Category Archives: silk

Amami Oshima Tsumugi Weaving

As a followup to the last post, I continue with the weaving portion of my trip to Amami.

On the way to Higo Dorozome Friday, I saw a sign that read “Oshima Tsumugi Village” so we decided to start there on Saturday. I didn’t realize until afterwards that this is where Jackie did her mud -dyeing workshop (we later compared notes). Since I had already done the sharimbai/dorozome workshop we opted for the basic tour and focused on weaving. They have a good but short tour of the weaving process but the real highlight was the addition of a weaving session on one of their looms where you could weave and keep a length of Oshima silk tsumugi. This was purchased at the beginning of the tour with the entrance fee.

Of course, the plain weaving of a piece of silk oshima tsumugi is a fairly basic process even for a novice. The real work as most weavers know, is in the preparation of the warp and the set-up of the loom. Oshima tsumugi takes this to new heights with its complicated pattern drafting, the precise dyeing of both the warp AND the weft threads prior to measuring and warping the loom. In addition, starch is also applied to the silk threads prior to “shim-bata” weaving as well as after the dyeing prior to warping. the starch or glue is made of specific types of local seaweed.

The process of dyeing the threads:
Prior to the late 1800’s, the threads were wrapped with banana plant fiber to resist the dye and form the kasuri patterns. Other methods, from various areas dyeing resisted threads for kasuri weaving, include tying and clamping the threads, but in 1907 two men from Amami in Kagoshima prefecture invented a new method. This consisted of weaving the warps and the wefts temporarily with cotton threads on a special shim-bata loom which resulted in more precise and complicated patterning as well as improvements in production quantity and quality.(The tightly woven cotton wefts over the silk warps resist the dye in shibori-like fashion.)

We saw the preparation of the warping threads-the weaving of the patterns from a precise draft of the pattern desired as well as the additional colored dyeing of the wefts post-dorozome dyeing. Apparently there are 28 (!)preliminary processes that take place in preparation of the actual weaving.
Once the loom is warped (we did not see that process) the weaving begins and the weaver takes over. The weaver handles the shuttles adeptly and quickly, stopping every 7-10 centimeters or so to adjust the threads with a sturdy needle and correct any errors in the pattern caused by tension issues, by adjusting the warp threads before continuing on.

I was sat at a loom and after a brief instruction in Japanese and (international hand waving) I wove about 20 centimeters of beautiful plain woven silk, alternating shuttles filled with a variety of solid and multi-colored silk bobbins. It was like magic! The finished piece was a simple striped pattern and the resulting cloth was very smooth and lightweight.

It really is amazing how the skills for this type of silk fabric came to be developed, practiced and cherished by the Japanese of Amami Oshima and beyond. You can really appreciate the very high prices of this fine silk cloth once you have seen it first-hand. You can read about it, see photos & videos, but to experience it first hand- even for a short time is precious. One of the weavers told me she had been weaving for over 40 years. She said that anyone could do it but that it takes 4 years of 8 hours a day weaving to achieve the correct quality as a weaver of oshima tsumugi. I actually thought that might be understated. I told her I have a lot of catching up to do!
The whole process is such a team effort and the failure of the materials or quality at any point in the process has the potential to ruin the work of all the prior steps taken by the other artisans to that point. Everyone is very focused on a good outcome.

A couple of other points to note- the silk used is not filature silk, meaning that it is not reeled from the cocoon. It is referred to as a yarn, meaning that it is spun from a silk like mawata.
Apparently, sericulture was (is?) practiced on the island but I did not get to see any of that this time. Further research ahead…
I’m interested in seeing how the silk used for the Amami oshima tsumugi is spun and prepared for weaving here, who does it, and where.
Another note- during our tour of the tsumugi village, our guide/driver Kounosuke tells us that his mother was a weaver on the island before she had children (4). AND that his grandfather was a dyer….he has lived on Amami his entire life and had not seen the weaving process before.

About the guided tour at the Amami Oshima Village:
If you are not there to do a workshop, the tour seems quite rushed. They have a specific amount of time devoted to each group before ushering them into the gift shop. I get the impression that there are a lot of casual tourist that go through there by the busloads in the high season. The gift shop does have two parts- the VERY expensive side featuring full kimono, full bolts of woven silk, obi, and various other very fine clothing items and also another side which is filled with fine but more affordable and smaller items- all beautiful and interesting to see.
Kounosuke told us that the high season is of course Golden Week, July and August (when school is out and workers have vacation time) as well as during the Hatchi-matsuri or August festival. He said that was his favorite holiday of the year in Amami. Our other guide who did speak English was Yui who grew up in Yokohama (!)and came to live in Amami one year ago after visiting it on vacation. It’s that kind of place.

Here is a photo gallery from the tour:

As before- there is a lot of video to edit so perhaps on the plane I will do some of it. To follow, the rest of the day tripping around Amami and then time traveling again back to Kyoto.

Other online resources:
https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/KQIy7n8uomYiIQ
this site gives a very good explanation of the tsumugi dyeing and weaving process by Kyoto Women’s University
https://kogeijapan.com/locale/en_US/honbaoshimatsumugi/

Houston Quilt Festival 2018 wrapped in a blog post

So here it is-the post Houston Quilt Festival blog post! Finally. It’s always such a stress to prepare for the festival and I always feel that I could have done more or better-but once I’m there, I’m there and no need to fret anymore about it. As usual, it turns out it was all fine- even better than that really and any doubts as to why I put myself through all of it melt away.

I made a little slideshow video of how a booth comes together. You might find it interesting…

Why is that? Well, mostly because of the people. The people who take my classes, the people who visit my booth, the people who help me in all the small and large ways (Yes, Virginia! Yes, Phil!).  It’s the people. They assure me that I am there for a purpose- and not just the purpose of selling them something. Of course it has to be a financial success in order for me to return year after year, but it’s definitely something more than that.

There are the intangibles-not easy to define but oh so necessary.

The gal who came all the way from South Africa to take my class on making mawata (hankies) from silk cocoons-she had just successfully raised her first batch of 2500 silkworms to cocooning and needed to learn how to process them. She has big plans of starting a small sericulture business there to employ the local community and bring a product to market. Very cool.I am wishing her all the best!

The gal who took an afternoon flower making class and who had a terrible morning- she really just needed some therapy handwork and a place to find some success in what she was making. Even though she struggled a bit at first, it is my goal to make it so everyone can find success at their own pace and level in my classes. The more I do this the better I get at recognizing each person’s individual needs. You have to be able to do this quickly as the classes are only 3 hours long (in this case) and there can be up to 24 students at a time! Everyone gets my attention. Afterwards when the show opened, she visited the booth several times and she was inspired not only to make things for friends and family but supported my efforts enthusiastically (and financially!). I thank her greatly!

The 90 year old woman who came by my booth when she noticed I was from Long Beach to tell me about her life there before she moved to Texas. She had been coming to the show for many years even though she wasn’t a quilter- just liked to enjoy the many creative souls in the room for a day. She looked quite fine in her Gianna Rose (Donna, Frankie, Dawn, and others will remember…) jacket and flower pin. And she grew up very near where I now live. She had been an antique dealer (not textiles, she said , although nice things often crossed her path) and liked to mend things simply and was always interested in the handwork of quilting.

The grandmother and granddaughter who came by and reminded me that when the granddaughter was 10 or so that I had given her a piece of ribbon to ponder. They had made the show an annual event for the two of them and the granddaughter looked to be about 15 now, still interested in sewing and crafts and, more importantly, coming to the show happily with her grandma.

The gal who stopped by and reminded me that when I owned a yarn shop in Long Beach that it was her very favorite and she since has not found a better one (it was at least 12 years ago!).

The various folks who come by “just to check”  and see if I happened to find a long lost stash of porcelain buttons I wanted to sell.  Love ya, but no. That was my previous incarnation and I appreciate that you remembered it!

The folks who stop in “just to look” because it’s so interesting and beautiful and those that say they always stop because they always learn something new. (Thank you so much!)

Honestly, I could go on and on.

Like I mentioned to Jude via a post comment a few posts back, I feel like I’m a placeholder of sorts.  Should I elaborate or do you know what I mean? It does give meaning to what I do, but like I also know, it has to be fiscally viable in order to continue. I was pleasantly surprised by the show’s outcome.  So, thank you all again. Truly grateful as I continue.

I missed a number of my fellow vendors who are no longer doing the show for one reason or another. It has become more difficult to make all the numbers work out, not to mention that for some of the folks (especially the vintage textile dealers are no longer spring chickens) the pure physicality of doing a show makes it a challenge. Great to see The Scarlett Lady (no website) there- where I found some great vintage linen dyeables and a few other fun things -vintage stamens and some irresistible “kittens with clothes” embroideries I couldn’t live without…(I actually still have a few of my childhood books featuring kittens with clothes…)

Those of us “in the biz” know that every show is it’s own unique experience and that it’s prudent to count on one thing (at least!) to go completely haywire with the potential of disastrous!  If you can do that and roll with the punches, you might make it. Only two major haywire events this time and it wasn’t disastrous at all- AirBnB host cancelling my res without explanation or notice and the rental car company who was a complete disaster but I was able to return to the airport the next day and rent from a different company.  You just NEVER know what the issue will be but you KNOW it will be something!  Rock and Roll! My good friend and seamstress/milliner/postal goddess, Virginia (of Yes,Virginia & Nasa Postal ) hosted me and facilitated many things for me that were of great service and much appreciated.

The workshops I taught were great fun and well reviewed- I always take the reviews seriously and almost always agree with the helpful criticism offered in them. It’s important to be able to see what you do through someone else’s eyes.  I am usually SO busy teaching that I take very few photos of the actual workshop but I did manage to get a few of the Moth to Cloth class before and at the end.

(you can click into each thumbnail image to a larger view)  We also made some silk batting for a lap size quilt which went home with the gal who volunteered to be the class helper (takes roll, handles the evaluations, and other duties for the Ed office staff).  We did that at the end and it was a real surprise to them how much you could stretch out one cocoon! Always fun to end with a big bang! As a reminder, here is a video of us learning to do it on the Silk Study Tour a few trips ago:

And to finally end this long post (if you made it this far!), there was lots of fun in the shibori ribbon classes and I continued making flowers for demonstration purposes  and custom orders for shoppers in the booth.  I really enjoy making people wonder!

All for now thankfully. There will be a couple more posts to catch up with in the next few days…
mata ne!

 

 

Silk Study Tour to Japan and the final days of silk moths…

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!

 

cocoons!

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.

silk,silkworms

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.

-about the Kaiko no Yashiro (Silkworm Shrine)

-speculation about the triangular torii

-fascinating history of the Hata clan
part one

part two

I made another little video that covers the cocoon harvesting.

 

 

 

 

Independence (for silkworms)

Somehow sensing that this year’s Independence Day needed a sign, a signal, a ray of something, the silkworms picked the 4th to start cocooning.  Now, the 6th, many are involved in that seemingly magical process while the rest are casting about looking for some real estate to call home.
I’ve been working and watching them. Thinking about my own cocoon of sorts. If I were a silkworm I might not want to emerge for awhile.
The caterpillars will be in their pupae stage for about two weeks and those that are not stifled  will begin to emerge from their cocoons then. Stifled cocoons (where the pupae is killed by heat or steam) will be used for reeling and cut cocoons or cocoons from which the moths have naturally emerged can be used to make silk hankies or mawata for other textile uses.
I have two types of cocooning frames or beds. One is the cardboard frame type currently used by sericulturists in Japan and one is the straw bedding. I got them both out and cleaned them up before setting them up for the silkworms.

I’m hoping there will be some good news to share with them on the other side! 

A few more photos…

It’s hot here today-supposed to be up to 103 today and tomorrow. Drew all the blinds and keeping the house cool as long as possible hoping to not use the $AC$.  Our little cocoon for the next couple of days…at least until the sun sets at 8 PM.

Solstice Silkworms

On this solstice, I think of Nature and the natural world. I think of the passing of time, our place on this planet and the global environment. The sun is not standing still, nor is time.  Recent days have seemed very, very long and dark- even at a time when light lingers. I let the change flow over me knowing it WILL change. All things change.

I am watching the silkworms change every day. They are my daily reminder.

I am sorry to report that this weekend’s workshop titled Moth to Cloth at the JANM has been cancelled due to low enrollment.  I’m a bit sad about this as I was really looking forward to it.  I guess the topic was a little esoteric for the venue. I feel like I’m taking it a little personally though.  Everyone wants indigo and shibori workshops.  The August offering there is already sold out with a waiting list now.  So for now, my 500 silkworms and I will just carry on…marking time.

silkworms for Moth to Cloth workshop

Did you know that from hatching to cocooning a silkworm increases in size by a factor of 10,000?
Here they are today, June 12, 2018.  Toby is wondering what this is all about. It’s his first experience with the silkworms.
Workshop link here.