Tag Archives: Kimono

In my head… and silk sha

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an example to clarify…

sha kimono, katazome replicating kasuri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Beginnings

Life is full of new beginnings. Every ending has a beginning, every beginning an ending. This is not a new thought, it’s one as old as time.
Beginnings are always interesting. There can be hope, joy, anticipation, unknowingness and even a bit of anxiety about it all, endings can likewise feel the same way! My first introduction to this sort of thinking came when I was in high school and a family whom I babysat for gave me the book, “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass as a gift. The title itself was an intrigue. She also gave me the book, “Notes to Myself” by Hugh Prather. I loved the short moment by moment thoughts in that book. Both books were a revelation to my 15 year old mind. At the same time, I was reading my way through all the Vonnegut and Kesey books…haha. Well, it WAS the 70’s.
I still have “Notes to Myself” but somewhere along the way, “Be Here Now” found its way elsewhere. Maybe that gives you a little insight on how I became me.
We are each the finder, maker, and follower of our own path.
It’s April now. Another beginning. Today it’s cloudy outside on the way to sunny but the garden is alive and well, bursting with new hope. Inside however, the fabric sorting continues…

I was going through my collection of kimono two weeks ago to separate out the various ones I use as workshop samples (mostly shibori and indigo) and other ones I have acquired over time. The “other ones” are  mostly kasuri and silk, but after having them for some time sitting in bins…well, hmmm.

still my favorite shibori and indigo workshop sample kimono

What to do?

Several of the kimono I really love for the unique kasuri weaving, the Meisen sensibilities of color and pattern, but all are regular long kimono and just not practical for wearing here. I do have several of the haori (shorter jacket type) that I do wear and really wanted to see what could be done with these stored kimono to get them out of a bin and make use of them. I hate to think of them just sitting in a bin getting no love…they’re too good for that.

On a trip many years ago I found a silk shibori piece in Kamakura that was more like a duster/vest sort of garment. It was a kimono remake. I can still remember the layout of the shop and the woman who sold it to me. She had taken a temporary pop-up shop along komachi-dori for a week and had a small place where she did sewing work about 30 minutes outside of Kamakura.
I purchased it thinking that aside from the great shibori and the wearability of it, it would make a great piece to take a pattern from and make more of these. So, when I was looking at the stack of kimono I wanted to transform (and there are only 5 or so-I rarely buy full kimono when I go to Japan) I thought of this piece.

I started disassembling one of the kimono and putting it back together as the silk shibori duster/vest version I have. What I realized was that I know there are some of you out there in the same situation with kimono that you have collected, and you may want to explore the possibility of transforming them into something currently useful and wonderful!
Hence, the birth of a new workshop-a new beginning! Supplies are simple-seam ripper, thread, needle and scissors. You will need the spirit of adventure, a willingness to dive into the unknown, and the patience to do a little hand sewing. Oh, and a kimono.

Three completely different pieces. All silk. Different periods spanning the last 120 years or so…

The one on the left is silk sha (unlined) with an interesting combination of techniques, the center is silk shibori (lined) probably ’50s-’60’s is my guess, and the one on the right is a very fine silk kimono for a young boy perhaps 1900-1920 ish. They all wear great over something (either sleeved or sleeveless) and are light and a nice statement sort of wearable.

A few more pics:

In addition, you will end up with the extra fabric that can be used for something else! There is plenty for a scarf. I’ll have a sample on hand of that for you to consider as well.

Check out the workshop listing for details!

There are two dates for this workshop-one more immediately, and the other about 3-4 weeks later. This will allow those who may not have a few kimono laying around to acquire one. I am working with a friend in Japan on having him send me a set that you can choose from if you want to buy from us. Of course you can search other vendors as well, but we are curating a set that has already been predetermined to work for this project.  

Captain, the neighbor cat, helps curate the kimono selection.


In the background of all this, April moons have begun. They are going to be a little different this month… Last night’s moon was a beautiful crescent-did you see it? I hope April is treating you well so far, that Spring is warming and greening you up, and that many of the seeds you plant sprout into seedlings!

Case of the textile detective…

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

giving new life to old silk

once upon a time there were many many kimono. some were worn daily, some were worn for special occasions and when they needed cleaning, they were taken apart, cleaned, then sewn back together.  as time passed, many of these kimono were no longer being worn. the outer fine colorful silks were often stripped of the inner linings and resold to be remade into other things. but the lowly inner lining silks-though also fine, but often plain and with little pattern or color, were set aside (if not discarded!) since no one knew what to do with them.

Richard has been collecting them and remaking them into his beautiful silk mandalas.  he is here once again to give a workshop and for the past couple of days we have been preparing things.  today, we took some pieces out to get a few photos and some video for the daily dyer.

mandalas group

my, they looked glorious! so alive & revivied.

detail mandala

for this workshop, we decided that we wanted to concentrate on using some of these silks and show what can be done with them . we will be using them freely both for the arashi  and the mandalas.  if they don’t start being used, they are simply going to be discarded.   silk was used as a form of currency at one time, so it is interesting to me that something that was once so highly valued is now being cast away.

i like the intention of these pieces we are making.  some of the silks are quite old.  they were important enough to have been saved by someone all this time.  some appear to be hand loomed, even hand spun!  imagine throwing that away.  some are simple but perfect for dyeing.  some have spots or stains. all are unique in various ways. most of the blemishes were no longer noticeable once they were dyed.  my favorites are the ones where you can see the slubs, tyoffs and the uneven tensions from the weaving. like these-

there was more than enough for the workshop so i spent some time today sorting and ironing and packaging up some to put into the shop.

i like that we can use this silk from the past in our work today. i can learn things just by looking at it! and some of it is here now in the shop.