “human capital stock“. It stuck in my head as I worked and I started to wonder … This can be viewed as political if you wish, but referring to people as “human capital stock” leaves me nauseated. Regardless of who is doing it. I was in the middle of dyeing some indigo cloth for something I am working on (a background piece for something Spirit Cloth -ish). I was ripping some edges which I was piling up and using in the garden to tie up the tomato vines. I then heard the current reported COVID death stats for my city (Long Beach,CA) which was 73. I kept on ripping. It was strangely satisfying. I even did a short video of it. The sound, mesmerizing…
Then I started counting the strips, as I approached 73 I started wondering…then I started tying them to the bushes in the front yard. I added 2 more the next day-75. Now, I must go out and add 6 more-81. It’s become a somber and thoughtful visual representation for me. People walk by and wonder. There is no explanation out there. But if you know me and follow this blog, I always say, we need more wonder in the world…
As the “opening” continues, so does the dying and tying on. Take care everyone…
I open up my wordpress site to write this post and see that almost 3 weeks have passed since the last post! Has reality melted time? Dali’s Persistence of Memory comes to mind. I’ve been busy, but time seems incongruous with reality. Maybe it’s my memory or perception of time that can be faulted. In any case…
It’s time for a new Moonmates tutorial. If you recall, they are free, but don’t let that discourage you from contributing using the pay as you wish link in the sidebar. In these times, all contributions are welcomed. Today’s tutorial is a bit different as we had lots of rain here the week I started working on the video, so I took a little different approach. I think you might like it. I also cleared out all the orders for the moons and ribbon scrap bags so if you were waiting for your moonsets, you may have them now or they are in transit. I also restocked the shop with moonsets.
In the news over the past week was an an announcement that Quilts Inc. was not going to refund vendors for their booth fees from the cancelled Pittsburg Spring Market. Then after what appears to be a virtual landslide of negative social media commentary lashing out at their decision, they found the money, turned that decision around and are now refunding booth fees. I know many who were relieved to hear it! My question is what are they doing regarding the scheduled Long Beach Quilt Festival scheduled July 9-11? They have yet to announce any cancellation of the show- although from everything I am hearing in the city and the state, there will not be any large events happening that early. Lots of vendors are wondering and have sent in booth fees. I seriously doubt that the public will be rushing out to attend large events this soon. I just received a cancellation for a show I was going to do in early October here in LA. If I were them, I’d get ahead of that and announce the cancellation now. The future is very uncertain isn’t it?
Working on moons this past week, I made a little discovery. I became obsessed with the patterns on the little blocking fabrics I was using to make a particular type of moon. I started setting them aside and then altering them in divergent ways. The rain, having driven me inside to work, I started arranging them in variously. I settled on one layout and started piecing them together using Jude’s non-paper piecing method. I have been enjoying the lookback review she is doing on her blog of all the techniques she uses in her work and I wanted to practice a bit with them. Now pieced and ready to attach to a background cloth, I have it hanging on the wall gathering thoughts on how I want to proceed. I’m leaning toward simplicity and see it as a bit of a meditation piece. I think I’ll use Jude’s glue stitch to mount this on the background cloth.
Several pieces have been added to the wall and are gathering thoughts on what they might become. here’s another…
Again, the woven moon is a takeoff on Jude’s cloth weaving technique. The background moon is dyed on an old grainsack that had been repaired. The lower moon is on some old thick silk organza I found in Japan. It looks like a planet with a gaseous cloud swirling around it. Who knows where this one will go? I hope I don’t have to wait for more rain to find out. It might be quite a while…
The post-rain garden is looking really wonderful and flowery. We pulled the rest of the beets and daikon for pickling, making room for more summer veggies. Another round of beets, lettuces and beans are in the works. Seeds are sprouting everywhere. The weed pulling continues…
Since we last visited, the full moon came and went and we are approaching the new moon soon. I’ve been playing with new ideas for moons and they become more complex.
Perhaps you would like to visit the shop?
If you have previously pondered purchasing one of the pieces in the shop under the Zakka category, you might want to take advantage of the marked down prices there. A lot of work went into these pieces and while I hate to do it, they aren’t doing me any good sitting here in my inventory. Maybe today is your lucky day-and mine too!
Oh jeeze…i was working between my phone and my laptop to write this post and I accidentally published it in an incomplete form. So if you subscribe by email, you got a notification that once you click on, is no longer there. oops..sorry. Anyway… onward!
Friday night I will be doing a Parents Night event at a private school in Los Angeles. As always, preceding such workshop, I am in prep mode. Each workshop event is unique. This one might be a little more so than usual. There will be 30 people for 3 hours! Each will make two shibori cotton kitchen towels.
Designing an indigo shibori workshop with these sorts of parameters is a challenge. Of course, the main challenge is to see that everyone can achieve a good outcome. Then perhaps to tempt them into further explorations in shibori, having only scratched the surface in this brief 3 hour encounter. From what I understand, it’s also a parents night out and partially a social outing. Maybe some will only make one towel in that period of time- it will kinda be up to them.
For this short workshop I have chosen cotton kitchen towels as the canvas for their indigo shibori experience . Who can’t use a new kitchen towel? The cotton is almost sarashi type weave, but hemmed all around, and 28″ x 28″. Throw them in the wash and wipe the floors with them if you like. A practical item.
Next, the challenge is to come up with several suitable design ideas that are simple and practical for the complete novice shibori practitioner. Designs that 30 people with two towels each can accomplish in 3 hours. Maybe.
This sort of an event can be a little difficult for me to predict what the energy in the room will be when people arrive. I don’t know the room but am assured there are tables & chairs for 30, as well as work space and sinks and water. It’s a Friday, people are tired, looking forward to the weekend with their families I would think. I will watch and listen as they arrive and read the room. Adjust accordingly. Give them what they need and send them off into the weekend with a couple of indigo shibori towels they made themself! Sounds like fun!
Here’s a quick couple of photos of the samples I made as samples. Two are shown as towels and the third uses the towel as furoshiki- quite versatle!
I’m putting together all the additional supplies, filling orders, & moon making tomorrow. Orders on moonsets got ahead of inventory. Also, life in general.
You might enjoy this pic from Sunday evening.
And in between this and that, I dug this out to start finishing up. Lots more stitching to go, but I resolved the edge. Backed with old Japanese jacquard silk that I indigo dyed a while back. The backing itself is wonderfully soft. Several different patterns are stitched together. One has cranes woven into the silk. Self binding- all by hand of course. To me it’s more fun that way. Of course I want to spend days on it right now but other duties call. Oh, and if you don’t recall from previous posts about this piece, all the shibori pieces in this are demonstration sample pieces I dyed in workshops.
Caught some wind in my sails and I’m busy prepping the studio for the workshop this weekend (lots of cleaning!). There are folks coming from NY and TX plus a couple from here in CA. Prepping equipment, materials, and space.
I had a need for a couple of new moons for something I’m working on so made a batch for us all. I’ve got 10 sets of five in the shop so please help yourself.
When I’m dyeing the moons, I’m reminded that the majority of humanity can look up and see the moon and wonder. I try to remember to look up every night or day to catch a glimpse.
As for the cloth, old silk, cotton, hemp, wool pulled from my “save for moons” clothbox. Several special fabrics were used in this batch but one stands out for sentimental reasons. It’s a simple cotton toweling that had a sweet embroidery in one corner and along another edge there was my mothers name written in black marker. Most likely a practice piece done at the instruction of Nana, her mother.
So not sure the backstory but I saved the embroidery section to use elsewhere and used the rest do dye these moons.
As a followup to the last post, I continue with the weaving portion of my trip to Amami.
On the way to Higo Dorozome Friday, I saw a sign that read “Oshima Tsumugi Village” so we decided to start there on Saturday. I didn’t realize until afterwards that this is where Jackie did her mud -dyeing workshop (we later compared notes). Since I had already done the sharimbai/dorozome workshop we opted for the basic tour and focused on weaving. They have a good but short tour of the weaving process but the real highlight was the addition of a weaving session on one of their looms where you could weave and keep a length of Oshima silk tsumugi. This was purchased at the beginning of the tour with the entrance fee.
Of course, the plain weaving of a piece of silk oshima tsumugi is a fairly basic process even for a novice. The real work as most weavers know, is in the preparation of the warp and the set-up of the loom. Oshima tsumugi takes this to new heights with its complicated pattern drafting, the precise dyeing of both the warp AND the weft threads prior to measuring and warping the loom. In addition, starch is also applied to the silk threads prior to “shim-bata” weaving as well as after the dyeing prior to warping. the starch or glue is made of specific types of local seaweed.
The process of dyeing the threads: Prior to the late 1800’s, the threads were wrapped with banana plant fiber to resist the dye and form the kasuri patterns. Other methods, from various areas dyeing resisted threads for kasuri weaving, include tying and clamping the threads, but in 1907 two men from Amami in Kagoshima prefecture invented a new method. This consisted of weaving the warps and the wefts temporarily with cotton threads on a special shim-bata loom which resulted in more precise and complicated patterning as well as improvements in production quantity and quality.(The tightly woven cotton wefts over the silk warps resist the dye in shibori-like fashion.)
We saw the preparation of the warping threads-the weaving of the patterns from a precise draft of the pattern desired as well as the additional colored dyeing of the wefts post-dorozome dyeing. Apparently there are 28 (!)preliminary processes that take place in preparation of the actual weaving. Once the loom is warped (we did not see that process) the weaving begins and the weaver takes over. The weaver handles the shuttles adeptly and quickly, stopping every 7-10 centimeters or so to adjust the threads with a sturdy needle and correct any errors in the pattern caused by tension issues, by adjusting the warp threads before continuing on.
I was sat at a loom and after a brief instruction in Japanese and (international hand waving) I wove about 20 centimeters of beautiful plain woven silk, alternating shuttles filled with a variety of solid and multi-colored silk bobbins. It was like magic! The finished piece was a simple striped pattern and the resulting cloth was very smooth and lightweight.
It really is amazing how the skills for this type of silk fabric came to be developed, practiced and cherished by the Japanese of Amami Oshima and beyond. You can really appreciate the very high prices of this fine silk cloth once you have seen it first-hand. You can read about it, see photos & videos, but to experience it first hand- even for a short time is precious. One of the weavers told me she had been weaving for over 40 years. She said that anyone could do it but that it takes 4 years of 8 hours a day weaving to achieve the correct quality as a weaver of oshima tsumugi. I actually thought that might be understated. I told her I have a lot of catching up to do! The whole process is such a team effort and the failure of the materials or quality at any point in the process has the potential to ruin the work of all the prior steps taken by the other artisans to that point. Everyone is very focused on a good outcome.
A couple of other points to note- the silk used is not filature silk, meaning that it is not reeled from the cocoon. It is referred to as a yarn, meaning that it is spun from a silk like mawata. Apparently, sericulture was (is?) practiced on the island but I did not get to see any of that this time. Further research ahead… I’m interested in seeing how the silk used for the Amami oshima tsumugi is spun and prepared for weaving here, who does it, and where. Another note- during our tour of the tsumugi village, our guide/driver Kounosuke tells us that his mother was a weaver on the island before she had children (4). AND that his grandfather was a dyer….he has lived on Amami his entire life and had not seen the weaving process before.
About the guided tour at the Amami Oshima Village: If you are not there to do a workshop, the tour seems quite rushed. They have a specific amount of time devoted to each group before ushering them into the gift shop. I get the impression that there are a lot of casual tourist that go through there by the busloads in the high season. The gift shop does have two parts- the VERY expensive side featuring full kimono, full bolts of woven silk, obi, and various other very fine clothing items and also another side which is filled with fine but more affordable and smaller items- all beautiful and interesting to see. Kounosuke told us that the high season is of course Golden Week, July and August (when school is out and workers have vacation time) as well as during the Hatchi-matsuri or August festival. He said that was his favorite holiday of the year in Amami. Our other guide who did speak English was Yui who grew up in Yokohama (!)and came to live in Amami one year ago after visiting it on vacation. It’s that kind of place.
Here is a photo gallery from the tour:
As before- there is a lot of video to edit so perhaps on the plane I will do some of it. To follow, the rest of the day tripping around Amami and then time traveling again back to Kyoto.
Rather than going back in time to Kyoto at the moment, I’m going to skip ahead to Amami-Oshima and my visit here to see first hand the dyeing and weaving for which this small island is known.
First, a little bit about about Amami- this is the northern-most island in the Okinawan archipelago. Just south of the southern tip of Kyūshū, it is volcanic in origin, surrounded by coral reefs (reef break for surfers! ouch-or as Kounosuke says-surfers tatoo(scar). To the west is the East China Sea and to the west , the Pacific Ocean. We are in the northern part of Amami-Oshima.
Next, a little history from Wikipedia:
It is uncertain when Amami Ōshima was first settled. Stone tools indicate settlement in the Japanese Paleolithic period, and other artifacts, including pottery, indicate a constant contact with Jōmon, Yayoi and Kofun period Japan.
The island is mentioned in the ancient Japanese chronicle Nihon Shoki in an entry for the year 657 AD. During the Nara period and early Heian period it was a stopping place for envoys from Japan to the court of Tang dynasty China. Mother of pearl was an important export item to Japan. Until 1611, Amami Ōshima was part of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The island was invaded by samurai from Shimazu clan in 1609 and its incorporation into the official holdings of that domain was recognized by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1624. Shimazu rule was harsh, with the inhabitants of the island reduced to serfdom and forced to raise sugar cane to meet high taxation, which often resulted in famine. Saigō Takamori was exiled to Amami Ōshima in 1859, staying for two years, and his house has been preserved as a memorial museum. After the Meiji Restoration Amami Ōshima was incorporated into Ōsumi Province and later became part of Kagoshima Prefecture. Following World War II, along with the other Amami Islands, it was occupied by the United States until 1953, at which time it reverted to the control of Japan.
The beach near us (a one minute walk away) is filled with shells and bit of coral. Unfortunately, the daily tide seems to bring in many floating PET bottles as well. Not sure where they are coming from but it’s a striking reminder that even a place this remote is plagued with this problem. While I was here, I saw an article in the Mainichi that said that Coka-Cola will be begin using 100% recycled materials for a new product line in Japan with a goal of increasing that to more of it’s products in the future. “The Japanese government on Friday set a goal of reducing disposable plastic waste by 25 percent by 2030, and completely recycling or reusing all such waste by 2035.” (from the article) The Japanese are much more fastidious and organized at recycling their containers and trash than we are in the US. A very high % of people here comply with the rules of sorting trash and recycling. They do have a problem with over-packaging which is starting to be addressed. They are looking at banning single use plastic bags country-wide. While here, I carried a small nylon bag for any shopping and tried to get shopkeepers to not bag my purchases. It’s gonna be a hard learning curve here as they love to package but when they get on board I trust they will do it very well! But as Maura said today on her FB -WE ONLY HAVE FIVE YEARS! (Hi Maura- love you and all you do there in Kolkata and beyond…)
Now, back to Amami… My fascination with kasuri weaving (ikat) over the years has grown-perhaps with the decline in the actual making and appreciation of the skill it takes to do this type of dyeing and weaving. For those not familiar with kasuri, it is cloth with patterns woven into it that utilize resist dyed threads either for the warp, weft, or both. These pre-dyed resist threads create a patterned cloth that is further complicated by special and advanced techniques such as as dyeing both the weft and the warp (lining up the two to make sure the desired pattern is achieved), painting the warp directly before weaving, weaving the warp or weft (or both) before dyeing-then unweaving it to do the final weaving. This type of weaving can be done with various fibers but my main interest is cotton and silk. So many variations and advanced complications. It’s really all in the preparation of the warps and wefts as the cloth itself is a plain weave in most cases (always exceptions of course!). This is a simplified explanation and apologies to all serious weavers out there… I was tempted to come to Amami as one of the participants in the silk tour had me arrange an extension to Amami to do a little research into mud dyeing here-or dorozome as it is called in Japanese. (doro-mud, zome/some-dyed). Jacqueline Roberts had come on the tour once before and if you recall from several previous posts, she wrote the book “American Silk”. She has been doing other textile writing for journals and such and has done some writing on mud dyed silks of Canton, China. So, as I was doing the research and setting up the extension I was tempted to come as well since it offered not only dyeing, but weaving AND coastlines-sometimes surf-able as Phil would accompany me on this part of the trip. Perfect combination!
Yes, a bit of rambling here but hey-my blog, my ramble! Feel free to skip ahead to the pretty pictures (and there are many!) Soooo….upon arriving we had to figure out how to get around and where exactly to go. We stayed in an AirBnB so not central to anything except peace and quiet, the beach, and the ever-present walkable “conbini” (convenience store) and a bus stop (yay!). The AirBnB host’s manager offered to pick us up at the airport so off we went and arrived at our not so little spot on the beach. (the AirBnB in Ikebukuro was a postage stamp compared to this but of course was located in the city).
Our new friend (Kounosuke) who picked us up at the airport asked us how we were going to eat and get around and when I told him that we would figure it out- (combini) and perhaps hire one of the Amami guides I had seen online, he offered to take us over to the dorozome workshop the next day during his work lunch break where he works taking care of the elderly here on the island (a much needed service in this aging population). We took him up on his offer and he even took the next day (yesterday) off to guide and drive us around with an English speaking friend of his. What good luck we have! And that wasn’t the only good luck. It is the rainy season here in Amami and we had clear weather for the first 3 days and all through our adventures here. About an hour after returning to our Amamian Paradise yesterday it started POURING-with lightening and thunder galore and pretty much has not stopped- it’s still pouring out there right now-Saturday morning. The two of them are in their late twenties and great fun! I’m glad to pay them for their time and contribute a bit to the local economy. When asked, Yui told us that jobs were easy to get -elder care, resort work (as this is a popular place in July & August and during Golden Week), but pay is low- about half what it is in Tokyo area. Kounosuke is married with two small children.
So, now onto dorozome! I looked over the possible choices (there are only 2-3 on the island) and settled on one I thought would be interesting and different from the one that Jackie had participated in (we could later compare notes). We ended up going to Higo Dorozome. Fortunately we had Kounosuke to take us there since it was not at all on any beaten path. Not wanting to abandon us there, he arranged with the owner to secure us a ride back to a bus stop from which we could return. Phew! I had called ahead and told them to expect us around 2 pm and they confirmed that would be ok. There was no English spoken there at all. But dyers dye and words are not always necessary- we speak the language of the cloth… To give you an overview of the dorozome process before adding the gallery of photos and a few video- dorozome is done using wood chips of the Japanese hawthorne bush (sharimbai). This wood is used fresh (not old and dried) with the sap still in the wood. The wood is plentiful in the local area and after collecting, it is chipped. A huge basket containing about 300 kg. is lowered into a large drum of water and boiled and soaked for 4-7 days (unclear how long) to release the tannins in the wood. The heat comes from a wood burning stove that utilizes the used chips once they are dried- nothing wasted! A sort of fermentation takes place and I believe they also add lime (to up the pH) once the soaking is done and the solution is skimmed and moved to other vats. I was told that it is a fermentation vat and the smell confirmed such a notion. It is at this point the dye is ready to use. Cloth is submerged in the solution many times with additional rinsing in a lime rinse between each dip followed by spinning out. So, prior to the mud bath:
-submerge and work dye into cloth for 4 minutes -rinse in water and lime -about 30 seconds -spin out -repeat at least 4-5 times (for amateurs/workshop) -the final dip into the sharimbai is not rinsed in the lime solution-just spun out
Now on to the mud. The facility at Higo dorozome had a square steel mud vat for practical purposes. They may still utilize a spot near the river as well but for commercial dyeing these days, it behooves one to use more practical production methods. Remember- we are trying to make a living here and not just become a museum! The vat was thick with clay-like mud at the bottom and had to be stirred well with a paddle each time before use. Mud dyeing process:
-submerge cloth and swish around and squeeze for 1-2 minutes -remove and squeeze out -open to the air for a minute or so (oxidixing?) -repeat above 2-3 times -rinse in clear running water -repeat the above again -inspect and return to the sharibai bath for additional dips -then back to the mud. -final rinsing and inspection of the color before opening cloth
So prior to the beginning the dye process, I was directed to choose the item(s) I would dye. I chose a t-shirt and a hemp scarf. The pieces were prepared (bound resist). I just did a simple and quick shibori binding with elastics provided. Interestingly the cloth was not wet out at any time prior to dyeing (as in indigo dyeing). Then it was on to the dyeing…see above.
More about the dorozome dyeing…the sharimbai (Japanese hawthorne) is full of tannin which is mordanted with the lime. I also read somewhere that wood ash is used in the vat but did not confirm that at Higo. The clay/mud is a dark gray full of iron which reacts with the tannins and darkens the cloth- just like when you use iron water in botanical printing or natural dyeing. Lime is abundant on Amami which has some limestone caverns and even underground rivers-did not visit there but saw info at the museum. Also, the island is surrounded by coral reefs- you guessed it-calcium carbonate (lime)! So everything is there- naturally, to produce this type of dyeing.
Some other observations- Higo Dorozome is a commercial working dye studio. I say this to contrast it against the Oshima Tsumugi Village/Sight Seeing Garden which does seem to do some weaving (not sure how much of it is serious commercial weaving) but the set-up there is definitely more geared towards the average tourist who wants to get an overview of the process and visit the gift shop. I also say this because as these sorts of crafts decline, many of them are turned more towards museum status (not unlike the Orinasu obi weaving studio in Kyoto-more on that in the Kyoto post). Higo has been there for 40 years and over time the main work of dyeing dorozome and indigo silk threads for oshima tsumugi weavers has steadily declined due to several factors-fewer wearers of kimono, the high cost of producing in current times, the aging of the artisans whose supreme abilities are harder and harder to pass along. I’m sure there are other more complicated factors that I’m missing here but the end result is less demand. So, that is why it is necessary for dye studios such as Higo to produce other items that are more accessible to the modern general public, to open the studio to visitors for workshops, and to educate new generations of the importance of continuing and innovating these craft processes. Nature, handwork, passion, commerce, beauty all come together in a distinct and geographic spot such as Amami. There are people in this chain of commerce devoted to seeing it gets sold in shops in the mainland, on the Ginza (as in the shop that we visited previously-see earlier post) as well as those connecting up with designers and retailers of modern clothing. Aside from my interest in dying and textiles, I’m also very interested (necessarily) in the commercial aspects of it all. I want people who choose this type of difficult work to find a way to make a living and to keep doing so. AI can’t produce this type of work and it won’t be replaced by robots. I am interested in finding the path…making the path, wondering, and following the moon.
Next post will cover my time weaving some silk oshima tsumugi…!
Kudos for your ganbatte in making it through this post! I add the photos here en-mass due to time constrictions. And now for the photos…
-There are many more photos and also lots of video that needs editing but I’ll have to get to that later. I’ll have a lot of that to share at the July 27-28 workshop at the Japanese American National Museum. I think there are still a few spots left- you can sign up here.
Stay tuned for Amami Oshima tsumugi weaving- it’s really amazing!
I’ll end this post with a little video of the Amami beach…
I’vee had a couple requests to set up a local silk shibori flower making class, so I did!
There are only 4 spots open so if you are interested, please check the shop listing here.
All materials are included in this small group class.
assorted silk pleated flowers
I was going to post this on FB yesterday as a new event but there was a worldwide FB outage affecting postings,comments etc. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing?
And while I am at it, I will remind you of the upcoming April 6-7 Shibori and Indigo workshop at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles (or as it is sometimes known as- Japangeles). Signups are through the museum at above link.
The rain here has gone away for at least the next couple of weeks and I was able to replace the shade structure over the dye space outside. There is a new squirrel in town (or even possibly Squirrelly Gurl herself as they can live up to 8 years or so). She is so friendly to me and personality wise, much like the OG Squirrelly Gurl. I can’t know for sure but am enjoying her daily visits. Buddy the dog enjoys watching her and feeding time but the new cat-Kuro chan is trying to chase her when she can! SG is too fast for Kuro-thankfully and outsmarts him every time.
risu chan- Onakagasuita!
I did channel a little bit of Ume san last week and made this bag from the piece of sashiko laced boro from the last blog post. Adding it to the shop now.
Cross shoulder bag, made entirely from used/recycled and vintage materials outside of the thread and the shoulder strap. One outside pocket on back side, one inside. Completely lined with vintage kasuri kimono silk.
Front fabric covered button closure with indigo twined wrap-around cording. Outside pocket fits large mobile phone while an ipad can fit inside.
Plus the Silk Study Tour to Japan is in high gear. Everyone is getting ready for this great adventure. I’m receiving the bio pages for the booklet I make to hand out to our hosts so they can learn more about us. It’s always interesting to them! We still have 2 spots open for anyone wanting to make last minute plans to join our textile adventure. Link here.
In the absence of the Amuse Boro Museum (which closes this month) we are making plans to visit the Mingei Folk Museum instead. It just so happens that they are having a special exhibit of the work of Motohiko Katano, known for his adventurous and creative shibori patterns. I have never seen his work in person so I am quite excited about this. My first visit to this museum was with vintage textile dealer Carola Pfau’s husband Makoto (now passed), who also treated me that day to several of his favorite temple sales. Boy did we have a good time! Great memories…
We will also be visiting the Ichiku Kubota Museum as well as the Kyoto Shibori Museum so participants will have the opportunity to study some of the best shibori in the world!
Time to go and dye the rest of the indigo thread for this weekend’s workshop!
Upon returning fro Houston it was time to get at the persimmons if I wanted to get on with any hoshigaki (dried persimmons). Mine are the Hachiya variety if you don’t recall from previous posts on this annual topic. I was concerned they might be a little too far along for hoshigaki when I returned from the show but seems they were fine. The tree was very prolific as usual again and it simply produces way more persimmons than we can eat fresh or even give away, for that matter. Not everyone is a persimmon fan.
In order to dry them they are washed, and peeled before being tied in pairs to a string to hang. Since I pick from my own tree I can easily cut them with a little “T” at the top to facilitate the tying.
The biggest issue is mold, which I am having a little issue with this year on a few of them so we will lose a few. Seems to mainly be the ones not getting as much sun as the rest. This year I am drying them all outside. Unfortunately, (for the drying persimmons but YAY for the garden and the fires!), we have had several rains that have necessitated my having to cover them and the dampness is also contributing to the mold I think. At least it’s certainly not helping.
I have some that are on a moveable drying rack and that set can be put into the garage with a fan when needed. I am in the “massaging” stage so need to give them all a few squeezes each day to keep them soft on the inside and to keep the outside surface from having permanent crevices where mold can grow.
I have about 150 drying here and my son has about 50 at his place. We still have at least 100 -150 ripening on the tree! A double recipe of persimmon walnut bread only uses 2-3 medium size ones! They are good fresh with a little plain yogurt in the morning! A few pics…
the tree after picking off 200!
washed and ready to peel
how to trim the stem
in the night hoshigaki garden
in the daytime-starting to oxidize
massage stage-drying in the sun
massaging and checking them
thanksgiving dessert-surprise! persimmon bread!
you have to look closely here but one persimmon appears to have disappeared! the culprit might be sitting on the fence…
Prior to taking care of the persimmons, I had to deal with the pomegranate tree. Unfortunately some were lost and ripened while I was away but not to worry. I picked the rest of the tree and juiced them and sent all the peels and any inedible ones to the dyepot! Dyed some lovely golds on mostly silks while I enjoyed some fresh juice!
ready to juice!
got about 4 quarts of juice and the rest-into the dyepot!
it’s kind of like a Jedi mind trick- that very red goes in and out comes gold! (alum mordant)
Next post will be a long needed shop update! and speaking of persimmons… I made these for the show and missed getting them into the box when I packed! So they will be going into the shop.
made from vintage japanese and indigo dyed scrap fabrics with immature persimmons that fell and dried(the bead)and the dried top of spent persimmon flowers. each has a small bag of emery in the bottom of the pincushion to clean and sharpen your pins and needles.