Tag Archives: silk experience

Silk,onsen, and life of a sericulture farm. (Part. 1)

What will today bring?

Today I am in Isobe, Annaka-shi Gunma Prefecture. I have no commitments today-but plenty of possibilities.

There is a public onsen across the street here-a definite possibility and open from 10 AM to 9 PM. I saw a vegetable market along the walk to our stay location but when I walked back it was closed. Will probably check that out later. Some local ramen may be eaten. It is Sunday so who knows.

I have some reading, some watercolors, and the general area to check out. This area is known as an onsen (hot springs/spa) area and apparently the onsen symbol universally used throughout Japan originated in this area from a 17th century map denoting a local spa site. The Japanese government attempted to “update” this symbol in 2016 in preparation for the 2020 Olympics but was met with stiff resistance across the country and backed down.

Steam rising from a pool of water is the traditional symbol of onsen

The Usui River runs through and many onsen operate throughout the area. We stayed in an onsen hotel near here during the tour that was enjoyed by all. It was convenient to several of the places we visited in Gunma Prefecture.

Maneki-neko- beckoning cat welcomes visitors to Isobe at this small bridge crossing the river. It was a splendid crisp day!

From the Isobe location, the Silk Study Tour visited a sericulture farming couple-Nobue Higashi and her husband. I’ve written about our visits here in the past but every time I visit I pick up new information.

For example, the artificial chow that is fed to newly hatched larvae is made of two ingredients-mulberry leaf and soy bean meal. Previously, I thought it was completely from mulberry leaf. I have also read that in some cases agar is added. Most larger sericultures order silkworms that are hatched and raised in a clean facility and delivered to them at the beginning of 4th instar. They then finish raising them to cocoon stage feeding solely mulberry leaf.

During our visit to Nobue and Wataru’s sericulture farm, we fed the early stage fourth instar silkworms branches of mulberry leaf from their nearby field. They gave us a demonstration of their cutting and storage process. It was raining so the mulberry leaf had to dry before giving it to the silkworms.

All fed! By the time they reach the fifth instar they are being fed 300kg of mulberry. That’s a lot of mulberry to cut!

Following this visit, we moved to TonCara to experience silk reeling and mawata (spreading the cocoon for yarn making or for other uses) making.

I love it when people are so wowed with the process! I live for these moments during the tour.

A lovely lunch was served before we left and we were on our way to visit the Tomioka Silk Mill-a World Heritage Site.

Today I am recovering from a workshop work day at Nobue and Wataru’s sericulture farm. A total of 45,000 silkworms were moved into the upstairs cocooning space. It was quite the physical job! Next post will cover that process.

Hopeful…楽観的 -らっかんてき

Always during this time of year I begin to get the urge to raise silkworms. Recent walks in the neighborhood encourage me when I see mulberry trees leafing out with fresh tender greens. What silkie could resist?

Reading an account of rice farming and poverty in early 1900’s Japan from one of my favorite books “Memories of Silk and Straw” I saw this, adding further to my yearning…

Watching and caring for small creatures such as silkworms is very calming-at least to me. Seeing them eat, grow, and transform is a reminder of so many things. It makes me a little sad that the local schools no longer do this even though they often have mulberry trees on their campuses, originally planted there for this very purpose.

The neighbor kids are home a lot more now so perhaps they might be interested.

I have eggs in cold storage in my fridge which I saved from my last rearing dated July 2018. A bit old and who knows if they are still viable? I took out one set and will test to see if they will hatch. If not, I may order a small amount of eggs just for fun.

Growing up in Japan in the mid ‘60’s we lived in a house owned by a very wealthy Japanese family. It was located high on a bluff which overlooked the port area of Yokohama. As a child we went on field trips to the Yokohama Silk Center and came home with a small box containing one silk cocoon, one small square of silk, one bit of reeled silk. We regularly visited a nearby famous garden (Sankeien).

Later, much later, say 40 years later, I came to realize that the wealth of the owners of that house we lived in was most likely afforded to the family by the main industry of the time-silk. All wealth in Yokohama and in many other areas of japan was driven by silk trade.

That garden we regularly visited was built and owned by a wealthy silk merchant who many decades later donated the property to the city of Yokohama. It had been their family residence. Only in the past ten years did I learn that one of my early schoolmates was a granddaughter of this family and grew up playing and roaming the private sections of this grand place and it was through her connection that special field trips there were arranged.

The Yokohama Silk Center still exists and I make an effort to go again each time I visit.

So yes, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today and hoping some of the silkworms will hatch. I’ve put them in a warm spot, with some humidity and hoping for the best in this current corona cocoon.

Be well everyone…

Houston Quilt Festival cocoon

I have been existing in a silk cocoon these past 10 days which has been wonderful considering the noise out there in the “real” world.

In the lifecycle of a silkworm, the cocoon has evolved to protect the silkworm as it pupates and transforms into a silk moth. It offers protection against predator threats as well as not so obvious threats of bacteria and other harsh realities providing its own ideal environment inside, regulating air, water, and temperature conditions inside the cocoon as the transformation occurs.

This is not unlike a trip to Houston and the International Quilt Festival.  We are inside the GRB Convention Center halls, in our own little (HUGE!) cocoon.  As I observe my own self in this cocoon, I also observe others around me and see many transformations taking place. We are seemingly oblivious to the noise occurring outside this cocoon. We are buzzing inside here, creating an energy that is exciting and palpable. The election, other news, and even connections to family and friends not present, cease to exist for the most part.

We Are Here.  We are reminded what it is to get away from our usual activities and places.  We are gathered together inside to create, learn, teach, view beauty and connect. Inside this cocoon we meet new people and learn from them, and we learn about ourselves from these interactions. We work as a team, making things go smoothly for all. When something falls out of place, there is a rush forward to help, to solve. In classes (both as teachers and students) we learn how to fail, to accept, to improve and to create solutions. We share joy in all of this and through viewing the immense display of quilts we experience beauty, talent, process and progress.

We know we will return, each of us to our own realities and places, back to our friends and families and home. But we will return transformed. We have seen so much beauty inside that cocoon, so much joy, sharing and caring for each other in this creative playground of cloth and fiber.  Perhaps this is where the comparison ends. Unlike the silk moth who will exist only a short time more, we will continue on, perhaps unraveling the cocoon as we return filled with new ideas and intention, having made new friends, strengthened old ones and set out on new paths and directions.

Here now at the airport, I am slowly emerging from this cocoon, having been once again transformed by the experience. I met so many, heard many stories, and shared much. Thanks to all who visited, took classes, participated in so many ways large and small.

where to start?

Hello.  That’s a good place to start.  Yes, I’m back.  Here. Houston almost seems like a dream!   A wonderful show and ever so busy for me on all accounts.  My sincere thanks to everyone who came, who sent in pieces for the silk exhibit, and who took my workshop.  We did have a great time!

Let’s start with a little slideshow of the silk exhibit…

Having never curated and organized an exhibit before I was pretty much winging it but in my mind’s eye I had an idea of what I wanted to communicate to viewers of the exhibit. It was also interesting to work with the exhibit staff at Quilts Inc. and see their process for receiving materials, setting up, breaking down, and returning items for the exhibit at large. Many thanks especially to Ginny and her crew who were assigned to this exhibit (they confessed that when the various exhibits were assigned they drew the short straw! in the end it wasn’t as bad as they thought-just different than the basic quilt exhibit).  Thanks Ginny and crew! I got to learn a lot through organizing this exhibit.

a couple of shots of the booth-

Unfortunately, when I returned I got the flu- put me a few steps back and then it was off to see my son Trevor’s senior recital-wow!

pre-concert run thru

junk percussion piece run thru

loved this piece…


drum and block set up

many of his young students came with flowers…sweet

-and then back home where I am still catching up on emails and orders. Also many proposals and fees for next years events are due any day now.  Yikes!

Oh, and another great indigo workshop at the Japanese American National Museum last weekend-

Glenna came with her own wonderings-about temari.  She played and devised a way to indigo dye the base for a temari. Quite inventive.  I can see the possibilities now! If you are looking for a new craft to spend some serious time at check out the possibilities of making temari! I even want to try my hand at it-at least once just to gain a basic understanding.   She gave me a lovely sample of her work as a gift-I love it!

temari ball -a gift from Glenna

The gift of home grown cotton was actually from the Houston workshop-got it mixed into the wrong set- but it is beautiful and has seeds that I have separated out- I want to grow a couple of plants just for fun.

The indigo is all cut and each participant at the JANM workshop received a seed packet in their materials kit. Perhaps some indigo will be grown in spring!  As for the rest, some was bagged for gifts, and the rest of the seed was collected for next years crop.  However, it looks like there may already be some dropped seed sprouting out back already!  We’ll see…

indigo seed as a gift

indigo seed for next year

More to tell, but must end it here for now- have a wonderful holiday full of thanks and giving, of friends and family.

just dreaming…of indigo and Japan

Recent ribbon dyeing has kept me away from the indigo (but also keeping the bills paid-thank you!) but while I have been wrapping and dyeing, the indigo has been growing! It’s about a foot tall now.

Which leads me to wondering..as usual.  What if I harvested this indigo and set about composting it?  How will I compost it?  Apparently, it takes 100 days according to Rowland Ricketts.  He has completed construction of a composting shed (so cool!) but I have no such shed at my disposal nor will there be one.  But in usual Shibori Girl form, I will figure something out.  Perhaps in  a sort of Heath Robinson sort of way…

I understand that the floor of the shed is made of sand, rice hulls, and clay in order to draw moisture away from the composting indigo.  I imagine the shed maintains an even temperature and humidity and the floor draws a stable temp from the ground.  The shed provides protection from sunlight, rain, and wind- not to mention bugs and such things…I will learn more of what is required.

Now how to create such an environment here in the yard… I am wondering.

Also wondering- what if I were to dry the indigo leaves and just dump them into a fermentation vat?  I wonder where (not if!) this has been done before.

As always,  I may need to return to my source- Japan.  And it just so happens I am leaving on Monday for just such a trip.  To finalize details and make a few visits, see a few folks, and have a few meetings for the 2013 Silk Study Tour.  I have a lot on my plate!  Fortunately, I will see Sato-san as she is having an exhibition in Tokyo while I am there.  Before she started dyeing indigo she worked up north for several years for an indigo farmer.  I think she will have some answers to some of my questions and it will be so very good to see her again!  I will also meet a new sericulture farmer, a new natural dye master, test out a new ryokan, visit the Yokohama Silk Museum and meet with it’s former Director.  In Tokyo, I will be hosted by Makoto san who’s wife is a long time friend from Austin who always has a fantastic collection of Japanese and vintage fabrics at the Houston Quilt Festival each year.  I will also meet up with Masae whose family specialized in kanoko shibori for 4 generations out of Narumi, as well as with her friend Watanabe san and hope to hear more about the artist shop we visited last time.

A day at a temple sale, just to browse and do some wandering- good for the soul.  And back just in time to post the Indigo Mandala class!

Also looking to collect a few artifacts to be loaned for the upcoming Silk Exhibit at Quilt Festival this year-Experience Silk, Then and Now.  Did I mention this before?

The exhibit will include exceptional silk works from teachers, artists and authors prominent in the textile/quilt  world.  It is also out our aim to show silk “from moth to cloth”, featuring historical silk pieces, as well as educational displays of silk production.  The exhibit is in conjunction with the Silk Experience festival classes/lectures, sponsored by Quilts, Inc., and the Special Exhibits coordinators. The prime organizers of the exhibit include Maggie Backman, Glennis Dolce and Katrina Walker and a host of other Silk Experience volunteers.

In many ways we intend this silk exhibit to be a collaboration and partnership in the continuing goal of education, creativity, and commerce.

And, the silkworms are getting crazy-big-fat and healthy!! Have lined up my silkworm sitters who are excited to have them again.  They might even be starting to spin when I return! Did I mention Mawata Madness here already?  Come and work with some of my very own cocoons- from my very own 2nd generation! It’s the weird things that excite me…

Gotta go-out of fresh mulberry and the cats need feeding…

mata ne!


a little shop update-indigo sky and more

i’ve put a few new things in the shop this morning..
(go straight to the shop and view all new items on one page)

mainly, some indigo sky fabric: 4 -1/2 yard cuts of cotton lawn sky. each comes with a little indigo silk sky as a thank you.

sky on cotton lawn

also, some more silk shibori ribbon combo packs each comes with a clip of one of the new organza ribbons

3 borealis baby!

and some indigo diffusion organza ribbon with an indigo solid blue sky ribbon to match. i’ve been experimenting with indigo a bit. wondering and what-iffing. something new…
included just for fun is a silk cocoon i raised last time

shiborigirl indigo organza ribbons

also, one of the carry the moon bags remains. these are really special-one of the favorite things i have made i think. i’m really looking forward to keeping one for myself out of the next batch. i will also add that i like making practical things that can be used every day. this is one of those things.
wrapped in something special.



i am making more to take to houston. i will be in booth 903 next to my friend jennifer who has some pretty fantastic vintage ribbons and across from helen gibb of flower and ribbon fame herself! i think we will have a ribbon and silk party! flowers too~
my houston class schedule is:
~monday october 31 all day shibori dye class (and indigo too)
class # 110 9am-5pm still a few openings
~wednesday november 2 fashioning fabrics in silk-flowers & insects class #243 9am-12 noon-
sign up here at the Quilts Inc site.
even if you don’t get into one of the classes, come visit the silk experience room during the lunch break to see what the silk experience teachers have to offer. we usually try to have someone in the room and available during that time.

folks are still adding themselves to the group for the high desert silk experience.

on the horizen~ the JANM has asked me to add a two-day workshop in january (the 21st & 22nd). this in addition to the one already scheduled in march.

and here’s today’s photo of the tiny masters:
day 4

tiny masters day 4

thinking ahead-and wondering a bit

~just wanted to let you know i have added two pages here on the blog.
both require some thought, consideration and planning ahead so take your time to wonder a bit.
you can reach the new pages through the links below in this post or by clicking their links in the header above.

giant silk moth display from the Silk Center Takasaki, Japan

the first one is for the High Desert Silk Experience workshop/retreat in St. George Utah. a great opportunity to take some classes all about silk in a beautiful location. Signups are ongoing until Dec.1 or when the classes fill. i think we are about halfway there now…

the second page is for those of you who might want to consider joining us for the 2013 Silk Study Tour to Japan in May of that year. that might seem like a long way off, but planning ahead is the key to a successful tour.

in other news, i’m going to start raising a new crop of silkworms. hopefully, they will be the ones we will use in the workshop in UT to demonstrate the silk reeling skills we have learned on the previous two Silk Study Tours. i’m waiting for the weather to cool slightly so my eggs can be shipped-apparently, it is too hot for them to be delivered now.

more working backwards…

(my son was at the grocery store one day and texted me this random photo…he’s often thinking of (how to tease) me- funny photo-also an example of how quilting is sold via magazines in the grocery store-magazines are just weird to me these days anyway)
since i am working backwards here- there was something i forgot to mention in the last post which i wanted to make sure to tell you. one day during the show a woman came into the booth holding up a $50 bill in front of me. there were several others in the booth and i was quite busy attending to them all. this woman proceeded to tell me she had come by to give me this $50 because a couple of years ago she had charged something with me and there had been a problem and the amount had never been collected. she had hoped to come last year but couldn’t and had felt so badly about it she wanted to make sure she came to me first off. she gave me the bill and sped off leaving us all to marvel at her actions. certainly there had been a circumstance that needed rectifying (i had long given up on it-the cost of doing business and moving forward) but still it just was a lovely gesture and a testament to the quality of people who attend the quilt show. just wanted to say…thanks for exemplifying that -whoever you were!
prior to the show opening i taught two classes in Houston. i flew in early to help Maggie set up the Silk Experience classroom. it was really such a luxury to come in early to set up and have my own key to the teaching room so i could set up not only the room for all the teachers who would be teaching that week, but also so that i could set up for my own (first) all day shibori dye class at my own pace without being rushed. truly a luxury. after setting up the room as a whole with Maggie (of Silk Things ) i took a few photos of the displays we put up.

we had a display panel for each of the teachers who would be teaching. this serves not only to decorate our room but to educate all who enter for the week of classes about the other teachers and classes that are offered. they can then see what classes and teachers they might want to sign up for in the future. Judith Baker Montano also had a beautiful display and taught for us there but her display wasn’t set up when i took the photos and in all the goings on i neglected to go back and get a photo of it- just plain forgot-darn! she has a new book out which is just beautiful. it was great to see all the silk teachers again this year!
and just to let you know- i got absolutely zero pics during the all day workshop- was just too involved and busy- guess ya had to be there, sorry. maybe someone else did and will post them. but everyone had a good time and i even made a small indigo vat for everyone to take a dip in-most had never experienced indigo (used the pre-reduced indigo crystals and while they worked for our purposes the vat was fairly short lived and needed reviving part way through-there were 26 students though).
another thing of particular interest to shoppers in my booth was my Square Up device that allows for real time swiped credit card transactions via my iPhone. i’ve waited patiently since May for it’s arrival and received it just before the show. i discovered a few flaws but overcame most quickly. an unexpected delay in accessing my funds is still plaguing me but i get what they are doing and should have read the fine print first. this too will resolve itself with time.

refocusing my lens-toward Japan

Now that the Chicago show is over, I have 2 short weeks to prepare for the silk study tour to Japan. Several of us from the Silk Experience group were in attendance at Chicago and had a little time to visit prior to meeting again in Seattle where we will depart to Narita.
Just what is “The Silk Experience”?
It is a consortium of creative designers,teachers and authors interested in furthering the usage of silk. These fiber artists are eager to explore new processes and to produce and/or introduce products that are necessary to achieve the their discovered processes. Most of all, this group of talented artists wish to share their experiences with other fiber enthusiasts. Thus the title ‘Silk Experience’.
In conjunction with various classes built around utilizing silk as a medium for all kinds of art, craft, and fashion applications, we also network with the various silk related businesses that wish to promote the increasing use of the silk and the materials, tools and supplies that are needed for specific silk techniques and processes.

At the show we had the opportunity to meet and discuss some ideas for future projects and collaborations- more on that later!
Jude has been blogging lately on adding shibori to quilts as well as exposing her readers to a variety of shibori artists that have tweeked her interest.

Here is one who inspires me with her sculptural shibori shapes. I have my own collection of work along these lines that I am developing on the side and found some new products at the show that will help me solve some of the challenges I have come up against lately.

The blog will take on a distinctively Japanese flavor over the next month and a half as I prepare for the trip and blog as we travel, learn, and take in all sorts of information and sights which I will share here with anyone who wants to tag along. In a sense, I plan to take you all along with me so stay tuned and feel free to ask questions, offer suggestions, etc. as we add to our knowledge of silk, Japan, and the textile crafts of Japan.
One place I am hoping to visit is the Nara National Museum where the oldest piece of Japanese shibori is occasionally shown in the annual Shosoin exhibit which is held every autumn. I don’t know what this year’s exhibit will focus on but perhaps while I am there I will find out and post here. The Shosoin is a world heritage collection of over 9000 objects of which only a few select artifacts are chosen to be exhibited each year. Each item is only allowed to be exhibited once every 10 years and are never loaned outside the country.
I won’t have the opportunity to see this revered piece of shibori but I look forward to seeing many other wondrous objects.

The Chicago show held it’s own-even with people holding back a bit. I learned a lot about the midwest quilter and will be back next year with new and exciting things to entice them even further with the beauty and excitement of adding silk shibori to their work. Sometimes it takes just doing a show to figure out the customer a bit and learn how to best serve their needs. The shibori class went really well- was great fun and we had a room of really great students who brought such creativity to the class. I know it’s been a great class when they also teach ME a thing or two! I also demo’d at the Saturday nite Sampler which is a great event that brings 20 or so teachers into a ballroom for two hours ($10 entry fee) where you go from table to table and get a taste of what each teacher has to offer. That way you can get an idea of what classes you might want to sigh up for at a future festival. All teachers are paid for their presentations. So as you can see, between Preview nite, working the booth, teaching the shibori class, doing the sampler nite, packing up at the end- it’s been a busy week here. Just waiting for my flight and on to preparing for the next two weeks.
Sorry, no photos or eye candy today but just go to the links within for a taste of beauty-especailly the work of Yvonne Wakabayashi.