Sunday, 6 July 2014

Silk babies to Cocoons. One month.

This year is the 16th that I have raised silkworms. For the past three years I've wanted to take a break.   The whole thing was more of a chore than before. To have the mulberry fields in good condition takes time and effort. The equipment sterilized and organized takes time and muscle power.

 To raise the silkworms themselves takes a month. From cocoon making to breeding the moths for the next season takes a few weeks. Reeling the cocoons into threads takes a week of solid reeling and throwing. The thread from the last five years has just been sleeping in a box upstairs. The last umpfff to dye it and weave it just hasn't been accessible. There has been too many other things on the burner with carpentry work and teaching.

Enthusiasm was waning and I was one step away from....." I used to raise silkworms and reeled the silk into thread and wove it for 15 years but I quit."

 I found the time and energy to do it this year. Although the mulberry wasn't perfectly branched and the trays could have used a dip in the river all turned out well. There was a group of students at the house and some of them were able to see steps from the eggs hatching until the cocooning.

The entire intricate process was what interested me at first. The history and beauty of the silk was hypnotic. Nothing new was going on the past few years. The nostalgia of the process is all that kept it going.   I've made a lot of things from the silk in the past. Some good some not so good. A few brilliant pieces. (No false modesty here.) Now is the challenge to make something more satisfying. That will take some serious focus time. To take time with a clear head to make the threads and dye them to perfection and weave them with care. The right balance of everything.
To make double cocoons, (two silkworms in a single cocoon) I keep fresh newspaper under the boxes and when I hear and see a silkworm pee (They pee once when they have completed the rough outline of the cocoon they stick their butt out and get ride of the extra water that did not make it into silk.) it is taken out of the box and then introduced to a friend in another box and cover it in glass forcing the two to make a single cocoon. This takes forever.  (And is a tad on the gross side.) The double cocoons produce a shiny slightly slubby thread when reeled. I'll use it for every second warp thread. The single cocoons will be reeled for part of the warp and weft. I'll melt one thousand of them in an ash lye solution and spin them for most of the weft.   There is a lot of work ahead. The beautiful perfection of kimono design was obvious with Mark and Gwen's and Dillon's and Sana'a and Melody's kimono they stitched last week. I haven't sewn one in years and want to get back to that kind of work.

Eggs hatching and being brushed off:

Time has just melted together. Where did the past five months go? It was just yesterday that we were dealing with the snow.

It is hard to imagine that this monsoon garden was sleeping under all that.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Indigo, Silkworms. Official Japanese Farmer

I an official Japanese farmer. I hear there are only a few of us non-Japanese certified here. I've been raising indigo and silkworms (growing mulberry) and 2000 square meters of green tea for many years now. The government officials came a few weeks back, checked me out and I received the certification a week later.
I received this t-shirt to commemorate the occasion.


I never managed to grow a full field of indigo last year because of other obligations. The field is fully planted this year and growing well. The first harvest will have to wait until I'm back from working in New York in July. It should be a bushy 75 centimeters tall by then.  I used a generous amount of chicken and pig manure this year and the indigo is grateful.

The days are packed with activities at the house. Up at the crack of dawn with Mark gathering mulberry for the silkworms. 

Yazaki san is teaching Gwen, Mark, Sana, Melody and Dillon to sew kimono upstairs next to the munching silkworms. They cut their stencils, dyed the fabric in indigo and started sewing them the next day. I am so proud of them.
 These guys are so proud of their hand stitched work. Mark made a denim kimono to wear to his brother's wedding in Ireland this summer. It will be cool paired with his family tartan kilt.

Melody and Sana cut these stencils like honey badgers. So much talent around the house this rainy season. 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Leafy Tails University of Applied Shibori, Graduate Class of May 2014.

Thank you Mark for this picture and title for the post. Ichi go ichi e.  A very precious and special time together.

Thank you Margit, Bee, Mary and Paul, Mark and Mary, Marley, Alex and Glennis. (and Hiro)


*click to see some happy happy faces.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Spring 2014 Workshops.

This spring I held three ten-day workshops. (Number three is in full swing now.) I thought I might be dead of exhaustion by the last group.  But no. The hardest thing (besides getting the house spic and span from top to bottom) is editing what to say and do.

This group is somewhat unique. Mark and his mother Mary and father Paul and friend Marly from Italy and Ireland.  Bee and her mother Margit from Denmark. Alex and her mother Glennis from the UK. Mary is my soul-sister from Vancouver.  A family affair.

We are having a campfire outside every night. Last night we were Kumi himoing until midnight with the frogs in the pond keeping rhythm with the soft clunking of the bobbing braiding the silk.

The trip to Noguchi sans studio was magical as always. 


The Cherry Blossom Group was special. There were some real weaving masters there. Barbara was so so so kind and brought a warp for my neglected counter-marche all the way from the States. The loom is happier now that it finally working properly. A warp properly warped and balanced.  I've played around on it for years and never really really getting it right. Actually the whole middle room with the Scandinavian looms feels better with that functioning warp in there. The dogs seem to like the room better as well. Thank you Barbara. Some dust bunny loom ghosts have been exorcised.  You were all camera shy. (Ulrike, I haven't a single picture of you!) Barbara, Ulrike, Muriel, Lyn, Linda, Monike,  Jean, Kandace and Virginia....what a group of honey badgers... Thank you all for your kindness and hard work.

Shibori, Katazome and Weaving: Three Months Worth

Mini came and stayed at the house for three months last spring and again this spring. She arrived in the snow. While the damage was being cleaned up she wove away like a honey badger. She spent a single week carving a single stencil. It was brilliant. She was slightly hesitant to cut two stencils at once. She is glad to have twice the work in the end with two gorgeous stencils.

The sun is hot enough to dye with persimmon tannin now. Those stencils look great dyed both with indigo and tannin. Good job Mini.

The workshop members were amazed at the quality of the work and there was an impromptu mini Mini exhibition at the top of the stairs.

She worked on a dozen or so complicated shibori techniques. Some of the pieces were small just to get the idea of the technique. She couldn't suppress the desire to make a few big things when she understood how they worked.

I like how she works. Step by step. She picks up the techniques and files them away.  She keeps building on the basics and will be a master one day. Good start Mini. Bryan

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Motohiko Katano Shibori Postcards

At the Japanese Folkcraft Museum you can buy four books of postcards featuring the work of the shibori /indigo master Motohiko Katano.

Motohiko Katano (1889-1975), a painter turned dyer, created a body of sublime shibori work using indigo and other natural dyes. Guided by Soetsu Yanagi and Kanjiro Kawai, leaders of the mingei (“folk craft”) movement, Katano recognized the beauty of the humble yet high spirited art of Arimatsu-Narumi shibori and, from 1957 to his death, set out to revive these traditions. Many of his techniques were inspired by shibori craft traditions from the area where he lived, in Nagoya. One such process, now popularly called “katano shibori,” produces a repeating pattern across the width of the cloth in variegated colors, white lines, and areas resembling soft airbrushed tinting. His work leaves an indelible mark on contemporary shibori art, and his legacy is being continued by his daughter, Kaori Katano. 

Motohiko Katano: Motohiko Katano.

They are often out on the work table/ dining table for us to figure out how he made them. Truus and Mini and Ogata san and I have worked on this one recently. Truus went back to the Netherlands and I didn't get a picture of her beautiful piece.

After it is stitched and pulled it is bound to a flexible rope core and the white parts are resisted with kite string and cloth and saran wrap. Mini is exhausted after all the prep work. She hit the indigo vat the second the last place was wrapped and tied.  Mini-like clean lines and a clean melody appeared when it was opened.

It is interesting to see his ingenuity and precision in trying to copy these works. As the techniques are picked up over years my students can tweak them and find their own shape-resist voice.  I don't push the students to do something never done before. Copy and refine the master works and your own will come in time.

Ogata sans was a tad bolder.

This is another technique Ogata san and I worked on recently. (Amanda mastered it last year.) A simple paper cut out stencil was repeated with the aobana ink and then stitched up, pulled and dyed in the indigo ten times. On Lithuanian linen.

Yet another two techniques from these cards:

I suggest anyone interested in Shibori find these and work away. They are the best resource material I have ever seen on shibori. Why look at the textbook stuff? Look at the Leonardo stuff.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Cherry Blossom Workshop

I hold ten-day workshops at the farmhouse in spring and autumn. I've done it seven times now. It is such an intense time having a group of eight in your house and life for those days.  Each time is different. The chemistry of the people is different. I enjoy it and am lucky to be doing what I want to  do in life. So many special moments with special people.

It doesn't feel like work. It is a pleasure to have guests at the house. Lena, Anna, Sue, Emily, Kim, Anita, Marcela and Kate.... We had perfect weather. I didn't take many pictures but looking through the ones sent to me I can't help but notice a lot of smiling faces. Beautiful harmony amongst you all. Thank you for the effort it took to travel from all ends of the planet. From Brazil and Sweden, Australia, Canada, the Himalayas and the UK.

Here are a few pictures to remember our time together.