Sunday, 12 June 2016

Dylan's Best Opening Lines.

I was just reading an article about the ten best opening lines to Bob Dylan songs.

I just saw him a  month back. Third row centre. The  performance was so bad it was impossible to even applaud. The first ten rows were occupied by the die-hard Dylan fans and we even found it hard to even grunt at his dismal show.

I groaned out loud in bed last night..... the whole night to the early morning. Every sinew and joint and muscle in my body ached. The past three months have been great but tough. The workshops have been fulfilling. It was a sort of out-of-body-experience. I was in 'impart mode'. The last students waved goodbye and took the train to Tokyo yesterday.

It was Rudolf Steiner who said something along the lines, " You give away in your 40s what you learned in your 20's and 30's so you are empty in your 50s to prepare for your 60s."

There still are some dregs at the bottom and I am doing my best to empty them in my 50s to move onto another stage in life. Textile dregs...Japanese cultural dregs....

The Otis College of Design alumni were wonderful. We met at the hotel and as we walked out to the street we witnessed a big black crow pulling apart a hapless pigeon on the sidewalk. I booted the crow and in group horror we realised the pigeon was still alive.

Tim sketched it on the spot.

The poor bloody bird got boxed up and driven to my place in the mountains. A few days later we realised it's leg was I took the sharpest pair of Hiro's ikebana scissors and amputated its' leg.  Aghhhhhh... But a week later, 'Sidewalk' is fine. Today, on his daily hop around the yard he played a while and then 'flew!!!!!' back to his makeshift cage made from six stainless bar-be-que grills wired together.

On the same day 'Sidewalk' came, a poison  pit viper who was terrorizing the pond's endangered tree frogs and their eggs and tadpoles met his maker (in the campfire) with human help and a 15 centimetre horrible centipede terrorized the students in the living room was unceremoniously chopped in two with my best sushi knife. (video grab)

Safe from the viper tree frog. Sidewalk in his cage. Kittens pose.

Crazy few days.

On the tenderer side of life... the kittens are growing and playing and keeping us awake with scampers on the second floor. What a kitten heaven with dozens of boxes and looms and places to hide.

I wake up every morning with the silkworm trays white with hungry silkworms....I go the mulberry fields in the mountains and cut mulberry in solitude  as the sun rises.

Fresh dew wet mulberry....

They will cocoon tomorrow and I spent a few hours today cutting bamboo and making these wonderful things for them to spin in.

and they all look like this with all the cocoons in them in a few days time:

And for the majority of the cocoons the cardboard version is waiting. Sidewalk is in the cage behind us.

Yesterday the Otis group posed with Sidewalk and the doggies for a sayonara picture...

Now if I had the energy to pick up my guitar and compose I am sure I would have a few Dylanesque song lyrics from the chaos of life these days.

But the doggies are unfazed today.

Top Ten Dylan opening lines:

1)  Someone’s got it in for me, they’re posting stories in the press.

2)  They’re selling postcards of the hanging

3) If your memory serves you well, we were going to meet again and wait

4) Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?

5) The river whispers in my ear, I’ve hardly a penny to my name

6) My love she speaks like silence.

7) You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend

8) ‘There must be some way out of here,’ said the joker to the thief.

9) Nobody feels any pain

10)  Oh, the gentlemen are talking and the midnight moon is on the riverside

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Musings in June.

Korinna and Truus did not get their due honour of having their wonderful hand stitched jackets pictures posted.

Both of these jackets took extra time to get the 'horse riding slits' and the lining to sit and hang just right.

Korinna's work was clean and tidy. I was impressed with her stitching neatness even late at night when it was time to be asleep. The jacket is gorgeous. The motif on the back is deceivingly simple and complex.

Truss went her own way and made a soot and soy milk dyed jacket with just a hint of indigo blue painted on instead of dipped on.

I have eleven alumni of The Otis College of Design at the farmhouse for a week. We spent our first three days together in Tokyo.  We visited the Issey Miyake exhibition at the National New Museum, The Edo Museum and The Boro Museum in Asakusa and the Nezu Museum in Aoyama. Bright students who were/are absorbing information as they breath. Twelve sets of designer eyes taking in an entire city and old textile culture. I am in heaven with these smarties!

Then we went shopping at the Kapital stores and a painting supply store and drifted in and out of all the cool shops as we roamed along trying to thread together some Japanese design elements through the centuries.

It was heaven to be back in the mountains with the silkworms and the kittens and doggies and Hiro's home cooking.  Six more days together. Trying to pack in as much as possible.

The spring workshops are almost over. They were great. 'Two General Introductions to Indigo and Japanese Textile courses'. A two-week jacket making course and now the Otis students. All has been pretty good.

If all goes well I will be in Finland and then Russia in ten days time. Anna's friend is the "Keeper of the Russian Textile Collection" at the Hermitage in St Petersburg. I am so looking forward  to getting behind the scenes there and looking at the old textile collection there.

Places we visited:

Edo Museum:
Nezu Museum:
The Boro Amuse Museum:
Issey Miyakeissey miyake exhibition:

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Baby Silkworms, Hantens and Mulberry Saplings.

I ordered 2000 silkworm eggs and they arrived a few days ago. They hatched this morning. New genetic material was needed after breeding the same lineage for a few years.  These ones can be bred for a few years before they go a little wonky.

Dillon and Ishii san and Takeshima san are very interested in starting to silk farm on a small scale. This is exciting. I was hoping for a few quiet days but instead I got machine gunned with questions on sericulture.

A few eggs hatched last night.  The kerosene heater kept them warm all night.

In the morning 95% of the eggs had hatched and it was time to feed them fresh mulberry for the first time.

Some mulberry plants fell  victim to nasty insects and hungry bark eating starving winter monkeys last year. There were hundreds of hand made mulberry saplings a few years back and they ended up in the compost as enthusiasm for silkworm farming tanked. With some helpers I have taken a deep breath and am looking forward to the whole process again. There are a few more available fields near the house now. You can make mulberry saplings from seed or cuttings. To try something new I cleared some grass around some scrappy saplings in an abandoned mulberry field only a few hundred meters from the house.

It was necessary to cut the thatch grass around the mulberry. Birds are chirping and the tea is ready for harvest.

The bottom of the branch is scored before being bent down and buried in the dirt.

Picture from Heather of that abandoned mulberry field next to the tea.

Roots will grow from the branch and it will be dug up again this autumn and cut into sections that will each become a mulberry tree.

Busy busy days between workshops. Tea harvesting and silkworm care....playing with the new kittens.

Three more jackets from the hanten workshop.

Heather from Australia used the madder paste to colour the maple leaves on her jacket. Brilliant. The jacket will age so well.

Heather from Canada/living in Beirut went for a western image of mountains and tree silhouette that worked well with the soot touch. A jacket to treasure for many many years.


Mary in Equador knocked us out with this mokume shibori lining and delicate cherry blossoms.

More pictures of hanten work to come.

A group picture by the frog pond.

Sleeves not quite finished yet.

Thank you Teresa, Truus, Heather, Mary, Korinna, Jean, Heather and of course Hiro. Thank you thank you and thank you again. The sewing was a slog but look at those jackets!

Start to harvest this tea field tomorrow.  The village is magically beautiful right now.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Seven Jackets. Blood sweat and actual tears.

These hand sewn and hand stitched hanten jackets have been a lot of work. All seven are finished today and we are reviewing the hundreds of steps it took to get them together.  Beautiful work.

Teresa is the dog lover of dog lovers. She chose the Japanese character for 'dog' (inu) for the center of her back crest. She sprinkled cherry blossoms around the character. (I had a hundred year old plus stencil of cherry blossoms we brought back from its long sleep.) The red is from the madder paste and the black is soot bound with soy bean juice and steamed.  The blue is from Japanese indigo.

I sent the linen lining material to her in Brooklyn a few months back. She stitched it up and dyed it here.

Resist pasting the antique linen material.

Every millimetre hand stitched.

The lining took days of stitching.

She carefully cut the stencil and kept the cut out part to use as a positive of the negative stencil.

The jacket will age well. I look forward to seeing it again in 20 years. Well patched and full of memories.

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.