Today, I was distracted by silk and a new silk device I purchased from Two Looms Textiles-a tsukushi. They had acquired one some time back and were not using it so contacted me as a potential foster parent for the item. Happy to adopt and try it out! It arrived yesterday.
The first thing I did was to make some silk mawata caps. That did not go so well as I usually make the square mawata using my stand but from researching a bit saw that caps are preferred for making yuki tsumugi ito. Not a complete disaster but not exactly caps. Practice needed just like I did for the mawata.
I used them anyway for my first practices. The thread was too thick but I carried on. I found some caps I had brought back from Japan and tried them.
Much better! Fluffed them all out like I had seen online. I find there is a trick to putting them on the tsukushi so you can easily pull the fibers out to the desired thickness. The think with yuki tsumugi is that it is not twisted- it’s basically pulled out and sealed with spit. In the end, i was using a bowl of water as that seemed better.
I am not interested in ultimately making super fine threads like those which are used in the beautiful yuki tsumugi fabrics from Japan but something quite rougher and folkier like the fibers used to weave this bolt of cloth… yeah it’s a dream. But if you don’t dream, then what?
Meanwhile in the garden, will be transplanting the tomato seedlings next week into 4″ pots. And, my seed potatoes arrived so I am preparing the raised bed where they will be planted. Will add some pole beans to the same bed when it’s time. (note to self, start seeds!)
and in the background of course….moons. I think I am going to make some special sets using only that fabulous silk cloth above. Like jude commented, the indigo is in love with that cloth.
( and by the way…the Daily Dyer is having an issue with my mobile app uploaded posts. Please be patient. I will reload that last post for the third time sometime tonight)
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…
I added a new Moonmate video a few days ago yet never got this blog post finished to announce it. This is the shortest one so far! Originally I thought they would all be about 5 minute videos but up to now I have not been able to achieve that. Today’s video focuses on making some kakishibu base fabric as a starting point- check it out…
Generally, it takes me a bit to write a post and these days you would think that would be simple, given that we are all staying at home. But herein lies the problem! We are all staying at home! And staying at home with two musicians leads to some interesting days. No one is going anywhere so finding a nice block of uninterrupted time in which to write/record/teach is somewhat problematic. In the before times, each of them would regularly be gone for hours at a time but not now! We are all seeking some separate space for our various activities. Even my noise cancelling headphones can only do so much and more often just serve as a visual reminder that I am doing my own thing. My blog posts are being written in fits and spurts and not in one nice stream of thought. On the other hand, there are positives as well- Trevor and I are enjoying more gardening time together and and Phil is working on more recordings. Plus, a marimba has arrived!
There have been many points over the past couple of weeks where I said to myself: “hey me, that is something I want to include in my next blog post”, but alas-much of it fades away as time passes by as I flit like a butterfly from one thing to the next…. I really should write them down. (ps…the monarchs are laying lots of eggs and caterpillars are hatching all over the yard!)
Here are a few links to thankfulness…that I managed to remember!
Mo from her blog “It’s Crow Time” wrote a beautiful post that included some moons and a wonderful bag she made for a friend. She’s been a long time and patient moonmate…thanks Mo! Hers is a blog I recommend subscribing to by email.
And then again, my daily read and maybe yours too, is Jude’s Spirit Cloth-taking a new turn from a new place. She is doing a “work beside me” type project that many are enjoying. This post, from a few days ago, features moons and the thought of overlapping as an idea.
And John Marshall is now doing online workshops! Maybe I mentioned that in the previous post. I finally was able to secure a copy of his book “Singing the Blues” just in time for the new indigo vat.
I’m making a new natural indigo vat- finally. An organic fermentation vat. I didn’t have enough indigo for a full 40 gallon vat so started with a smaller 10 gallon one. Pasted up the indigo, measured out the other ingredients, pulled 10 gallons of rainwater I had collected for a large vat, and dug the rest of my madder so I could use it in this vat. Moved the madder to a new location.
I have wanted to try rainwater for quite some time and now finally getting the chance. I notice that it is one full point higher (9) in pH than our regular tap water (7.8). I re-calibrated my ph meter and realized that I needed a new container of calibrating solution but had enough for about 2 more times. Used up the last of my soda ash so ordered a bit of that too from a local pool supply shop. Also found that my titanium aquarium heater was no longer working so went ahead and ordered one. Seems they have gotten cheaper since the last time I ordered one-hope it’s a good one for my purposes. It’s still cool at night here (upper 50’s/low 60’s) so it needs a little help. I have it sitting in a sunny location for the time being and will dig out some insulating wrap for it today. After retrieving the wheat bran, indigo and some additional madder from the garagio freezer, I note that a good sorting out of the freezer is in order. There are dyestuffs, cocoons and other materials in there along with walnuts (squirrels continue to visit), last seasons roasted hatch chili peppers (very spicy!), various flours and other things. Need to remove all and defrost this week. Updates on how the vat is doing in the next post I imagine…
On a sad note, I saw a notice that Michelle Whipplinger of Earthues has passed away. I didn’t purchase often from her site but did gain invaluable information from her writings. I know many were fortunate to take workshops from her and benefit directly from her global expertise gained over a long and sustained practice. She left a beautiful, kind and compassionate knowledge base in her wake for us to enjoy. Blessings to her memory and to her family and friends.
And in celebration of beginnings… my old silk moth eggs did not hatch but I ordered a small batch of eggs (mainly since I had gotten the neighbor kids interested and a little home schooled science might be good) and they should be hatching any day now.
To beginnings and endings…and to continuing. I think I’ll leave it here.
Wednesday’s post was long enough so I didn’t add specific information about the side trip I’m taking after the Silk Study Tour to Japan ends. Prompted by one of the tour participants who is researching the mud dyeing traditions of various cultures and locales, I was inspired to go and see this for myself and add to my Japanese textile knowledge. I will spend 4 days there learning and exploring the textiles of Amami Oshima. Amami Oshima (oshima means island in Japanese) is the northernmost island in the Okinawan archipelago.
While the Ryuku Islands (and Okinawa) are well known for their Indigo dyeing and beautiful weavings using tropical plant fibers, Amami Oshima is known for its tradition of plant and mud dyeing on silk, often supplemented with indigo. Its beautiful and intricate weavings using the previously bound and dyed warp and weft threads are called Oshima Tsumugi. This link has a good description of the process and terms. Japan seems like it is filled with endless opportunities to learn and discover so many textile traditions and this is one I have not previously explored. Interestingly, I realize I have already collected a small sampling of these textiles! I’ve seen them here and there in Japan and picked some up when the price was not too steep just to study and enjoy them. A sampling:
A recent video shows more of the process and the issues facing the economics behind weaving this very time consuming textile. There is also a lot of indigo dyeing that occurs in the Ryukyu Islands perhaps in part due to its tropical and mild climate as well as the weaving of choice bast fibers, especially on Okinawa. I expect I will also see some of that on Amami Oshima as well. I also read where they produce a special type of sake there using sugar cane…will have to try it!
So the fabric collections I will be putting together for you includes one selection that will be collected only from Amami Oshima and I wanted to explain a little bit more about what that was all about. You can see the various collections that can be ordered here in the shop.
I look forward to sharing my Amami Oshima adventures here on the blog in early June.
I have been wanting to get to this post all week but, well…you know. Life, work, local politics, heatwave, gardening…need I go on?
Hope this finds you well and safe from heat, fire, flooding, typhoons, drought and in relative good health! Earth is challenging many!
First off, the update email for the Silk Study Tour to Japan has been sent to those who are signed up to go next year (May 2019). If you are signed up and didn’t receive it let me know. If you are interested in one of the remaining spots here is a link to the basic info and itinerary.
I previously covered my classes at the upcoming Houston International Quilt Festival and online registration is now ongoing. Visit my website for the pertinent details and links.
We just concluded the most recent workshop at the Japanese American National Museum which was really wonderful. They just keep getting better and better! Returning students are really taking on more challenging designs and experimenting. New students jump right in and are encouraged by the returning students. We are now picking a couple of new dates to end the year. Will add to the website and announce as soon as they are finalized.
As I added the link to the JANM I just saw the upcoming exhibit :Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys September 15, 2018 – March 24, 2019. This will be right up my alley since I grew up there from 1965-72! Yokohama tomodachi-let’s go! Natsukashii ne…
Anyway, back to the silk moths. The silk moths emerged, mated, laid their eggs and quietly died. The eggs dried, turned grey and are stored in the fridge for now. Here is a little video I put together about this stage. Even the local cat Toby helps out!
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.