Category Archives: textile detective

In my head… and silk sha

Over the past several weeks since the last blog post, I’ve written several posts here. Unfortunately, they’ve been in my head only! As I work through this and that, I take photos, record notes-all with the sincere intention of writing a post here. But alas, things get away from me and here we are!
But this post covers some fun and exciting silk textiles and other various news.

First I will say that local government elections are on the horizon here in Long Beach which is one of the things that have been distracting my mind and time. We have some excellent people running this time, but as usual, we are up against the money and power that the usual machine politics has installed here. BUT, there is reason to hope this time. People are sick of it.Please put a good thought forward for us to basically save this city from over-development and financial mismanagement. It’s a lot of time and an all volunteer effort for us and our grassroots candidates.

Next, I have been working on the upcoming Refashioning Kimono workshop. There is still time to sign up and even to order a kimono it you don’t have one on hand. A shipment from Richard arrived yesterday and I’m busy getting them photographed. I’ll be adding them to the shop later today. There is a nice variety to choose from. I am going to focus this post on one particular type of silk summer weave called sha. It’s one of the three types of silk gauze fabrics that are summer weight fabrics- ra, ro and sha.

Silk gauze is a transparent open weave fabric created from a complicated intertwining of warp thread. There are three basic styles of gauze weave in Japan: ra, sha, and ro. Known collectively as usumono (literally, thin fabric), silk gauze is thought to have first been worn in the summer by court nobles, samurai and other members of the upper classes in the early 8th century.

https://web-japan.org/niponica/niponica11/en/feature/feature03-3.html

Ra, a crisp silk mesh textile is often used in summer obi. Ro, a thin drapey silk woven with skipped rows to facilitate the air passing through the fabric on those hot, humid summer days Japan is famous for. Sha, is somewhere in-between. It’s defined by skipped or very open rows like ro, but more crisp than plain ro. It can also have various weights of weft threads- or even combine materials such as silk and hemp.

Here’s an example to clarify…

sha kimono, katazome replicating kasuri

When I first saw photos of this piece, I thought it was kasuri-where threads are dyed in advance of weaving to create the patterns on the cloth. The edges of the patterns are generally blurred as a result of this weaving technique. Sometimes the warp threads only are dyed, sometimes the weft, and sometimes both. Upon receiving this piece, I see now that this is a katazome(?) piece! It is paste resisted and the stencil or screen used to apply the resist includes the blurred edge pattern of kasuri- so to replicate one technique with another. Several stencils/screens or maybe even a sponging brush were used to create the overlay colors of subtle white and yellow over the turquoise. In the center photo above, you can appreciate the lightweight transparency of sha. In the third photo taken through a loop, you can see the weave structure. Every third pass a heavier weight and more twisted silk thread is used.
Textiles inform life. From the earliest times they tell us about ourselves, our history. The materials and techniques exemplify the skill and craft development of time and place. Preserving these textiles, studying them, learning from them, and using them now satisfies something very core in me. I really enjoy coming up with ways to use these old textiles.

Like the shibori I practice, the selection of cloth to be used is a key determinate to the success of the shibori work and dyeing. I often see people practice and teach shibori without a lot of thought of the fabrics being used. I find that is so key to the result. If you are trying shibori dyeing and haven’t experimented with a wide range of fabrics I suggest you give it a try and I can pretty much guarantee you will learn a lot about cloth!

April moons are all sent out and May moons are on board! I had been anxiously awaiting a silk bolt Richard found for me and was “over the moon” when it arrived. Perfectly timed for this post, it is silk ro. So one of the two moons for the Moon Circle for May is this moon:

Each moon will be different as you can see above. Cranes are a symbol of good luck and longevity as cranes are said to live 1000 years. They actually only live 30-80 years but are in fact one of the oldest living birds on the planet with some fossils thought to go back as far as 10 million years!
The little open hole in the rows allow a little seepage of indigo so the edges are not as sharp as you see on some other fabrics I’ve used for moons. Like I said above, if you explore different fabrics, you will learn a lot! The other moon will be a crescent on an old kimono silk floral…May is the flower moon…

here you can see the weave structure in this detail. It’s much more formalized than the sha weave structure

Speaking of May and flowers…
Of course the garden nurtures and grows, despite very drastic and impending water restrictions which have been imposed here and set to begin June 1. I have been upping my water-saving tricks to include saving kitchen rinse water in a bucket that goes out to the garden. Fortunately, unlike my many neighbors here, I already took out every blade of grass years ago and don’t have to water much of anything except my edible garden and my fruit bearing trees. We will be restricted to one day of outdoor watering a week- likely until winter (or longer!). I expect to see more people taking out their lawns.

And… I found a new textile converter in LA to bias my silk. They did a great job-phew! The converter I had been using disappeared into thin air- poof!
I’m having some silk cording done as well as soon as the silk thread arrives. Ordering silk thread on cones at wholesale became a complicated ordeal! Only found a light grey which will do just fine. I need it sewn with silk so it will dye with the fabric. Most converters want to sew it with cotton or poly. Nope!
OK…well that’s it for now. Back to photographing and editing the kimono pics.
Will probably be tomorrow when I get the rest of them up there.

textile detective continued…

Now that the holidays are over, and the sun is back out after some very much needed rain, I’m back to finish off the mystery of the silk fabric from the obi I was deconstructing here.
As you may or may not recall, there was a question as to whether the sateen silk backing of this obi was a cloth woven of silk and paper which would have been very rare. I sent a bit to my friend Velma who makes shifu and she pointed out that she could not detect any “seeds” in the weft threads as she unwove them. The seeds would be where “the strips are joined in one continuous thread by tearing a small tab of paper from the connecting strip above two threads. This tab is rolled in the same direction you intend to spin the thread creating the “seed”. This seed is one of the most notable characteristics of paper thread, and forms a unique pattern in the final woven cloth.” See here for attribution of this explanation and more about shifu.

I too had unwoven a bit more of the weft and looked at it more closely seeing that the fiber did actually look more like a cotton or hemp than paper. I did another burn test on the warp just to make sure and it really did smell like cellulose and not protein fiber-confirmed!

I also received back a reply from the Kyoto Shibori Museum who sent me the following interesting reply:
“It looks like an obi made a long time ago.The Japanese embroidery is very beautiful, and I think it’s hard to see anything like this now. The red stamp part is usually stamped with the weight of the fabric, the name of the manufacturer, the place of origin, etc., but it cannot be identified here. The kanji woven into the silk can be read as KAMI GO. It could be the name of the manufacturer/weaver or the title given to this particular obi.
KAMI means God and GO is the name of an ancient Chinese country. Japanese kimono is also called GOHUKU, but it means the kimono that GO people came to when the shape of the kimono came from China to Japan.

The best guess at a date would be late Meiji- early Showa. So around 100 years old.

I have been wondering what fabric I would use for the January Moon of the Month Circle. To begin the year and the Moon of the Month Circle, I will be sending both moons using this beautiful obi silk lining. Can’t wait to get to the vat and make them!

A couple more projects claimed the workspace in December. first, a not so auspicious
t-shirt quilt I have been threatening/promising to make for my son trevor going on ten years now! When he went off to college and cleaned out his dresser, there were a lot of favorite t-shirts going back even to co-op preschool days. There were memories from music camps, summer camps, marching bands, favorite pokemon,surf and skate brands, and even their own rock band from when they were kids. I had cut out the graphics and backed them with a lightweight fusible and there they sat, stacked and ready to go. Over time he added a few more from college music groups, shinkendo, and Japan. As I cleared out some of the workspace I decided that THIS was the year I would finish it. I spent two days stitching them together, backing, quilting (by machine), and self binding it. Done! It’s a fun ride from preschool through college in addition to being a utilitarian quilt made with recycled fabrics. The first photo he sent me of its use had a big fluffy cat sitting on it- success!

The other project is still ongoing but I think I solved a dilemma that had been plaguing me for a while. I made this piece -a bit of an ode to fabric scraps and stitches and wasn’t sure if or how I wanted to back it. I always like the back of a stitched work-maybe just out of my own curiosity. But this has sat there feeling a bit unfinished and finally it ended up sitting next to some lovely old red lining silk. The jacquard pattern woven into the very very fine red silk are beautiful cranes with florals and vines. This auspicious pattern was probably for a wedding kimono lining or some other important kimono lining. It’s a full bolt but disassembled and stitched back into a continuous length. I decided I didn’t want to cut it to fit the width of my piece- it would ruin the full pattern. So I decided to stitch it into a tube at the proper width to stitch the lining to the back of my piece. This way, should someone ever want to reuse this beautiful silk, all you would have to do would be to unstitch it. Kind of like a kimono. Something from the Amuse Boro Museum rings in my head at times like this.

2015 Asakusa, Japan Amuse Boro Museum
i imagine sericulturist feeding the kaiko, the silkworms spitting this thread, the dyers dying the thread, the pattern designer graphing out the pattern for the loom cards, the weavers weaving… imagine what the silkworm provided!

The sun has come out here and is drying the outdoor workspace after all the rain. The snow has covered our local mountains and the new year begins with this wonderful view and hope for a year of drought recovery. About a million poppy seeds and bachelor buttons have sprouted in every nook and cranny in the backyard!

Case of the textile detective…

Here I have to tell a little of the back story to this old obi. Previously I had blogged about taking Ann Wasserman’s online workshop on quilt repair and restoration (see her blog here). I had found her online while doing some research on the crazy quilt I named Ida Belle. (while I was editing this post, Ann put up a new blog post about her latest repair/conservation quilt-a wool crazy quilt. You can see a video of her talking about it here.) In getting to know Ann a bit via email, we discovered we were quite harmonious when it came to cloth and textiles. Even Jude’s name came up as we were both early enthusiasts of Spirit Cloth (currently in wordlessly watching mode until after the New Year). In our conversations, she mentioned that she had some Japanese silk fabric that had been gifted to her many years ago and that she had no idea what to do with it or even what it was. She sent some images and asked me to look at it.

From the images she sent me, my guess was that it was an obi. It had a couple of areas of highly embroidered florals over some shibori along with large lengths of blank undecorated areas. There was what appeared to be a fold line down the center and the length of the piece indicated that it was an obi. At this point, Ann asked me if I would “adopt” it and do what I thought was best with the piece. I agreed, thinking that it would serve as a nice sample of shibori with beautiful embroidery for future in person workshops (hoping I get back to that eventually!). As you can probably guess, someone like Ann is often given and asked to “adopt” a fair amount of textiles but this one was outside of her particular realm.

When it arrived here, I looked it over and took a few of my own photos. I noticed a couple of things right away. First off, the shibori work is really very sophisticated. It impresses me that way where the the use of dyes fades into the background to give the very subtle feeling of distance. The silk used here is chirimen. Shibori techniques used are kanoko (fawn spot), boshi (capped resist), and makiage (stitched motif). I had a couple of questions so I also sent an email to the director of the Kyoto Shibori Museum. (Their latest youtube video is wonderful!) It’s obvious that the shibori was done with the final embroidery in mind. The embroidery! Wow… very beautiful nihon shishu.
I noticed that this shishu has a fairly high “loft”. I asked another friend, Mary Alice in Houston, who teaches this form of Japanese embroidery (you can find her online here) and she said that sometimes the older versions of this were padded underneath. What I ultimately discovered was that there are two layers of silk stitching (one perpendicular to the other) that provide this padding.


What I conclusively decided was that I would disassemble this obi. I decided this for a couple of reasons. The folding and storage were doing it no favors. Storage to me is “out of sight, out of mind”. I like things to be enjoyed and used. So I began to unstitch this beautifully hand stitched obi…and discover its secrets.

If you attended last week’s Komebukuro Treasure bag workshop “check in /hang out” session, after the questions and progress sharing was over, I shared my obi disassembling project. At the time I was about 3/4 through the unstitching. At that time I shared both the front and the back of the amazing embroidery. The back is also amazing and shows the wonderful and tiny stitches used to couch down the gold leafed silk threads. Goldwork embroidery is done using a core thread (usually silk or cotton) that is wrapped with a fine layer of gold leaf. Couching is the main way this thread is used as (I’m guessing) you wouldn’t want to pass this delicate gold thread through the cloth over and over. Couching is done in any number of colored silk threads for contrast and results depending on the embroiderer’s desired artistic outcome.

SInce that session, I have finished taking this piece apart and and discovered something very wonderful. The back side of the obi seemed a little odd to me. The front side of the fabric was very much a sateen-shiny with lots of long silk floats in the weave. However, the back was very matte and had an odd texture. Looking at it with a jewelers loop it was obvious that the warp and the weft were very different fibers. Unweaving a section of an end was in order! The warp was composed of very many fine silk threads. I carefully removed several rows of the much thicker and dull weft threads and did a burn test. Cellulose for sure. Then there was the issue of the feel of this textile. So papery… so I started searching online. I was slipping down another rabbit hole!

I started by searching for shifu, which is a textile woven of paper threads. My friend Velma sent me search for Susan Byrd who wrote the book A Song of Praise for Shifu – Shifu Sanka as well as made a wonderful video on preparing the thread for weaving. I’ve followed Velma for many years and have been amazed at her work and her blog, Wake Robin. I have sent her a piece to look at and give me her thoughts. After doing some reading it seems that it is likely kinujifu (kinu meaning silk and jifu, the word for shifu-paper cloth- when attached to the word kinu) if the weft thread is in fact paper. I did do a sample moon dyeing and when the fabric was wetting out, it curled up like crazy into a tight curl. I haven’t seen that before…


Even if it doesn’t turn out to be kinujifu, I have learned SO MUCH!

this mark of the weaver was woven into the end of the sateen piece

The center of the obi is a stiff cloth called obi shin. In many old obi the center layer is made of old cloth patched together. In fancier old obi, a special thick woven cotton cloth is used. Now days, manufactured obi shin is widely available and I’m not sure what they are made of. Perhaps cotton, perhaps poly. But over the course of time, I have collected and used a variety of old obi shine. I have made many of the moon bags from them as they have a great texture and character as well as being very sturdy. They were also often discarded and I was finding them at flea markets in Japan so someone was saving them. Part of the problem with storing these old obi with thick obi shin is that in the humidity of Japan, they tend to become damp and don’t dry easily if improperly stored. This collected moisture can easily mildew and stain (sometimes called foxing) the exterior obi fabrics. Such is the case here and there with this obi. I also moon dyed a piece of the obi shin. it dyed beautifully…

As I look at the fabric from this obi (now temporarily rolled onto three large kimono rolls), I think the best thing for the embroidery portions will be to conserve them flat in museum grade glass with UV protection. My thought is to frame the embroidery with a border of the silk/cellulose fabric. It would be great to frame it so the back side of the embroidery is visible. The main embroidery would go to Ann of course and the lesser one I would keep for a workshop sample. It just makes sense to preserve them this way unless anyone here has another idea-I’d love to hear it.

After all this, I am reminded that I have so many talented and knowledgeable friends that share the love and interest in textiles, preservation, and craft. It is truly a bounty of riches created over time!
Now if you have the time and interest- go grab a cuppa and come back to enjoy some of the links and videos noted within. There is a lot to take in!

Don’t forget, there is a new workshop forming for the 2022 Komebukuro Treasure Bags – details here.