Tag Archives: Amami Oshima

cloth to treasure…and a quick check-in

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…

Amami Oshima Tsumugi Weaving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a photo gallery from the tour:

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

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

No time for jet lag…

It’s the end of Saturday here in Japan -only three days into the tour and we have already experienced many wonderful things! I always think I will have more time to blog our adventures than ends up being the reality. There is a desire to record the day to day-ness of it all, balanced by the reality of the schedule while still remaining in the moment. So tonight I have a bit of time to catch up here, so will backtrack a bit first…

There are certain stages of the tour …milestones of a sort. The first one being- having spent almost two years gathering the group and organizing the details-I finally get to meet everyone in person! The majority of us departed from LAX (Los Angeles) and others we will meet in Japan at Narita Airport. We had a little time at the departure gate to introduce ourselves and put names that have been on lists and in emails to the actual faces! We have three people traveling with us that have been on previous tours but even still I have not seen two of them for many years so it feels good to catch up a bit! As always, when I meet the rest face to face, I’m so pleased that this tour always attracts such a wonderful group of people who want to learn more about silk, Japan, and textiles in general. Cloth people are just good folks! I’m not quite comfortable until the plane door closes and everyone is on board. At this point, final boarding is done and the door closes- I relax.
A 10.5 hour flight passes quickly and uneventfully in relative comfort. Watching a movie or reading a good book wearing noise cancelling headphones takes one away like an old fashioned Calgon bath. A couple of people knit the hours away.
Arriving at Narita we gather up the rest of the group and Hirata san who has been at the airport ahead of time to meet the early arrivals leads us and our luggage to the hired bus for the trip to the the Ginza where we will stay for the following 3 days.
Hotel check-in and a brief rest was followed by a short walk to Hirata-san’s favorite Ginza shabu shabu restaurant with those who were interested.

Tokyo Ginza is where we stop first with a small hotel one block off the main street. The first day was reserved to visit the Mingei-kan- the Folk and Craft Museum which represents the finest of simple and masterful craftwork for use in everyday life. We traveled there by train and with 17 people trailing through the train stations for their first time and using their Suica cards we arrived without too much confusion! Once inside the museum we were given a short introduction in English by a docent. The Mingei folk and craft museum celebrates the beauty in the handmade object-useful items used in everyday life. Beauty is appreciated by all and to have and use basic things of beauty enhances and enriches ones life. Simplicity and beauty can be seen in everyday objects here. We were fortunate to discover that a temporary exhibit of shibori by Motohiko Katano was on display during our stay and a highlight of the visit. No photos inside the museum are allowed so here are a few from the outside and a short video…

Motohiko Katano shibori

From there we divided into two groups- one headed to a craft and folk art shop called Bingoya to see works by current craftsman across Japan. My group returned to Tokyo Ginza where a couple of us were to meet up with Megumi-san who would introduce us to a kimono shop specializing in Amami Oshima Tsumugi. Two of us will travel to Amami Oshima at the end of the tour and this visit was to educate us a bit about Amami textiles and dorozome (mud dyeing) which is done there. Completely fascinating and a very special treat!
Following this Megumi-san (an expert in kimono and known to the best shops in the Ginza) took us to several shops to see the finest of kimono made with top quality textiles.

Tea was enjoyed at the end of the day in one of the oldest tea shops along with fruit and agar.
Returning to the hotel, everyone went their own way, some meeting up with Hirata-san who led a group to Tsukiji for sushi dinner and others who just couldn’t walk one more step went next door to Ginza Six for dinner.

Ok…gotta run! It’s monday and we’re in Kyoto where I was able to steal an hour of early morning computer time. Will do more catching up later!