It’s been a rough week, month, year! So many ups and downs. I been telling myself I would write a blogpost almost every single day these past two weeks but…well I just couldn’t didn’t. I read your blogs, FB pages, twitter and a few books, and took lots of stitches. First off, my dear friendlies, one of my favorite FB friends/writers/ NYC poet of life, Michelle Slater passed away. I never met her in person but here, through the blog when she began commenting many years ago. I think she came here via Spiritcloth as many of you have for so long (and even for some, more recently). We had so many wonderful exchanges over the years, through social media as well as the mail. She lived alone in a rent controlled apartment in Manhattan and gave us the gift of so many views of the city she had lived in for over 60 years. She also wrote a blog (actually several) filled with observations of life, photos, and poetry. Just reading the sidebar of her blog could change your life and worldview. She commented on my blog many times over more than a decade and I will treasure each comment once more whenever I come back to one. In the years prior to our friendliness on FB, she gave me glimpses into her world as they related to mine in her comments but it was only 4 years ago she left me the following comment that told me even more about herself than i had known:
She was found in her apartment, apparently in her usual chair, when friends noticed she hadn’t posted for several days and wasn’t answering the phone. In my mind I imagine her setting up a new post with a fabulous link or video or simply typing “Goodnight dear friendlies” with a photo view out her apartment window as she did so often. So here’s to you Michelle… Goodnight with gratitude my friend! Link to the last video she posted…here. And my original post (2016) where Michelle left the above comment.
other parts (2 and maybe 3 to follow). comment link is at the top of post.
In the third quarter of last year there started to be an issue with ordering silk satin yardage. Suppliers did not have it in stock. Some suppliers said that government tariffs with China were an issue. Later we found that in addition, mills were not weaving it. Then I was told that the usual sources would not accept the wholesaler’s orders as it did now not meet minimum yardage for a run (minimum was HUGE-even for a large distributor).
What I do know about silk satin is that it was not a fabric that was widely available wholesale even when I first started dyeing the ribbon. Seems that there are either limited textile mills in China that produce it, that it may be done on specific looms that are not in good repair. The main use for this fabric is fine lingerie and bridal. With fine lingerie and bridal mfgs/retailers not ordering as much as before, perhaps the yardage needed to do a run just was no longer there. I’m not sure. Seems that anyone I contacted overseas said yes they had it, only to find out what they really wanted to sell me was charmuese. I have tried this for the ribbon with less than desired results.
So, I set out to find another type/weave/weight of silk that could produce the results I wanted. After test dyeing many, many silks I have finally settled on one. I have sent samples to beaders and folks who use the ribbon who report they like it just as well. In fact, for some users it seems to be preferred for its ability to take the pleating well. I have spent the past months working on this and learning to dye the new ribbon to my liking. Each silk weave and weight has its own characteristics and challenges when it comes to dyeing, discharging, and pleating. I’m still getting used to it.
In some ways, it got me thinking about back when I started to learn about shibori and the dyeing of silk. I’ve done a LOT of experimenting and learning along the way. It’s been quite an adventure!
I’m glad to say that I am finally ready to add some to the shop today. I am adding two different selections. The first are sets of three assorted colors (one yard each and one set only) and the other is three colors by the yard (ten yards per color available right now). In the shop now. Here is how they look:
The second addition is yardage- three colors are available in the shop by the yard as usual. There are a couple rolls of the original SATIN ribbon there too. I’ll be adding more as they are dyed.
In addition to what I have in my own shop, Michelle just received a set of colors for her shop Fundametals Annex. Michelle has been the most consistent and devoted reseller of my shibori ribbon since the beginning-supplying creative folks with a wide array of well sourced craft supplies. Not being able to stock the ribbon has been hard on both of us! Both her and her husband are self-employed and with three young teens at home they also have the added job of overseeing their online schooling during these corona days. Through it all, Michelle continues to do what she does best-run her home and family as well as supply creative folks with beautiful craft supplies for inspired handwork, while providing great customer service (despite the added difficulty of shipping issues with USPS!). These past six months have been hard on small businesses and I’m glad to be able to fill her orders once again. As I look back over the arc of making and selling my silk shibori ribbon, in addition to those who find joy and creative expression in using the ribbon themselves, it makes me content in knowing that the ribbon has helped many sustain themselves by providing an income- whether by reselling the ribbon or by buying and using it to hand make items they sell to supplement their own income. I have received many lovely emails from people all over the world about this much to my surprise. This is almost without exception being done by women. It is a small thing but it feeds my soul to participate in the circle. Even those who copied the ribbon to make and sell in competition have a place in this circle.
addendum in the light of day On a perfect note after writing this post last night, I received a spam comment this morning on an old post about the ribbon from 5 years ago. I deleted the spam comment and went and re-read the original post along with all the comments. Writing this blog over the past 14 years surely has been a journey… I appreciate all those who cheered and even jeered along the way. thank you.
And even more perfectly, a friend sent me this Buddhist prayer this morning. Perhaps you might also enjoy it as I did. (thank you Michelle!) “A balm to turn me inward where all that ever was, or ever will commence, arrives in perfect, present tense.”
It seems as though my ability to clearly recognize the usual landmarks marking the way has greatly diminished and, in some cases, completely disappeared. It’s OK to be a bit lost at times, and especially so right now (in America). It moves us in different directions, and asks us to consider more. More of what we wonder? More possibilities, more directions, more ideas. This is the kind of MORE that I appreciate. MORE can be more, and MORE can be less! I’m considering this (more and more).
As I travel down this increasingly altered road, abandoning the usual familiar roadmaps, thoughts of how and what if are my constant companions. I reach out to cherished and long time friends (how are you?), checking in with them to assure myself they are OK and are still there- realizing that perhaps PEOPLE are my new landmarks. This feels reasonable, if not truer, than some things I considered as landmarks previously. How are you?
Navigating the daily milieu these days takes a lot of energy. Remaining creative in the midst is a challenge. I find I must focus on balance of body, mind, and soul. Here, in my small world I seek the lessons of the garden, nature and handwork. The garden is feeding us well this summer and a steady stream of seedlings feeds the raised beds as plants are rotated through. The worm bin is very alive and well- I am experimenting with compost worm tubes in a couple of the raised beds- so far so good. Just trying to keep the soil alive and healthy. We have a bunch of praying mantis right now and I’m hoping they mate and make some more egg cases for us.
Silk shibori ribbon will be back in the shop soon! After at least a 6 month hiatus, I am making ribbon again. The silk satin I had been using became unavailable and I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting and considering other silks in various momme weights and weaves. I finally have settled on one that meets my qualifications. Pictures later this week. I am leading a free zoom workshop just for the regular shibori students from the Japanese American National Museum. It’s a group effort in many ways. It’s great to stay connected to them all while we can’t meet in person. The cool thing is that they all have made their own indigo vats at home! So over this 9 week course, they get to maintain their vat and really get to learn how it works over time. Several have even started fermentation vats! We have weekly zoom check-ins to see how the vats are doing, discuss and share the weekly techniques and patterns everyone is working on. It’s great that we can meet up this way and make sure everyone is ok. We are using Jane Callender’s book as a reference and inspiration. It really is the best one out there on stitched shibori.
It’s really been hot here-too hot. We have resorted to AC set at 78˚ when in the 90’s now and grateful to have it. Evenings are tolerable but still in the upper 70’s which is hotter than normal for us along the coast. Fires are ravaging the state, brought on by unusual weather and more than 300 lightning strikes. Over 500 fires are currently burning in CA. Such a devastating and environmental tragedy for so many. Currently the Santa Cruz area is suffering greatly along with Big Basin and Big Sur parks. California fires.
I will be updating the shop next week with more indigo (hopefully with some ribbon too-depending on the heat!). I will have packages of indigo cloth in various shades as well as some finished wall pieces. Indigo moons are ongoing as well as the cloth mooncards. I’ll also recommend the new USPS stamp celebrating the work of Ruth Asawa. The stamps are truly beautiful.
Considering new landmarks, tossing aside familiar roadmaps, we embark on new journeys together. May we choose Peace, Love, Health and Sanity when we come to a fork in the road. Together, we must.
dreaming big inside my small silk cocoon today i wonder what if
big dreams small spaces when will i emerge again to fly free once more
I like haiku because it distils a thought…
Update: The silkworms are mostly finishing cocooning with a few stragglers that hatched late. I lost surprisingly few. The two batches at neighboring homes fared less well. One lost all of them (20) and the other lost 16 of their 20 but have 4 that cocooned. I have around 200. At least 50 of the eggs did not hatch at the beginning but when I ordered 200 I was sent 300 (ish). I prepared a cocooning tray for the girls next door who lost all theirs which looked like this:
It’s kind of hard to tell here, but silkworms have a yellowish almost transparent cast to them when they are ready to cocoon. They are filled with sericin to spin their cocoons. Left to free range, they would find a couple of branches or a dried curled up mulberry leaf in which to spin a hammock , and finally a cocoon. I made this with both plus a few TP rolls cut in half so they can see what the cats prefer. Of course letting them cocoon in dried leaf makes for messier collecting of cocoons and renders the kibisu (outer silk) fibers inexorably mixed with leaf detritus. The Japanese have a cool machine for removing the cocoons from the frames and also for rolling the cocoons to remove the outer kibisu-all clear of any leaf material and usable for other purposes without too much effort. It will be 2-3 weeks before moths emerge. Many of mine will be dried, killing the pupae inside and the cocoons stored in the freezer for later reeling.
I made a little discovery this past week in regards to the native narrow leaf milkweed. I have wondered since last year why the monarch caterpillars don’t seem to utilize it as opposed to the tropical milkweed which keeps popping up in the yard here and there. They also like the balloon plant (milkweed) very much. They LOVE the small broad leaf native milkweed that they eat down to nubs every chance they get- so much so that it never seems to get a good start here. Fortunately, it spreads from underground and keeps popping back up. Back to the narrow leaf milkweed… I kept seeing the monarchs laying eggs recently on the flowers (it’s flowering now). The flowers are small clusters of tiny florets at the tip of the stems. I realized they probably don’t use the leaves as the leaves are so narrow and unstable they can’t really land on them to deposit their eggs on the underside of the leaf, but the flowers are broad and stable. I started noticing tiny spiders and even some of the tiny praying mantis on the flowers and I thought they would devour and eat the eggs or any larva that hatched-bummer. Then I started noticing that the flower heads are all wilting and dyeing! I thought- oh well…. then this!
I actually started to cut off some of the dead flowers thinking the spider infestation might spread. So now I have a little box of monarch caterpillars to watch over until they get big enough to transfer back to the plant!
We took a trip out on Monday to get away from our cocoon and to visit MIL in hers at the nursing/board and care facility. Since she is in hospice they allow restricted visits- PPE in place. We visit outside mostly. She fell Sunday and thankfully did not break anything but has some pretty colorful facial bruises from bonking her nose. She is doing ok all things considered and always welcomes the visit. It is very difficult communicating since she also has advanced aphasia. We do our best. Afterward, we went to the new Mitsua market and got Japanese bento for a picnic at the South Coast Botanic Gardens. They really have done a good job reopening there. Online time spaced ticketing, contactless entry, masks required, distance marked cueing (when needed), wide open outdoor spaces. They allow picnics in the meadows and there were actually very few people. Cost is $15 per person and you can stay as long as you like. A family annual membership is $65 for unlimited access for 2 for the year. We did that. They also have special dog walking tickets twice a month in the evenings (they are open 8 am- 8 pm). Eighty seven acres of gardens and trails. Sculpture too! A great place all around! Highly recommended for corona daytripping.
and in the garden… tomatoes are rising! Milo ventures outdoors and approves!
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…