Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Shirushi Banten

I put together a few trial workshops over the past few years on designing and sewing Japanese jackets before I had enough guts to officially hold a two-week course here at the house.  I  invited students who had been to my place in Japan and showed interest in coming back. Ten days of hard work so far. Four more to go.

I think it takes ten or so of these hanten jackets before you get the idea of measuring and finishing them up just perfectly.  We can finish two and perhaps a baby third if all goes well. I picked up some Edwin Jeans off cuts and we sewed jackets the first three days.

 Here they are:

The second jacket we made from either antique linen or some hand-woven organic fair trade cotton I  picked up in Sri Lanka a few months back. We calculated the measurements and dyed the designs right on the body of the cloth. Seven creative indigo hamsters on my hands. Things are coming together today.

We made some red pigment from madder roots to paint and steam onto the designs on the back of the jackets. 

The madder grows wild all around this area. There isn't enough time to dig it ourselves so I bought some and had it ready to boil. It takes over a week to get the red azilirin paste.

Here Teresa holds a madder stem. The roots is where the dye pigment is concentrated. 

After the liquid has been pH neutralised for a few days of rinsing and settling it is sieved through a coffee filter. Then the paste is ready to be painted on with soy bean juice and steamed. 

It needed a few hours in the sun to jell up.

Heather from Australia painted on the paste and then dyed the background with soot and indigo. Then after removing the paste she carefully painted in the red. First a sample on a small piece and then the actual jacket.


Hand made madder paste paint on the crest on the back of the jacket.

There was a lot of painting and steaming and paste resisting the past few days.

97 year old Ogata san came by and made udon from scratch for our lunch.

We needed a break from all this fresh green, croaking frogs and singing birds so we headed into Tokyo for a day. We went to the Amuse Boro Museum and the Edo Museum. We sought out old fireman jacket designs.

We were completely museumed-out at the end of the day. Overwhelmed by hundreds of years of sophisticated Japanese culture in our faces.

The small paper models of the festival-goers in Edo period were amazing.

The Edo period wood block pictures provided us with more insight into the jackets we are designing and sewing.

This particular wood block print commissioned for a fire brigade in Edo period was particularly informative.

And the beauty of resourcefulness at the Boro Museum.

As always we want more time to study and make things. It is frustrating. I wish we had months to really master the processes. The sewing of the jackets, the history behind Japanese clothing, the indigo dyeing and the pigment making and the design genius of the Japanese traditional Edo craft masters. But if we had months we would want years. And a decade would be necessary to really get it right.  (We know all a long that it takes a lifetime and even then we may miss the mark.) Jeeeeeeesh.

Julie Cat with her new kittens in her box.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Madder Paint for Fireman Jackets.

It is great to have a group of my old friends/students back at the house for two weeks to make Japanese fireman jackets together. Everyone is up late at night sewing and drinking and getting to know each other. Spring is delicate and heavenly right now. Julie the cat had four kittens a few days back. Everything is magic.

We climbed up the mountain and looked down on the house from a new angle.

We are making our own madder root paste paint for the designs on the back of the jacket. Looks like the recipe was nailed right on and we will have a lot of crimson red natural paint to work with. We filter the liquid through coffee filters to get the pure alizarin pigment.

Digging bamboo sprouts with Truus for lunch.

Indigo fields down by the river prepared for transplanting the seedlings in a few weeks.

View from the driveway. So green today.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Indigo Seeds

The house is quiet.

Thank you Shelly, Malou, Min, Debbie, David, Caroline, Sophie, Clare, Heather and Meg.

So much good will and laughter. Thank you.

The indigo you helped plant twelve days ago has poked its head above the soil this afternoon.

It was a pleasure spending these early cherry-blossom-laden days with you. Shelly was up late dyeing at the indigo vat the night before she left. Her hard work is floating in the breeze. Almost dry. I will fold it up and send it off to you.

There were many beautiful things coming out of the indigo vat the past two weeks. I was too busy to take pictures. Please send me some. Especially the mokume and pole wrapped shawls.

I did get a picture of Meg's them. Perhaps I should ask the workshop members to incorporate their astrological signs in the pattern.

Safe travels to you all.

Bryan & Hiro & Momo & Geiger & Julie..still full of kittens.

PS, someone forgot their "how-to-fix" piece.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Making Indigo Balls.

We planted indigo seeds on Monday with the arrival of springs first workshop. It was  a good get-to-know-you-shoulder-to-shoulder activity.  The cherry blossoms are out.  The garden is so fresh. Fresh salad leaf already.

Last week the indigo in the fermentation leaf box was smelling up the yard. The indigo buddies got together and opened it up to find perfectly fermented indigo.

We took turns crushing it in a wooden mortar with the wooden pestle. Yumbo kun, being the Mr Muscle of the crowd thrilled us with his performance.

The indigo paste was divided into 100 gram balls and rolled and pressed by hand.

We will ferment the indigo in a vat as soon as it is warm enough. It takes a year and a half from seed to vat.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Slow But Busy Time In A Japanese Farmhouse in the Mountains Waiting For You This Summer.

Spring Workshops at my farmhouse that focus on indigo and how it was used in Japan and how to sew and dye Japanese jackets are going to start two weeks from now. April and May are going to be busy. I have been finalizing a single mid-summer workshop and there  has been some cancellations and postponements. If you are interested in coming to Japan and staying here at the farmhouse and being spoiled with food and indigo, drop me a line with a little self-introduction to: and I will get back to you.

Unfortunately, the autumn workshops are now full.

Travelling in Japan is easy. It is safe and the Japanese are very helpful. I will help you with suggestions of where to go etc.  The yen is not as low as it was last year but still low. Japan has had deflation for 25 years straight and it's image as an expensive destination is old.

The workshop is ten days long. It starts on a Monday.  I drive into Tokyo and meet you up in the lobby of the Century Hotel conveniently located near Shinjuku station south exit. You stay right here in the farmhouse on the third floor. The rooms are fresh and cozy. We work on projects from morning until bedtime.   I have 25 things I am desperate to show you and only 17 of them actually get done. There is a lot of time at the indigo vats and a few day trips. I really pack it in. I'm a man with a textile mission. The workshops get very good reviews and people come back again and sometimes again and again. I have a few spaces left. I've had mum and daughters come together and even son and mum and dad come together. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxing.

Drop me a line and ask questions about availability for this summer. I am putting together the program for 2017 right now. I have dates set and can pencil you in and get back to you later in the year to reconfirm anyone interested in Japan in 2017.


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Making Sukumo / Composting Indigo Leaves

Three straw bags bursting full of indigo leaves have fermented in straw bags under wheat straw and oak leaves for two months now. I'm back from Sri Lanka and back to work. It was time to mix up the fermenting leaves and make sure they haven't rotted but composted just the right amount.

We dug them out from their cozy home in the fermentation box and combined them together into one straw mat. The fermentation was not even. There were dry areas and wet areas. We hand shredded and remixed all the 80% composted blue ammonia strength indigo muck and packed it tightly into a new straw mat for the final week of fermentation. Looks like it will be another good 20kg of fermented sukumo Japanese indigo. It will be fermented again in the indigo vats this summer and be used to dye.  (Yes, that is Kate Marshall from Australia visiting for a few days! Great timing Kate!)

We are packing it in tightly and quickly to get it back in the fermentation box. A single fly laying eggs in it and we will get small maggots. Yuck. 

And finally some heavy grindstones placed on top to keep the oxygen out and the compost compressed.

It was warm enough for Ogata san to do some indigo dyeing. She has been stitching and working on this piece for a month or so.