Thursday, 9 May 2019

Daddy Waiting.

I have been raising silkworms for over 20 years. Last year I took year off. 1000 eggs about to hatch tomorrow. Such anticipation and excitement. The mulberry is salad fresh. Daddy is waiting. A few months from now I should have some beautiful hand spun silk floss thread.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Winter Silence

The blog was quiet and hibernating.

I had the house to myself all winter. Hiro was in Brazil for three and a half months. I went to New Zealand for a trip. I loved it. I kept busy with textile related stuff... I just didn't write about it.

I sat on cold nights and wove the gothic cross alpaca blankets I had warped a year ago while listening to The Brothers Karamazov for the umpteenth time.
There was something wrong with the dent so I bought a new reed and re-sleighed it less densely. It looks great now. My buddy Yumbo came over to build a stone wall behind the pond and tried weaving for the first time.

Whiteboots immediately made the freshly woven blanket his own.

There were a few kilograms of medium dyed madder wool lying around that was not asking to be woven into anything. A few kilograms of madder and a re-mordanting.....

The two working back strap looms were empty and sad upstairs.
I warped them both in a few days and they are so happy to be of use again.

The indigo vats are open for the year! Diana Sanderson from the Silk Weaving Studio in Vancouver was here for a visit and the de-sludging of the sleeping vat.

Tobie and Janie were here for a visit and they managed some gorgeous work in a short time.

We visited Noguchi san for the day.

Cocoons were reeled and silk hankies were made.

There is never enough time. Never. 

I had a few cancellations for ten-day workshops this year. If you are interested. Please get in touch.


Quick visit to Laos

I worked on a few development projects in Laos 15 years ago.
It was all very exotic and exciting spending time in ethnic minority villages in the mountains of northern Laos. The learning curve was in your face.
What development work is. What the world might look like for traditional villagers when roads are built next to their isolated-for-millennia villages and a slightly better lighted and complex world starts to swallow their existence. 
The expat world of do-gooders, opportunists, nut cases and CIA operative do-gooders/opportunists/nut cases….
In short….I loved it. 
I was in the back of a dusty truck bouncing and sliding through the mud through the damaged tropical landscape. Smiling so much my face hurt….an added addition to the adventure was the impossibly handsome, charismatic French surgeon beaming and laughing while we tried to hang on and to not get thrown overboard by the teenage driver.
We were out of the truck and then wading across a muddy slippery stream to arrive in a dusty village of thatched huts as the sun set.
Inside a smokey hut our small group with the help of a translator tried explaining the protocols of a fair trade project.
The absurdity …… 
When asked how she would spend the wave of money that would flood into the village as our handicraft project flourished and lifted them out of poverty with schools and flush toilets….. and electricity ….. a village wise woman enthusiastically rattled on…pakpukpidywak..ajinomoto..snuckslackjatanalke..
I stopped the translator because I had distinctly heard the word “Ajinomoto”. The Japanese brand name for monosodium glutamate.
In the oil lamp lit, smoke circling in blackened rafters and molding palm frond thatched hut on stilts…
Sure enough…that is what she was hoping to purchase with the future village wealth.
I had the translator tell her, “It’s bad for you.”
He translated her tart words back to me, “I know but it tastes sooooo good.”
So much for sewer systems and graduate school scholarships.
I later snooped around the village and saw an impossibly horrible opium smoking dead-eyed father with a tangle of thin-legged hungry kids sleeping lengthwise across the battered broken floor slats of their home so they wouldn't fall through to the ground below. A pathetic drug deal instead of a monosodium glutamate deal materialized on a foggy screen in my sensory overloaded head.
I had the dumbest resume one earth…well so dumb I would have been humiliated to have written it down at the time.
I’d spent the last ten years of my life in a small village in the mountains of Japan learning about primitive silk farming and natural dyes and weaving traditional Japanese textiles. Along the way I had learn to repair silk farming, silk reeling and weaving tools. A few contemporary skills like breeding silk moths and using contemporary spinning and reeling and throwing machines.
I had missed the 90s completely. 
I'd been doing this simply out of anthropological curiosity and a habit I’d picked up as a kid to take things apart and be interested in long processes that ended up in some sort of art work….think 60’s Ford Mustangs and eagle feather Indian headdresses. 
Heading back in the back of the truck Dr Philippe had somehow sussed out the carefully shabbied, shaggy-pony-tailed 40-year-old-me … the skills and openness to adventure and his offer of work in Laos had my head spinning. 
A few years later the recession of 2008 put an end to the development games.
I’d seen Philippe a few times over the years since then. I was in Bangkok a while back and flew up to spend a few days with him and his family in Laos. 
Vientiane was much as I remembered it. 
We drove by the spot where we had a motorcycle accident many years ago. Cracked bones in my ribs, right foot and left hand. Still bothers me in bad weather. 
A dog had run out in the street in front of us.
Hours later as Philippe was finishing up a plaster cast for my arm and the beer painkillers were really working I asked him with genuine concern, “What happened to the dog?” His eyes twinkled and he mischievously kissed his fingertips and said, “Bon appetite.”
Philippe and Babette still keep the silk business going. He scooters back and forth to the hospital to operate a few times a week. Farming super foods has his attention now. Endless curiosity of life around him, a bear hug and a big smile as he moves through his compassionate, gregarious and humor-filled life.
Pictures now and then.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Japanese Traditional Book Binding

A tiny handmade box with a tiny book inside.

I am at a loss for words.
The Present God has graced me with something special.
Last September I ran a Japanese book binding course at the house. A group of ten strangers on my doorstep for ten-days of living together in the old barn. Although the place is huge we eat, indigo dye and work in close quarters. 
Most of the time the human dynamics are very good. We don’t get on each other's nerves. It is a little bit of an orchestra…we sacrifice a bit of our individuality for the benefit of the group. 
I was in rough shape and heading out for intravenous drips every morning and Yamazaki sensei graciously taught the book and box making part of the course where I managed to teach the indigo dyeing part.
The bamboo on the mountainside. The cats and Momo the dog are quiet presences. Steady Hiro in the kitchen keeping an eye on things. Occasionally monkeys scrambling through the green underbrush around the house. 

Throughout the year we had the wettest slushy snow and skin searing heat quieted by sunset indigo washing trips to the river. The sweetest softest green spring days and moody blue/black late autumn skies. 
A lot of variables…along with the sometimes scrambling, slushy, searing, softest, moody temporary human inhabitants of the house.
Kate is from Sydney. Once she arrived and we all get to know each other I saw that she is a very accomplished book maker.(Amongst other things...multi- talented.) I wondered if she was getting anything out of the course. Kind and quiet and talented…humble as they come.
This small book box with a book inside is a mini version of the books we made together.... arrived in the post last week.
Inside are the loveliest watercolors of the the house, the bamboo and of course the ridiculously over photogenic house dog, Momo.
I'm at a loss for words. 
I was able to see again a glimpse of her experience of the workshop.

It is a reward…I sometimes get frustrated with the work. A few times I’ve wanted to call it quits.
The photos people take of the workshop and each other and around the house of the endless amount textile related paraphernalia move me.
When I see that strangers who met at the workshop keep in touch and visit each other….even on different continents….
Makes me feel good. I suppose the workshops can be likened to a magnet. A brief orbit is created. And the larger orbit of the participants sometimes collide.
The orbits often bring students back to the house. 

Thank you otters.
Thank you, Kate. The precious little book will live on the precious-little-things-shelf forever.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Indigo Quilt

I run a two-week traditional Japanese Hanten/Firemans jacket sewing/dying workshop at the farmhouse here twice a year. The students are often repeaters who have come back to Japan to visit/study with me here time and time again.

One of the jackets we work on is a very ambitious project. Designing an insignia for the back of the jacket. Cutting a stencil for that. Deciding the colors to use. Soot for blacks and greys. Madder for pinks and reds. Indigo for all the blue tones. (And combining these for more nuanced colors) There are sight variations of sleeve length and width and body length and drape etc. Dying a full lining with persimmon tannin. Putting together antique cloth to make a second hanten....

It is a fun but intense stitch filled two weeks. Living together and eating together and making artistic choices in front of each other.

And some strong beautiful accomplished characters from all ends of the planet.

The designs are so personal. Although we focus on perfecting our own design while learning the construction and dyeing techniques we are aware of our fellow hanten otters working on their individual projects.

My old buddy Jacky Eyre did something special that made me tear up with delight and and gratitude.

I repeated a story to Jacky and the students from Yazaki san the kimono seamstress whom I have known for 25 years.

"You can't call yourself a kimono maker until you have made 100. Not 98 not 99 but 100."

The old saying is not just referring to a kimono stitcher. It is meant to refer to all crafts...writing, playing an instrument and stonemasonry. (Some of these skills are more quantifiable.)

Having made a few dozen of these jackets myself over the years but knowing that true mastery is elusive...maybe two hundred at my pace.

Jacky made me this quilt with 100 hantens. At first glance I could see that it was constructed with Japanese folk textile scraps.

I was moved.

It was a lot to take in at once with a group of people watching me open and receive the gift.

I was smiling in gratitude and admiring the overall design and color scheme. I felt a little choke up coming with the 100 hanten theme.

Then one block caught my eye. It was a hanten with a large box kite embroidered on the back. It was instantly recognizable as lovely Alex's lovely design.

A single tear escaped and then I noticed that the central panels were all images of the other students in Jacky's group hantens. I bit my lower lip to stop the flood and walked into the adjoining room to hide my tears.

Jacky is a larger-than-life-no-nonsense-practical-clear-blue-eyed-Australian-tough-beautiful woman.

She captured those two precious weeks of being together and put them in that quilt with humor and respect and talent.

(One rule Bryan....No shagging on top of that quilt...but underneath is fine.)

Camilla  meticulously placed carp stencils her hanten.
Molly the surgeon chose a brain and heart insignia. (Heart on the sleeve.)
Jo used antique material carefully composed.
Melissa who lives in a forest carefully drew a pine motif.
Harriet the social justice activist  meticulously hand wrote out the names of the victims of a factory fire in  Britain in the early 20th century on the lining and an emblem of worker/ farmer solidarity on the back,
Sophie the French architect was tired of concrete and used a butterfly motif.
Alex used her kite motif.
I used some old persimmon and indigo scraps.
Jacky hand pasted concentric circles on her hanten.
There were many other references to our time spent together here in Japan and Australia.

So it all gets an A plus another A.
It works together and has a spirit. 
Thank you Jacky. 

Misc. pictures of the workshop last spring. Thank you.

And our perfect kimono sewing teacher Keiko Yazaki with her shy back to the camera.