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…
Always during this time of year I begin to get the urge to raise silkworms. Recent walks in the neighborhood encourage me when I see mulberry trees leafing out with fresh tender greens. What silkie could resist?
Reading an account of rice farming and poverty in early 1900’s Japan from one of my favorite books “Memories of Silk and Straw” I saw this, adding further to my yearning…
Watching and caring for small creatures such as silkworms is very calming-at least to me. Seeing them eat, grow, and transform is a reminder of so many things. It makes me a little sad that the local schools no longer do this even though they often have mulberry trees on their campuses, originally planted there for this very purpose.
The neighbor kids are home a lot more now so perhaps they might be interested.
I have eggs in cold storage in my fridge which I saved from my last rearing dated July 2018. A bit old and who knows if they are still viable? I took out one set and will test to see if they will hatch. If not, I may order a small amount of eggs just for fun.
Growing up in Japan in the mid ‘60’s we lived in a house owned by a very wealthy Japanese family. It was located high on a bluff which overlooked the port area of Yokohama. As a child we went on field trips to the Yokohama Silk Center and came home with a small box containing one silk cocoon, one small square of silk, one bit of reeled silk. We regularly visited a nearby famous garden (Sankeien).
Later, much later, say 40 years later, I came to realize that the wealth of the owners of that house we lived in was most likely afforded to the family by the main industry of the time-silk. All wealth in Yokohama and in many other areas of japan was driven by silk trade.
That garden we regularly visited was built and owned by a wealthy silk merchant who many decades later donated the property to the city of Yokohama. It had been their family residence. Only in the past ten years did I learn that one of my early schoolmates was a granddaughter of this family and grew up playing and roaming the private sections of this grand place and it was through her connection that special field trips there were arranged.
The Yokohama Silk Center still exists and I make an effort to go again each time I visit.
So yes, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today and hoping some of the silkworms will hatch. I’ve put them in a warm spot, with some humidity and hoping for the best in this current corona cocoon.
I started working on this piece of cloth in order to add it to a larger piece I am stitching. The whole cloth itself is made from reclaimed, recovered, and salvaged bits of cloth-some redyed, restitched. This one in particular is from a couple of those categories.
Time stitching is time to think and reflect… When the fabric of our lives seems to errode and threads are laid bare, those of us who have the means, the desire, or the ability to strengthen the surrounding cloth/life can help hold it together. Stitching around the red silk, the cloth/wound was revealed, memorializing it’s existence, strengthened and preserved. The still fragile and ever eroding stripes/lives are grounded by solid yet invisible (on the front side) tiny stitches. The back side shows the structure and the pieces and stitches added in an effort, though impossible, to make the cloth/person whole again. Scars/tears will remain, lives lost and forever altered. This cloth is a small tribute to those who lost their lives this past week in Long Beach CA. In quiet moments of handwork, these thoughts rise up.
I chose this piece as it showed the story of the cloth from several perspectives. It had been reused previously (most likely as a cushion or futon cover) and taken apart. With several holes in it perhaps, the intention being to patch and reuse again.
As I handled the piece to think about how to apply it to the larger piece it became apparent that it needed some stabilization first. Using that same red silk I’ve shown you recently, I decided to highlight a couple of the duty worn areas. As I turned it over in my hand, I realized that the wear on this piece was really only in the warp areas of the brown dyed sections. This being a mainly indigo piece, it was warped in a couple of shades of indigo and what looks to be kakishibu (persimmon) dyes. The weft is indigo in two shades. What you notice is that only the kakishibu dyed sections are deteriorating- telling me that this dye was more damaging to the fibers over time. Was it treated with an iron mordant and not well rinsed? Not sure. But it’s very clear that only those sections broke down over time telling me it is dye related and not wear related.
I applied the lightest weight stabilizer to the back of the very fine red silk which I used. First stitching invisibly (front side) to stabilize the section and then further stitching the open areas revealing a bit of the red silk. Holding it up to the light, reveals its strengths and weaknesses.
I further decided that it needed more stability and added a larger piece of thin indigo dyed cotton to the backside. Copying methods I have seen on some of the vintage boro I have, I stitched the edges and again along either sides of the deteriorating stripes. It’s now ready to be part of the larger piece.
Above is just the process I used to stabilize the worn scrap. As I said in the video (last post), using the red silk to highlight patched areas reminds me of the Japanese ceramic technique generally called kintsugi. Looking up the translation of that word it contains the kanji for tsugi which means “inherit, succeed, continue, patch, graft”. So carrying this further, tsugimono would be something that is in need of patching. Yes, the patchwork that is our life, our clothstory. Stabilized, but not made whole.
Back in June 2012, I posted about this wonderful komebukuro. Here I copy the relevant part of the post in order to list this in the shop.
This particular one appears to be quite old and with many areas repaired. It employs various homespun cotton and hemp fabrics and the rope is handmade from hemp or other bast fibers. It is also quite large- the bottom measures 11″x11″ and each of the 4 sides about 15″(H) x 12″ . One side (the inside?) is more interesting than the outside-you can better see the patchwork. I would guess this one to be from the Meiji era (1868-1912). I appropriately found it at a temple sale.
This piece has been displayed at many of my workshops:
inside full view-1
more inside detail
edge detail and rope
bag bottom inside
outside view 2
another outside view
If cloth could speak! One can only imagine the past life of this bag, but from all the mending and variety of scraps used in its making, one can guess that it was made in the Japanese spirit of “mottainai” which conveys regret over wasting something useful. Poor families saved all cloth, which was then made and remade into useful objects many times over. I love this piece as a reminder of that notion- that we can be more thoughtful and find ways to make what we have last longer, and remain purposeful.
These types of “rice bags” were used for errands, carrying rice and perhaps other daily necessities, and sometimes to take offerings to local temples.
This one I came across at a Tokyo area temple sale in 2012, before I knew much about boro and Japanese folk textiles. I had yet to find and visit the Amuse Boro Museum in Asakusa. When I saw it it just spoke to me and I have admired it first hand since then. When I first brought it home it was quite dirty and I did give it light vacuuming, a gentle soak and hand wash to clear the fabric of the accumulated dirt. It seemed to appreciate it. I usually display it with more patched side out. Added to the shop here.
After six weeks of silkworm rearing, I have about 400 cocoons. I started off with an order of 500 eggs, so here and there, lost a few. There were no noticeable die-offs of any great number- a good thing that tells me I avoided any major disease issues by keeping the silkworms clean, well fed as well as in good temperature and humidity. It can be a real disappointment when something starts to kill them off. I can only imagine what can happen to large scale sericulturists.
I stifled these today in the oven at about 180 degrees. This will allow these cocoons to be reeled or used in ways where I want a whole uncut cocoon. With about 400 cocoons, if I let them all emerge I would end up with 10,000 or so eggs. I can’t imagine having to feed that many here. In fact, if I did allow the silkmoths to all emerge, mate, and lay eggs they would end up dying by starvation unless I put the eggs into cold storage. I would never be raising that many here anyway. I do have a few folks who wanted to get some eggs from me so I will save some for them. I will store the cocoons in the freezer in a net bag until needed. These cocoons will be used in Houston for my mawata class there along with some I purchased from Nobue Higashi who raises silkworms in Japan.
I should not let you leave this post without paying homage to the life of the silkworm. Yes, I have killed them and have feelings about that. In Japan, there are temples and shrines devoted to the silkworm or sericulture in general. Giving thanks for a good harvest and for the protection of the silkworm until cocooning are common among sericulturists in Japan even today. Shouldn’t we remember to be grateful for everything? There are many shrines devoted to sericulture scattered throughout Japan.
It was perhaps not a coincidence that today I was catching up with Nobue on her blog that I read this post where she talks about just this thing…the google translate is very rough but you can get the jist of it. I am looking forward to seeing Nobue san again next year!
You can read about the silkworm deities at Kaiko no yashiro (蚕ノ社) – the Silkworm Shrine here. It’s an interesting story.
Next year on the Silk Study Tour to Japan we will add a short visit to this Shinto shrine. It is about 20 minutes by car from our Kyoto hotel I am told. If there is not time to add it to the whole group itinerary, I will make time for those interested in a visit here in an early morning trip by taxi.
Following this down a bit further, I found an excellent couple of blog posts on this shrine.
The new listings there are the classes I will teach at the upcoming Houston Quilt Festival. Here are the classes I am teaching this time: Please visit the website link above for details.
I already have received a few emails expressing disappointment that I am not teaching any shibori and indigo classes there this year. I opted to not offer those to Quilts Inc this year as they have invited several others to teach the same topics in the past couple of years and quite frankly, it diminished signups for my class last year. Unfortunately, one of those teachers that was directly competing with my class just didn’t show up last year (!) and aside from disappointing a lot of students, lower enrollment in my all day class, there was a lot of confusion about it all. I have to ship in and buy a lot of supplies for that class which is costly and I refer all students to other vendors for supplies. This year, all the classes I am teaching are related to supplies I will have in my booth in an effort to offset some of the costs.
These are the “behind the scenes” decision making that has to go on to keep this dyers bills paid. These shows continue to change and one must look out for ways to make it all work in order to continue to teach and vend there. Many of the smaller one of a kind vendors no longer do. It simply becomes too expensive. We carry on.
That being said, I am excited to teach the three half day classes I submitted. As always, I will give it my all to provide a fun, rewarding, learning experience! Hope to see you there!
Oh, and we will be using some of the cocoons that the silkworms are spinning right now!
I came back to this post, originally published in December of 2011 because of a new comment from Linda who had visited it two years after it published. Five years late, she reports she is well and still kicking!
It gave me an opportunity to reflect on a few things and wonder how I felt about not only what I had written, but also about all the lovely and thoughtful comments by you, the readers. I find I’m good with all of it and pleased to see how many of the comments came from folks I still interact with today. I see how many of you have persisted, endured, grown, and created over the intervening (7!) years. Sashiko is more popular than ever these days and I’m pleased to say that it is the hand stitching method that won out over the machine on this one.
Out of curiosity, I searched for the sashiko machine online and found a forum where people were talking about their experience with it and it seems that it was pretty finicky with a high price and without good customer support. It seems the machine is still being made for home sewers and can often be found “on sale” for $1499 (as opposed to the original $2000).
Originally, I thought I would just republish the post with today’s date but then realized that editing the date would take it out of it’s space-time continuum and I don’t want to mess with the gravity of such things.
You just have to go to the post link yourself. You might be interested in re-reading it or maybe you never read it the first time. Don’t skimp on reading the comments.
Today, Toby watches the silkworms while I clean out the frass.
Heading into the the end of another year I’m still wondering. Wondering what this new year will bring and ready to accept and embrace all that it will be. What will be needed most in 2018? I think perhaps courage will be a most important ingredient. Also faith- in ourselves and in each other. In our small ways we can do much. There are so many changes occurring at such a pace that I want to remember to often find that space where I can slow down and sort things out.
I will continue my shibori dyeing, silk and indigo work as well as teaching workshops here and there. I will try again to post here more than I did this past year-perhaps rebuild my following for the blog- but more than that for myself, as a documentation of what I do. I thank everyone who participates in this journey with me in all ways- as a customer, as a student, as a blog reader, FB follower, commentator, emailer, Instagram poster, fellow blogger and all the rest. I am sustained and inspired by you all and am thankful.
As a service to my local community, I am helping a candidate for city council with her social media. I feel it’s the least I can do. It’s not something everyone does well or even understands how to do (it’s a constant moving target actually) and I have a little experience (and I learn more every day!) that I think might be helpful. So it’s my small contribution to help raise awareness and change the dynamics of our local city government. I urge more of us to look into what is happening at our local government level and do what we can to keep things from slipping away and out of our control. Money is corrupting everything it seems and transparency is weak. More and more here in my city, council members are not representing the residents adequately. Many local politicians see these positions as a ladder to higher office, paid commissions, & government pensions where monied interests are answered over the needs and desires of those represented. We know this of course, but what are we doing about it? Are we running for office, attending council or town hall meetings,helping good people who have the courage to do so, voting? I think we’ve had a wake up call in 2017…
So…courage. People like to pick a word they can focus on over the course of a year. Something to remind them of their resolve or direction. Perhaps courage will work for me. I see lots of potential for courage in 2018-both small and large. I will start small. I actually looked up the word courage in the thesaurus to see if there was a word I liked better. There wasn’t. Not one that embodied what I want to think about. But what I did see that I thought was important, were its antonyms- cowardice, fear, irresolution, meekness, timidity, & weakness. Maybe 2018 can be the season of courage? Continued courage in our own lives, courage to help others live through difficult times and moments, courage to step up and make a change, to become change.
There is a Season, turn, turn, turn…2018.
So, as the pages turn and the New Year approaches I will add a few more posts, looking back over 2017. Come back and visit sometime- I’ll be here…
And in the end,