Category Archives: sericulture

seeds, seedlings, seeded

Back to seeds

The beauty of seeds is that they can become.  What?  Something of beauty perhaps. Many seeds are beautiful themselves. Today I was noticing the seeds in the yard.

I will save some of the sunflower and poppy seeds. That sunflower plant had over 70 flower heads all at once. There are so many.  The birds love them too and we share them.  The poppies were so successful this year and gave much delight to all who saw them.  And so easy.  I really didn’t have to do anything at all except cast them out at the right time. Nature did the rest.  Next year, if you drive by you’ll know the house for all the poppies.  The seed heads for both the sunflowers and poppies are in the drying and maturing stage. Some will just drop on their own and surprise me next year. Faithful volunteers.

Yesterday, I went to present myself and my “career”  for Career Day at a South LA Elementary school.  First, I want to say that the kids were great.  They are like little sponges that soak things up.  They were enthusiastic.   Turns out- the school does have two mulberry trees on its campus.  Just no memory of why.  I think I can solve that. Next year, I will get some silkworms started early- just when the mulberry leafs out.  Plant some silk seeds and water them into fertile ground there.  As for explaining my “career” to the kids-it was challenging, funny, and informative.  I only had 30 minutes with each of the 4 classes. Most of the time was spent talking about silk and silkworms.  I brought a tray of them-still so tiny. We cut open the cocoons and saw the pupae inside. I passed around a hank of reeled filament silk, mawata, yarn, kibisu and more.  I showed them the cocoon frames-both straw and cardboard. They all took home a cocoon and a square of silk. Three classes were 3rd graders and one was 4th grade. Trevor had 4th and 5th graders and did 5 sessions. His kids learned to play a couple of rhythms with straws at their desks with him playing bells. This K-5 has no dedicated art or instrumental music teacher.

Unfortunately, I must report that the silkworms are not thriving.  This is the latest I have ever started them. I really wanted them for the career day event and was taking a bit of a chance.   Although there is green mulberry leaf here it is not new and succulent. It is just too dry. We had rain earlier this season but has been very dry for over a month now. El Nino did not arrive in the south this year as predicted. Moving on…sadly.

But fortunately, my friend Nobue Higashi in Annaka, Japan is having a very successful cocoon rearing season. I recently watched this NHK short video on a visit to her place there.  I couldn’t find one video of the entire episode and this one repeats but you can see the portion of the show in which they visit her.

A long hot dry summer is ahead. Water will continue to be precious.
so many poppy seeds

There are a few openings left for the indigo and shibori workshop on June 18 & 19. Contact the Japanese American National Museum to sign up. I will have some indigo seeds to share as well.

demonstrated at the workshop


encouraging wonder

I’m raising some silkworms again.  As a reminder. Of why. And how. And who I am.

I’m raising them from seed (eggs) and purchased 3 types- white, green, and pink cocoons. Previously, I have only raised white and yellow cocoons.

I have been wanting to do another (smaller than last time-1000) batch and now have 200 or so of each of the above. It seemed the perfect time as I was recently asked to step in to do a “career day” in a South LA Elementary school that was lacking parents who could come and do presentations.  SO, Trevor, Phil and I will all go and do our thing next Tuesday.  I wonder if parents really want their kids to be musicians, dyers or sericulturists…
At least we will be entertaining and make them wonder.

Here is the beginning-


back to the future-again

The story goes something like this:

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

cocoon bags at exhibit

cocoon bags at exhibit

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

cotton coon bag with markings

cotton cocoon bag with markings

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

this is washi

this is washi

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

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

in the shop now

year end announcements…

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

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


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

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

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

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

yes, it matters how a thing is done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

silkworm workers prepare straw bedding for cocooning

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

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

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

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

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

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

from an old farmhouse in rural Japan

harvesting from previously sown seeds

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


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

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

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

according to wikipedia,

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

Silk Study Tour to Japan 2013

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

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

fresh leaf indigo dyed raw silk

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

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

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