it’s actually confusing me as to where all the time goes. suffice to say it passes and there seems not enough of it to do all the things my mind wonders about and wanders into.
i have many stories yet to tell and photos and notes to sort through and write about here on the blog- all promised but not yet accomplished. many things are being done here behind the scenes and along the sidelines- prioritized by daily needs and responsibilities, but for a few minutes today, i put a little something here on the blog.
having shipped out all the fabric packs collected on the tour and the other requests made by students and friends, i spent a day making up a new garment! i wore one that i made while in japan and wanted to do a new version in order to honor some of the vintage fabrics i purchased. like the other one, this is made with recycled hand woven cloth previously from kimono that have been taken apart. (btw- NO! Kimono should not be trademarked–as if…you all here know my thoughts on that nonsense) a couple of things about this garment- i had seen a version of this somewhere in japan a couple of years ago but it was made from western width cloth and only had a front and back made from the same cloth. my idea here is to utilize the kimono width cloth and keep it as intact as possible so that it would be possible perhaps, to take it apart and reuse it one day (or at least in large part). to do this meant that the back and front would need to be split to accommodate typical kimono width cloth and since i wasn’t a fan of having it split down the middle in front, i added a faux placket in front to offset that making it asymmetrical. using a combination of hand woven cloth, i made the amami oshima tsumugi silk the star of the garment while adding three coordinating kasuri patterns. i matched the pattern in the front placket just for fun and did not cut the selvedge on at least one side of all the main pieces. the selvedge contains part of the cloth-story for anyone who might be interested in the future. i have several other sets of cloth i will be using to make a few more of these. it’s very easy to wear with some leggings and even sandals or tennis shoes. i have promised several on the tour that i’d do up a muslin pattern for them to make up for themselves- so far, not yet done… will have to make a few more to settle in on the pattern. my favorite part of this piece and the ones i’m excited to make going forward is that i’m using beautiful textiles that will be once again worn! some of the techniques used in making these fabrics are disappearing and my hope is that by making useful and wearable garments that these fabrics will be further treasured and worn again, not just cut up and used as scrap. whole cloth in a way. there is a small bit of boro in the lower part of the front placket that i kept intact, preserving further the treasure that this fabric continues to be. someone else thought enough of this piece of cloth to restore it with a patch. who am i to cut it away and discard it?
onto the next thing…the past few days have been consumed with making up an order of silk shibori no hana for the kyoto shibori museum. they are taking me longer than expected and i’m only half way through. several orders of ribbon also await and will be base dyed today. here’s a peek at a few of the flowers heading to kyoto soon…
hopefully, i will have some of these available in the shop later this summer when i’m caught up a bit around here. for those waiting on ribbon orders, i’ll start sending those out next week. stock is very low at the moment and the shop a bit disorganized. colors showing in stock where there is none, so some of you may get a note from me asking if you would accept a color substitute until i get things all straightened out. apologies for that…
life here continues, phil and his band steel parade have been out singing and performing for people young, old , and in between. the other night’s performance at the local nature center concert was a whole lot of fun. it’s wonderful to see everyone dancing out under the trees there.
the yard is in summer clean-up mode and little by little weeds are being removed, the second crop of veggies are being planted, and springs tomatoes and eggplant are being served up. hope your summer is wonderful and full of hope. gotta run-baby dean just arrived! time to put my nana hat on…
Rather than going back in time to Kyoto at the moment, I’m going to skip ahead to Amami-Oshima and my visit here to see first hand the dyeing and weaving for which this small island is known.
First, a little bit about about Amami- this is the northern-most island in the Okinawan archipelago. Just south of the southern tip of Kyūshū, it is volcanic in origin, surrounded by coral reefs (reef break for surfers! ouch-or as Kounosuke says-surfers tatoo(scar). To the west is the East China Sea and to the west , the Pacific Ocean. We are in the northern part of Amami-Oshima.
Next, a little history from Wikipedia:
It is uncertain when Amami Ōshima was first settled. Stone tools indicate settlement in the Japanese Paleolithic period, and other artifacts, including pottery, indicate a constant contact with Jōmon, Yayoi and Kofun period Japan.
The island is mentioned in the ancient Japanese chronicle Nihon Shoki in an entry for the year 657 AD. During the Nara period and early Heian period it was a stopping place for envoys from Japan to the court of Tang dynasty China. Mother of pearl was an important export item to Japan. Until 1611, Amami Ōshima was part of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The island was invaded by samurai from Shimazu clan in 1609 and its incorporation into the official holdings of that domain was recognized by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1624. Shimazu rule was harsh, with the inhabitants of the island reduced to serfdom and forced to raise sugar cane to meet high taxation, which often resulted in famine. Saigō Takamori was exiled to Amami Ōshima in 1859, staying for two years, and his house has been preserved as a memorial museum. After the Meiji Restoration Amami Ōshima was incorporated into Ōsumi Province and later became part of Kagoshima Prefecture. Following World War II, along with the other Amami Islands, it was occupied by the United States until 1953, at which time it reverted to the control of Japan.
The beach near us (a one minute walk away) is filled with shells and bit of coral. Unfortunately, the daily tide seems to bring in many floating PET bottles as well. Not sure where they are coming from but it’s a striking reminder that even a place this remote is plagued with this problem. While I was here, I saw an article in the Mainichi that said that Coka-Cola will be begin using 100% recycled materials for a new product line in Japan with a goal of increasing that to more of it’s products in the future. “The Japanese government on Friday set a goal of reducing disposable plastic waste by 25 percent by 2030, and completely recycling or reusing all such waste by 2035.” (from the article) The Japanese are much more fastidious and organized at recycling their containers and trash than we are in the US. A very high % of people here comply with the rules of sorting trash and recycling. They do have a problem with over-packaging which is starting to be addressed. They are looking at banning single use plastic bags country-wide. While here, I carried a small nylon bag for any shopping and tried to get shopkeepers to not bag my purchases. It’s gonna be a hard learning curve here as they love to package but when they get on board I trust they will do it very well! But as Maura said today on her FB -WE ONLY HAVE FIVE YEARS! (Hi Maura- love you and all you do there in Kolkata and beyond…)
Now, back to Amami… My fascination with kasuri weaving (ikat) over the years has grown-perhaps with the decline in the actual making and appreciation of the skill it takes to do this type of dyeing and weaving. For those not familiar with kasuri, it is cloth with patterns woven into it that utilize resist dyed threads either for the warp, weft, or both. These pre-dyed resist threads create a patterned cloth that is further complicated by special and advanced techniques such as as dyeing both the weft and the warp (lining up the two to make sure the desired pattern is achieved), painting the warp directly before weaving, weaving the warp or weft (or both) before dyeing-then unweaving it to do the final weaving. This type of weaving can be done with various fibers but my main interest is cotton and silk. So many variations and advanced complications. It’s really all in the preparation of the warps and wefts as the cloth itself is a plain weave in most cases (always exceptions of course!). This is a simplified explanation and apologies to all serious weavers out there… I was tempted to come to Amami as one of the participants in the silk tour had me arrange an extension to Amami to do a little research into mud dyeing here-or dorozome as it is called in Japanese. (doro-mud, zome/some-dyed). Jacqueline Roberts had come on the tour once before and if you recall from several previous posts, she wrote the book “American Silk”. She has been doing other textile writing for journals and such and has done some writing on mud dyed silks of Canton, China. So, as I was doing the research and setting up the extension I was tempted to come as well since it offered not only dyeing, but weaving AND coastlines-sometimes surf-able as Phil would accompany me on this part of the trip. Perfect combination!
Yes, a bit of rambling here but hey-my blog, my ramble! Feel free to skip ahead to the pretty pictures (and there are many!) Soooo….upon arriving we had to figure out how to get around and where exactly to go. We stayed in an AirBnB so not central to anything except peace and quiet, the beach, and the ever-present walkable “conbini” (convenience store) and a bus stop (yay!). The AirBnB host’s manager offered to pick us up at the airport so off we went and arrived at our not so little spot on the beach. (the AirBnB in Ikebukuro was a postage stamp compared to this but of course was located in the city).
Our new friend (Kounosuke) who picked us up at the airport asked us how we were going to eat and get around and when I told him that we would figure it out- (combini) and perhaps hire one of the Amami guides I had seen online, he offered to take us over to the dorozome workshop the next day during his work lunch break where he works taking care of the elderly here on the island (a much needed service in this aging population). We took him up on his offer and he even took the next day (yesterday) off to guide and drive us around with an English speaking friend of his. What good luck we have! And that wasn’t the only good luck. It is the rainy season here in Amami and we had clear weather for the first 3 days and all through our adventures here. About an hour after returning to our Amamian Paradise yesterday it started POURING-with lightening and thunder galore and pretty much has not stopped- it’s still pouring out there right now-Saturday morning. The two of them are in their late twenties and great fun! I’m glad to pay them for their time and contribute a bit to the local economy. When asked, Yui told us that jobs were easy to get -elder care, resort work (as this is a popular place in July & August and during Golden Week), but pay is low- about half what it is in Tokyo area. Kounosuke is married with two small children.
So, now onto dorozome! I looked over the possible choices (there are only 2-3 on the island) and settled on one I thought would be interesting and different from the one that Jackie had participated in (we could later compare notes). We ended up going to Higo Dorozome. Fortunately we had Kounosuke to take us there since it was not at all on any beaten path. Not wanting to abandon us there, he arranged with the owner to secure us a ride back to a bus stop from which we could return. Phew! I had called ahead and told them to expect us around 2 pm and they confirmed that would be ok. There was no English spoken there at all. But dyers dye and words are not always necessary- we speak the language of the cloth… To give you an overview of the dorozome process before adding the gallery of photos and a few video- dorozome is done using wood chips of the Japanese hawthorne bush (sharimbai). This wood is used fresh (not old and dried) with the sap still in the wood. The wood is plentiful in the local area and after collecting, it is chipped. A huge basket containing about 300 kg. is lowered into a large drum of water and boiled and soaked for 4-7 days (unclear how long) to release the tannins in the wood. The heat comes from a wood burning stove that utilizes the used chips once they are dried- nothing wasted! A sort of fermentation takes place and I believe they also add lime (to up the pH) once the soaking is done and the solution is skimmed and moved to other vats. I was told that it is a fermentation vat and the smell confirmed such a notion. It is at this point the dye is ready to use. Cloth is submerged in the solution many times with additional rinsing in a lime rinse between each dip followed by spinning out. So, prior to the mud bath:
-submerge and work dye into cloth for 4 minutes -rinse in water and lime -about 30 seconds -spin out -repeat at least 4-5 times (for amateurs/workshop) -the final dip into the sharimbai is not rinsed in the lime solution-just spun out
Now on to the mud. The facility at Higo dorozome had a square steel mud vat for practical purposes. They may still utilize a spot near the river as well but for commercial dyeing these days, it behooves one to use more practical production methods. Remember- we are trying to make a living here and not just become a museum! The vat was thick with clay-like mud at the bottom and had to be stirred well with a paddle each time before use. Mud dyeing process:
-submerge cloth and swish around and squeeze for 1-2 minutes -remove and squeeze out -open to the air for a minute or so (oxidixing?) -repeat above 2-3 times -rinse in clear running water -repeat the above again -inspect and return to the sharibai bath for additional dips -then back to the mud. -final rinsing and inspection of the color before opening cloth
So prior to the beginning the dye process, I was directed to choose the item(s) I would dye. I chose a t-shirt and a hemp scarf. The pieces were prepared (bound resist). I just did a simple and quick shibori binding with elastics provided. Interestingly the cloth was not wet out at any time prior to dyeing (as in indigo dyeing). Then it was on to the dyeing…see above.
More about the dorozome dyeing…the sharimbai (Japanese hawthorne) is full of tannin which is mordanted with the lime. I also read somewhere that wood ash is used in the vat but did not confirm that at Higo. The clay/mud is a dark gray full of iron which reacts with the tannins and darkens the cloth- just like when you use iron water in botanical printing or natural dyeing. Lime is abundant on Amami which has some limestone caverns and even underground rivers-did not visit there but saw info at the museum. Also, the island is surrounded by coral reefs- you guessed it-calcium carbonate (lime)! So everything is there- naturally, to produce this type of dyeing.
Some other observations- Higo Dorozome is a commercial working dye studio. I say this to contrast it against the Oshima Tsumugi Village/Sight Seeing Garden which does seem to do some weaving (not sure how much of it is serious commercial weaving) but the set-up there is definitely more geared towards the average tourist who wants to get an overview of the process and visit the gift shop. I also say this because as these sorts of crafts decline, many of them are turned more towards museum status (not unlike the Orinasu obi weaving studio in Kyoto-more on that in the Kyoto post). Higo has been there for 40 years and over time the main work of dyeing dorozome and indigo silk threads for oshima tsumugi weavers has steadily declined due to several factors-fewer wearers of kimono, the high cost of producing in current times, the aging of the artisans whose supreme abilities are harder and harder to pass along. I’m sure there are other more complicated factors that I’m missing here but the end result is less demand. So, that is why it is necessary for dye studios such as Higo to produce other items that are more accessible to the modern general public, to open the studio to visitors for workshops, and to educate new generations of the importance of continuing and innovating these craft processes. Nature, handwork, passion, commerce, beauty all come together in a distinct and geographic spot such as Amami. There are people in this chain of commerce devoted to seeing it gets sold in shops in the mainland, on the Ginza (as in the shop that we visited previously-see earlier post) as well as those connecting up with designers and retailers of modern clothing. Aside from my interest in dying and textiles, I’m also very interested (necessarily) in the commercial aspects of it all. I want people who choose this type of difficult work to find a way to make a living and to keep doing so. AI can’t produce this type of work and it won’t be replaced by robots. I am interested in finding the path…making the path, wondering, and following the moon.
Next post will cover my time weaving some silk oshima tsumugi…!
Kudos for your ganbatte in making it through this post! I add the photos here en-mass due to time constrictions. And now for the photos…
-There are many more photos and also lots of video that needs editing but I’ll have to get to that later. I’ll have a lot of that to share at the July 27-28 workshop at the Japanese American National Museum. I think there are still a few spots left- you can sign up here.
Stay tuned for Amami Oshima tsumugi weaving- it’s really amazing!
I’ll end this post with a little video of the Amami beach…
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 had heard rumblings about this here and there but no one could provide any first hand knowledge of the info. Over the weekend I emailed the museum itself to inquire as the Silk Study Tour had planned a half day trip there this May to see this wonderful collection (as we have done many times in the past). This morning I received an email from them to let me know that this is, in fact true. They have since placed an announcement on their website in English.
I can’t express how wonderful this visit has always been to me. I have been at least 6 times over 8 years and each time I come away with something new to wonder about. I had to really convince Hirata san that this was an important place for us to visit with our tour group and every time we went (it was always an “optional” visit), those who did go were moved by the exhibit and its meaning, its place in folk textiles, and how the collection developed. After celebrating its 10th year anniversary, sadly, the museum will close March 31,2019. We will miss our visit there this year but there is some good news! The Amuse Museum will be looking for a new location somewhere in Japan to re-open sometime in 2020. There may be a traveling exhibit somewhere, sometime, as well.
In the past, I have posted many photos and blog posts about my visits there. Here is a slideshow I created in 2015 or so. I was getting together photos to do a new one and realized I had already done this!
I also found this which is even better:
So we say a fond farewell to the Amuse Museum until, like a silk caterpillar pupating in its cocoon, it reemerges into a whole new life!
It’s been very rainy here this week and promises to continue here through Thursday. This means I will focus on indoor work and there is plenty of it. I am finishing up the selection of fabrics for this weekend’s workshop. All are vintage and varied. I also finished up the second bag sample and took a couple of quick photos.and here are the little vintage textile packs for the boro side of the bags- they will indigo dye their own base fabric as well as the rest of the fabrics for the bag.
I hope to convey some simple concepts through this workshop. That beauty can be created with simple materials, perseverance, and the need or desire to caretake those around you.
I was also reminded to revisit one of my favorite books, “Rural Japan, Radiance of the Ordinary” by Linda Butler. (You can find a copy here or maybe in your library) I’ve had it for many years and often pick it up to look at the photos. This time I reread the text and was rewarded with the following Japanese proverb:
“Mu kara yuu o umu” or translated, “Out of nothingness, something is born”.
It reminded me of the boro textiles at the Amuse. Thank you Amuse Museum for the pleasure of visiting and learning about sashiko and boro! We are richer for the experience.
Recently, I’ve been busy doing organizational work for the upcoming Silk Study Tour to Japan. I don’t think I mentioned it here, but if you are on the Shiborigirl newsletter email list you read that after being almost full, the tour lost a few folks upon my return from the Houston show. Life throws you a curve and we adjust. Those who had to change their plans will be missed but vow to join us on a future adventure (2021). They will follow along online and be travelers in spirit. I put out a new newsletter and we regained most of what we lost in terms of participants. There are still a couple of spots open with a few folks still considering joining us.
If you are interested, here is the link with all the information. If you have questions, just email me. Tour departs May 14, 2019. It’s gonna be another good one!
I have been also been preparing for the new workshop at the Japanese American National Museum. This one is filled with a waiting list but if you want to read the description, you can go here. (I expect we will do it again.) I also proposed a version of this class (due to limitations of time and facility) at this years Quilt festival in Houston. We will see if the class is chosen for that venue. I am really passionate about educating folks on understanding the difference between a fabric company putting out a line of “boro printed” fabrics and really knowing the history of such textiles. I figured that by making things with all recycled fabrics is a start. Spreading the word. It’s one thing to talk about it here on the blog and quite another to put fabric, thread and needle in the hands of someone for the purpose of education and perhaps a little thought of mottainai. In any case, here are some pics of what I’ve been up to…(click thumbnails to enlarge)
little sashiko pattern
arashi shibori on old cotton
moon on old linen
larger boro scarf piece
the length- 75″ x 6 inches
like a vestment…
It’s been an education to make these pieces and like anything else, a practice. I still need to put the cording on the bag but have it all dyed. After finishing the bag, I was inspired to do a larger piece since the scraps I prepared for the class were so enticing. I tore a piece of linen off one of the old linen pieces I bought in Houston and dyed it dark indigo blue. I marked the horizontal stitching lines onto it and arranged the scraps. Then I spent about 13 hours just stitching. It all felt good in my hands as I rocked the needle back and forth. I really learned and appreciated not just the cloth and the thread, but the use of the sashiko adjustable ring thimble with plate. It takes some practice and over the many hours of stitching, I grew to love the ingenuity of it. Have you tried one? I do love a good thimble and have several varieties but had not spent a significant enough amount of time with this type. I plan to get even better with more practice.
That’s the thing isn’t it? Practice. As I worked on this long piece, a communication between myself, the materials and tools set in. It’s a simple running stitch-nothing fancy. But as the needle pierced each scrap my hand felt the resistance, the thickness, the density of the weave. Do we even notice this these days? Many of the scraps were from cloth hand woven long ago, most softened by age and use. Most fabric today is made with machine sewing in mind. The hand of it made stiff with printing inks and chemical finishing. It’s not friendly for sewing by hand. The tight weave of many modern quilting fabrics facilitates the printing of crisp patterns but resists the piercing of the hand rocked needle. I can really lose myself in the old cloth, wondering about it’s cloth story as I sew.
I didn’t want to add this to the last post on the Houston show since it’s a bit of a “Debbie Downer” (apologies to all Debbie’s out there), but I discovered something that I found very disappointing/disturbing (once again) at the show. I walked the wholesale market on Sunday as I had to wait a couple of hours for the Ed office to open.
On the show floor, I saw that Moda is now producing, for February delivery, a line of fabrics called “Boro”. Now those of you regular readers of this blog probably know how I feel about this. We had a similar discussion when they came out with their “Shibori” fabric line. But this one is even MORE disturbing to me. Is that possible? Why yes, yes it is.
Why is it that everything has to be bastardized for profit? You might find my mindset a bit harsh but boro -really?? So now we are going to take the Japanese historical tradition of using scrap cloth to make utilitarian items for daily use and commercialize it to the point of PRINTING scanned images of boro on cotton sheeting for quilters to use in boro-esque quilt projects? Are we really going there? And for quilters– who in general, have more scrap fabrics than any God of your choice!
I am really appalled at this. Do they even understand the history of these fabrics? They wax poetically in their catalog about boro, but there is a certain dissonance I find disturbing. Boro was created out of poverty, a lack of having textiles for everyday needs. A certain need to use all that was at hand- to not waste. Mottainai! Do not waste the resources you have! The ways that people in Japan found to creatively reuse what they did have is remarkable and noteworthy. To take this and create a line of printed “boro” quilt fabrics just really is the height of irreverent insincerity in my opinion. It’s nothing more than the use of a term seen as a trend for profit. It’s actually quite the opposite of boro, which translates to tattered, ragged, torn or scrap fabrics.
We can celebrate boro by using what we already have, by stitching together the fabrics of our lives. We can study the boro fabrics so lovingly stitched by those who truly were stitching to survive cold winters in northern Japan. We can honor their resourcefulness by adopting the spirit of Mottainaiin our everyday lives. Let’s do that instead.