New Year, New Post. Who knows what to expect this year? I know I certainly don’t. Some days it feels as if the wheels are coming off the bus, other days, I can remain hopeful. What to do but continue? Beyond this, it seems like the new decade (apparently depending on how you count your years) will bring lots of changes. As far as my studio work goes, shibori, cloth and indigo remain a focal point. But then again, who knows? What about you?
Over the transition from 2019-2020 I had some ideas that I just could not stop thinking about. You know, those sorts of ideas that you just have to actually do to get them out of your system…and see where they might take you. It was one of those sort of things. So I did it once and am about to do it again just to see. At first, I wasn’t sure about it so let it hang around for a while just to let it settle in. I’m still not sure about it (or much of anything these days to be honest), but after letting it be for a while, I’m ready to do another one. It might be “ART” , so I am cautious…
In other activities, the New Year is always a time when I want to obsessively clean, organize and clear out things. A perfect opportunity arose as there is about to be a new instrument brought into the house. You might be thinking a guitar, or something larger like a piano or drumset (but no, we already have plenty of those). It’s a marimba! Being quite large, it required the cleaning out and removal of the space I was formally using as a desk/office area. Which led to the next room, and the next…you can see where this is going. Huge swaths of things have been removed, sorted, relocated, and cleaned to within an inch of their lives. It really is a great activity for the magical in-between-time after Christmas and before New Years. Also, having the local version of whatever virus is going around helps, as it can be done bit by bit without leaving the house yet leaves one feeling incredibly productive. One last corner needs sorting-the dreaded bead and flower making corner. Perhaps tonight. Tomorrow. One day…
As seems to be the way lately, another week has passed before I finish this post. A welcome and steady stream of overnight visitors, the latest virus going round with the never-ending cough, and a workshop at the JANM. Not to mention local politics as we try to rally around some new blood in our local city council as well as put down a couple of tax increasing ballot measures. All this takes time and the studio work has been suffering! So, here’s to getting this thing done today!! NOTE*** Nope! Didn’t happen… Had to call 911 for grandma who is now in the hospital and also take the cat to the vet for an emergency. I live to post another day…
The workshop at the Japanese American National Museum this past weekend two weekends ago was focused on mandala dyeing on silk. I really do love teaching textile dye techniques and watching the participants skill levels improve. Each person comes with their own direction and focus and my job is more of a coach and facilitator. I always demonstrate throughout the workshop so as to give everyone a sense of the possibilities. Here are a few of the mandalas that were made…
I demonstrated a mandala start to finish to begin with so everyone could have a vision of where they were headed. We begin by folding (be as precise as you can!), then drawing our design(stay simple-don’t try to overthink in the beginning!), stitching the design, and finally dyeing (make sure that dye penetrates through all layers-take your time!).
And then some variations on fold and dye-without the clamping as in itajime…some with stitching, some without.
Not sure if I ever added this here but I did make a couple of useful objects using the silk mandalas and various old silks I had here. The mandalas make a lovely pillow cover.
And now, a glimpse of the garden. Since we had quite a bit of rain recently there are lots of seeds sprouting, many of which are weeds and crowding out the wildflowers. (Winners will be determined in future posts.)
We also had a day where we visited the beach with our guests and saw the sea lion rescue center, herons and the tidepools. Whales were spouting as they traveled along the coast.
I started working on this piece of cloth in order to add it to a larger piece I am stitching. The whole cloth itself is made from reclaimed, recovered, and salvaged bits of cloth-some redyed, restitched. This one in particular is from a couple of those categories.
Time stitching is time to think and reflect… When the fabric of our lives seems to errode and threads are laid bare, those of us who have the means, the desire, or the ability to strengthen the surrounding cloth/life can help hold it together. Stitching around the red silk, the cloth/wound was revealed, memorializing it’s existence, strengthened and preserved. The still fragile and ever eroding stripes/lives are grounded by solid yet invisible (on the front side) tiny stitches. The back side shows the structure and the pieces and stitches added in an effort, though impossible, to make the cloth/person whole again. Scars/tears will remain, lives lost and forever altered. This cloth is a small tribute to those who lost their lives this past week in Long Beach CA. In quiet moments of handwork, these thoughts rise up.
I chose this piece as it showed the story of the cloth from several perspectives. It had been reused previously (most likely as a cushion or futon cover) and taken apart. With several holes in it perhaps, the intention being to patch and reuse again.
As I handled the piece to think about how to apply it to the larger piece it became apparent that it needed some stabilization first. Using that same red silk I’ve shown you recently, I decided to highlight a couple of the duty worn areas. As I turned it over in my hand, I realized that the wear on this piece was really only in the warp areas of the brown dyed sections. This being a mainly indigo piece, it was warped in a couple of shades of indigo and what looks to be kakishibu (persimmon) dyes. The weft is indigo in two shades. What you notice is that only the kakishibu dyed sections are deteriorating- telling me that this dye was more damaging to the fibers over time. Was it treated with an iron mordant and not well rinsed? Not sure. But it’s very clear that only those sections broke down over time telling me it is dye related and not wear related.
I applied the lightest weight stabilizer to the back of the very fine red silk which I used. First stitching invisibly (front side) to stabilize the section and then further stitching the open areas revealing a bit of the red silk. Holding it up to the light, reveals its strengths and weaknesses.
I further decided that it needed more stability and added a larger piece of thin indigo dyed cotton to the backside. Copying methods I have seen on some of the vintage boro I have, I stitched the edges and again along either sides of the deteriorating stripes. It’s now ready to be part of the larger piece.
Above is just the process I used to stabilize the worn scrap. As I said in the video (last post), using the red silk to highlight patched areas reminds me of the Japanese ceramic technique generally called kintsugi. Looking up the translation of that word it contains the kanji for tsugi which means “inherit, succeed, continue, patch, graft”. So carrying this further, tsugimono would be something that is in need of patching. Yes, the patchwork that is our life, our clothstory. Stabilized, but not made whole.
I’ve let this post rumble around in my head the past few days while absorbing and collecting all my thoughts from the workshop at the Japanese American National Museum this past weekend.
Some things it seems I’ve known forever. Other things, I’ve acquired and built up my knowingness over time. I think this past weekend’s workshop really turned a corner in solidifying why and how I find myself at this point in my craftlife experience. It’s been a long time in coming. I’ve seen glimpses of it over time and place but I’ve never really written about it to any great extent.
I know you’ve read me here saying how great a recent workshop was etc., etc. … and I don’t often go into much detail. Today, I’ll write a bit more about this.
For many here, you already know this. Making something by hand yourself is very rewarding in many ways. It can enhance or teach a new skill, provide a different sort of activity from your daily job-whether that is out in the world or inside your own home taking care of others. It can offer quiet time-a peaceful mindfulness as you work on a project. It can provide a focus away from stress or even illness. It can literally keep you sane! In a group, you might gain social interaction with people you didn’t previously know and who have gathered together in a particular place and time for similar and varied reasons.
Some of you may be long time readers (since I’ve been blogging here since 2006) and know I have sold my handmade things for a living since I was in HS. Sometime around the same time(2007-2008), I started teaching workshops at the request of Maggie Backman for the Silk Experience group at the Quilt Festival in Houston. Prior to that I had been volunteer teaching art at the local elementary school. More recently (maybe since 2000-ish), I have been leading workshops at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles and various other places.
What prompted me to write about this particular aspect of my work (teaching as opposed to the actual making) was the increasing feedback as well as my own observations from these workshops and my interpretation of it. We have all heard over the years how the arts are declining in much of our public education and yet at the same time, how the arts foster better outcomes in all areas of education and create more well rounded students. What I do know from personal experience is that art and craft have saved my own sanity in my lifetime. This experience was born out of the loss of my mother at a very young age to the ravages of mental illness, through a very trying childhood that included abuse of various kinds. Where did I go to find solace and peace of mind? Art and craft. The handmade. Why? At the time all I really knew was that it felt good, it felt right. I felt better when I was making something. I went back to this well over and over until it simply became second nature to me. It was (and still is) my medicine. It ended up being my path. You may have noticed here and there the tagline I have used over the years that reads:
“One at a time and Every Day Moonmaker, Pathfinder, Wonderer. Art’s apprentice, Color’s mistress, Nature’s admirer.”
I didn’t write this lightly. I meant every word of it, and it still feels honest and fitting to me. Now getting back to the workshop…here’s a little gallery to glimpse some of what went on.
This time we had over 2/3 new participants! Somewhat of an outlier workshop. Most if not all had never dyed with indigo or done shibori. Some had never done any hand sewing. We had two men. We had people in their early 20’s to 65+. We had 3 gals who were costumers, a municipal financial advisor, a patent paralegal specialist, a retired social science data archivist, an IT aerospace project manager, a dance and arts teacher, you get the idea- wildly varied! For many who were new to the museum they also had the pleasure of joining as a member and seeing all that JANM has to offer. We had people who drove from San Mateo, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Riverside, Arcadia, and all over the LA downtown & coastal areas.
Comments and conversations heard throughout this last workshop really moved me. Expressions of joy from learning a technique of tying a knot on a threaded needle remind me that simple skills are so important and what I may take for granted may be a revelation for another. Another comment I heard was ” I haven’t thought of work all weekend!” Don’t we all need this? During the finishing stage a gal commented that her friend wanted her to gift her the bag she was making. She remarked “Heck no! This is going on display on a table in my entryway with a light shining on it!” She had never made something like this before. Another person finished the bag she started at the first class and began a second one. One gal said that being her second time taking this class she wanted to make one of these each year to “commemorate where I am in life while making it”. Sometimes I see my place in these workshops as a life coach of sorts, a therapist perhaps, encouraging and cheerleading along the sidelines while providing a creative environment for all to move at their own pace, direction and within their own boundaries and limits. Sometimes people need encouragement, sometimes they need inspiration, other times they need permission. Sometimes a gentle nudge, a reminder to persist-it is all happening along the path. All the while teaching the textile techniques required.
My job is to discern what is needed in the moment and provide it through the medium at hand to the best of my ability. There is a bit of an empathic quality that has been developed through the many workshops I have taught over the years. For me, teaching a craft workshop has morphed into much more than passing along a skill or technique. It is my profound honor and pleasure to do this. Who knew?
This week the Houston show begins and for the first time in a couple of decades I am not there. It does make me a little sad. I will miss the people I consider my Houston family who always took my classes and came to my booth and friends who help me there. Teaching this workshop this past weekend however, took a bit of that sting away. This was a workshop I had proposed to teach at Quilt Festival that was not accepted and honestly, I feel this was a loss for those who might have signed up for it but at the same time I have filled that time with other work and don’t miss the stress of all the preparation that goes into doing that show.
And speaking of family, JANM offers this service in their resource center. I took this photo of a flyer I saw there. You can research your family’s history of incarceration in the WWII Japanese American concentration camps as well as immigration records! There is a fantastic oral history archive as well. I love listening to it. Lots of info is available online in the National Archives. Since so many participants of the workshops are Japanese American, as we work, we get to hear shared family stories of incarceration and reintegration into society after the war. The folks who are still living that were incarcerated in camps Mainly as children) are getting older and I feel the privilege of listening to the younger generations share their family stories. I have learned so much from them!
Getting back to the medicine part of teaching and the idea that handwork is medicine for the mind isn’t a new one. Any kind of handwork (think knitting, embroidery , beading, quilting and more) can be therapeutic and restorative. These days people are more likely to have a screen device in their hand as opposed to a needle and thread, a lump of clay, or a paper and paintbrush. But does this serve the same function? One might argue that there are benefits to both but the imbalance I see around me is what concerns. Making or repairing something offers a satisfaction that just isn’t there with digital devices. Enjoying a process on the path towards a goal or completion serves us well.
Take Shinischi Kobayashi for example. At the age of 72, he started drawing. On everything! I’m sure he benefits from the neurochemicals that his brain releases and keeps him continuing to draw. Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins are the four major chemicals in the brain that influence our feeling of well being (DOSE). Medicine without pharma! Generally, we don’t think about these things when we apply ourselves to activities that trigger brain chemistry responses. We just know that we enjoy it-that time seems to pass quickly, and we want to do more of it! I am looking forward to seeing a day when education realizes that the health benefits of applying hands and minds to materials in creative ways, in equal doses to STEM and all the testing. It makes for healthier humans. And with plenty of challenges ahead of us, we want to be as healthy as possible!
Here is my finished komebukuro (offering bag) made at the workshop as a demonstration piece for the class. I had to finish it at home since I was busy at the sewing machine on day 2 assembling eveyone’s bags. I’m working to finish up a couple of complementary pieces for the shop and will post when they have been added. We all have something to offer.
Kokoro means “heart” in Japanese and this past Sunday I participated in the Kokoro Craft Fair at the Japanese American National Museum. The event is staffed by volunteers who organize and run the event to great success in fundraising for the museum’s educational programs and more. They have lots of heart! I have never been able to participate before since it is too close to the show I usually do in Houston towards the end of October/early November but this year since I am not in Houston, it was a pleasure to be able to do this event. As is often the case, since it was only a one day affair, I forgot to take photos as I was focused on what I was doing and engaged with customers and attendees. I met many interesting customers & vendors and thought the overall quality of vendor there was very good. Handmade, no imports, and lots of fun Japanese related crafts from what I could see in my quick walk through as people were setting up. I had a lot of people interested in my classes at JANM (ran out of flyers!) and also in the Silk Study Tour for 2021! Three years ago we had the first Japanese American join us on the tour and this year there were three! It is my distinct pleasure to have more Japanese Americans join us and explore their cultural heritage through the tour. I have to say a little something about the volunteer staff at JANM. Many are senior Japanese Americans and they do so much for the museum! The JANM is a welcoming place and has always made use of volunteer staff. Sometimes I think that we forget how much seniors have to offer, but not at JANM! Some of them are well into their 70’s and 80’s, maybe 90’s! I hope I have as much vitality as they do when I get there! It was a pleasure to work with them at the event! Thank you Kokoro volunteers! I also enjoyed meeting Ann Burroughs the President CEO of the museum for the first time. We had a nice conversation and she even made a purchase of some of my shibori blank cards to use when sending out thank you notes to donors. That was a wonderful thing!
Coming up on October 19-20 at JANM is the second workshop on making a komebukuro (offering bag) incorporating indigo dyeing, boro, shibori, and sashiko. There are only a couple of spots left…. Click for details and signups…
I am busy preparing the material kits and supplies for this class. It’s a bit more work than any of the other workshops so I’m making sure I get a good headstart on it! I am going through all the japanese fabrics from the tour and auditioning the ones I think I want to use for this class. I’ll make another one this week just to settle back into the project.
There are 7 new silk shibori ribbon colors into the shop. All pretty and hard to choose a favorite! One thing I will mention, after making this ribbon for so many years now I surprised even myself by discovering something in the pleating that made a big improvement! Just goes to show you that there is always room for wondering! You can order them in the shop here.
The tree is loaded with pomegranates and is coming all at once so I am also busy processing them both for dyeing and eating. I’m freezing some of the arils for later and drying and freezing the peels for dyeing. I plan to do some special gold pom dyed pieces soon. This here is the largest one I have ever grown- a blue ribbon winner for sure weighing in at over 2 pounds! Pomegranates are time consuming and delicious!
Kuro in a sleepy moment out in the garden and I couldn’t resist taking a photo. He still decides on when and if he wants petting from us, but with the night temps dropping a bit, he actually came in and slept on the bed for a few hours last night! He’s very independent! The feral in him I suppose.
I also added another silk shibori flower making class into the mix for November. I had a few people who wanted to do this but missed the last workshop. It is a small group class and you can see the details here. This will be a fun afternoon and a great time to make a few handmade pretties for holiday gift giving.
I’ve been enjoying following Peggy Osterkamp’s weaving blog as she is touring in Japan visiting many textile sites. She went to Amami Oshima as well and saw some of the same things I did. Seeing it again through her weaver’s eye I learned some things that I didn’t get a chance to learn while I was there. The main part of her trip is traveling around Kyushu which is on my list for my next adventure to Japan. In fact, my son is going there for 3 weeks and spending a good chunk of his 3 weeks on Kyushu. Additionally, John Marshall just sent out a newsletter announcing his new book. I hope I will be able to add it to my workshop library collection of great textile books. It includes over 100 swatch samples and he characterizes it as a “field study guide to Japanese textiles”.
And from my friend Jude who is moving, a look at the place they will now call H O M E. I’ve enjoyed her adventure and will move right along with her.
I’ll end this post with a couple of thoughts that passed my way today which resonated with me. The first one was during an interview with Presidential candidate Andrew Yang- “take a dream and turn it into something.” He also remarked that women are never truly idle. How true! And the other is the last line of a poem that Michelle posted on her FB page today “Everywhere I look, my thoughts run wild.” (‘2011’ by Fanny Howe)
Let’s keep wondering and dreaming and let our thoughts grow wild.
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.