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.


Sunday, 20 April 2014

New Studio, Kitchen and Bath...

Hibernation held me deep in it's warm arms through January.  Sleeping in every morning and going to bed early.  (Recovering from a long and fun year.) In late January it was time to turn 50.  A few days after that was over, I got up one morning  and shook the grog from my head. There was enough work to do preparing for visitors in March and the spring workshops starting in April. More than enough work to do. In fact.... way too much work.

Ignoring the realities of limited hours in a day, three construction projects erupted at one time.

The old clay storehouse that sits beside the house had a load of rotten tatamis stacked behind it and all kinds of old wood and junk that was stacked neatly but with no real future. Yucky place. Ignored for twenty years.

A few months later...

It took only a few hours to clear it all away.  I sat with a sketchbook and drafting paper for a few days to figure out what could be done in that dead space.

The indigo vats sit as guardians at the front door. They have been there twenty years.  I've been solitarily scrubbing  indigo off the stones and concrete and walls and glass late at night after all the dyeing fun is over and everyone is asleep or gone home.  And cleaning up the kitchen after a mad day dyeing in there. It was time to put it all together in one easy-to-clean area.

 That old 70s ramshackle kitchen was likeable. Patched together from all sorts of odds and ends. But the counter was too low. The whole room was beyond ramshackle and fast approaching falling apart. With the help of the towns two best carpenters (Sadly, these old time carpenters are disappearing.) it was rebuilt. I had some very old zelkova pillars from a torn down farmhouse I took to the local sawmill and cut and planed and then put together some drawers.  I re-used the countertop and sink, used local wood to have shelves made.  The carpenters are perfectionists and it was tough to be on the ball with all the drafting. They were critical of how heavy the drawers and windows I made are. (Not to mention my pathetic attempt at glass tiling in the kitchen.)  But they were always helpful with advice and curious to all the design quirks insisted on. Japanese tend to leave everything to experts and not get involved with building except to choose the wallpaper etc. Keeping them happy with coffee and cake while refusing to make decisions until the last minute and changing horses in midstream a few times I managed to get my way.  I gave Eros Nakazato an old milk can and asks him to make a hood for the range. As always, he went overboard. Coolest fan hood on the planet.  Thank you Eros.

New dyeing area outside.  It needs to be used a few times before moving on to the completion phase. It takes time to get a feel for how it can be used.

Another bath was needed for when guests are over. One is not enough. The old one is off the kitchen and there isn't much privacy. Just a place to get clean. Not to cleanse.

This becomes the bathtub.

The two-person bath waiting to be put together in the room when the tiles are finished.

If you have ever been to a Japanese hot spring you know that the Japanese have perfected the art of having a bath. Wooden bathtubs in a steamy, dimly lit wooden room with a stone floor......heaven.  It is ambiguous where the outdoors and the indoors meet. In the old days, baths were wooden and heated by a contraption that required firewood. You were left open on a few sides to nature. Rain or sweltering heat or snow and sometimes the gentlest spring breezes, the thought of the hot water waiting, took away the other discomforts of the time it took to prepare the bath undress and wash outside the tub before getting in. The smell of smoke, the sky and trees surrounding you washed away more than grime.

I wanted one at the house for myself and friends and guests. It is almost finished. I made the tub from Sawara Cypress at the local small sawmill. (The owner lets me use the planers and saws as I am endlessly buying wood from him.) As soon as the tiles are on the wall and the stone laid on the floor we can all soak away our stiff backs after a day at the indigo vats. Conspicuous consumption...a little embarrassing.  (The bath will help to get over the discomfort of it all.)

(The landscaping will wait until December.)

There were a lot of very beautiful textiles made at the house the past few months as well. Pictures to come.
A new kitchen,  a new studio and a new bath and record breaking snowstorms. What was I thinking?
It is almost all finished. The first workshop was a success. Spring has arrived. Life is good.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Visiting a Legend.

Today we were up relatively early and drove several hours north. Up and up the horribly bleak Japanese highways in the tail end of winter to Gunma prefecture to Kiryu the famous silk producing area. Mini and Ruby, Truss and Diana. We visited the home of Jun-ichi Arai.
 I could write volumes on the several hours we spent together at his house going through boxes of materials that he had collected on his travels around the world and created for himself and Issey Miyake, Comme de Garcon etc. Was this a day to never forget? Yes. Jeeeesh. History and place condensed so thickly it makes ones brain thicken. The volumes may get written one day. But for now just a few pictures.


Monday, 24 February 2014


Thank you for the mails asking if all is fine here in the snow. We had two record-breaking back to back snow falls. Two houses in my village were destroyed by heavy snow. Several others had avalanches bury most of the house.  My neighbour had the snow break through the walls at the back of the house and then the snow came out the front doors.

It is stressful to see so many broken old houses. Many of the people are living off meagre pensions and this is a shock to all.

Two meters of snow fell on my place. A heavy snowfall is usually 50 cm.  The heavy snow slid off the roof on one side of my old clay storehouse and the weight on the other side flipped the roof off.  All this happening while my kitchen was completely ripped out and the new bath and studio being built in the side yard. Chaos chaos chaos.

Things are calming down. Ten days of endless snow shovelling has put me seriously behind on work. I am sorry that I haven't sent off responses to any mail.

The bright light is that Mini has come back for another few months this year from Singapore. We all love her here. She was a good sport struggling up the snowy road with her suitcase.  And she is being a good sport weaving and working away while I spend time cleaning up the disaster area outside. Things will be back to to normal soon. Actually they are getting better already. The new kitchen is 95% done and boy......does it look fresh and clean.

and then it snowed another 130 centimetres.

Glowing warm in the freezing snow....Mini fresh off the plane from Singapore.

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Farmhouse is Under Construction Again

The Kitchen has no walls. It is freezing in here. The concrete forms have been poured for a new long awaited second bath outdoors behind the clay storehouse. I will be making the wood bathtub later this week. The indigo vats are being moved from outside the front door to a new studio next to the kura....all this going on at once.

I had the pleasure of meeting Patricia and Michael from Seattle yesterday. I had a one day opening in the chaos and something told me I would like Patricia and I did. She wrote a very nice blog about her visit to the chaos yesterday:http://okanarts.com/general/bryans-world/

You need a lot of imagination to see any potential in this mud field....but it will turn out beautiful. It just needs another month.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Katazome Stencil Volume

The tidy chaos of a Japanese stencil dyer's studio sort of snagged my foot and tripped me into that world twenty years ago. It wasn't the skill to make make surface design patterns with indigo dyeing or their beauty. The initial reaction was a yawn.

Hand spun silk, dyed with natural dyes and hand woven stripes and checks still moves me the most when it comes to textiles. Secondly, oddly enough, are white linen, needle worked in some fashion  European stuff. 

I first went to Noguchi san's katazome studio/house with Minako all these years ago when she wanted to dye some silk for a weft. I had never heard of katazome before and was simply overwhelmed by all the old equipment that was still in use. I've taken many of my guests here to be as overwhelmed as I was initially. (Judi I haven't forgotten your breakdown at the beauty of the place.)

Katazome has been a major part of indigo life here in Japan. It has been eyed rather suspiciously from a distance to tell the truth. Like some object or person in your life you never really noticed, paid much attention to or even loved until one day you can't imagine life without it/him/her. It is here to stay and be acknowledged, celebrated a little and have any suspicions discarded .

Except for an exhibition in Europe a few years back where I cut out stencils of elaborate Buddhist images and used them on antique linen cloth and dyed them with indigo and persimmon tannin to a degree where the images were barely recognisable, I haven't really used the katazome with any true focus.

(On the wall behind Tohei and Annette.)

 I travelled to Ise and researched how the paper is made and the traditional stencil carving categories and techniques. The bookcase has a few dozen books on Japanese stencil dyeing.  I've visited studios and exhibitions.  Given talks about stencils in Japan. Designed and cut hundreds of stencils.

I've taught countless people how to cut stencils, lacquer on silk reinforcement net, make rice paste, paste and indigo dye the cloth. I haven't worked on any long term projects myself. Realising how much time I've spent on life with katazome and not accomplished much I figure it is time to up the volume a bit.

Now with the knitting machines working and a cotton/ linen paper thread balance has been worked out, there is a growing stack of white knit fabric upstairs that needs some katazome surface design. I  designed  a few good scarves and wraps that are selling. There is plenty of room for improvement and more product design. I have a teacher come in and teach me pattern making and sewing classes a few hours each Wednesday at the Atsugi studio. The middle term goal is to indigo and persimmon stencil dye some knit fabric I make on those old machines and develop (design and make) some men's shirts and cardigans and scarves and find a market for them.

Last year, due to time restrictions,  I  used a combination of stencils drawn and cut myself with old stencils I bought at antique markets. A few of the bought ones are well over 150 years old. I re-lacquered them and have used them so much that they are disintegrating.  It was cool to give them one more shot at life.  Sad to see that they won't last much longer.

You can use the old stencils in a way they were not intended and you can admire the genius of the design. The time trip to the culture and time that the stencils design and technique came from is invigorating.

It is cool to sing other peoples songs. But the satisfaction of writing and composing your own is different. (Even if they are not up Neil Young standards.) The same with the stencils. (Not up to the Edo masters standards.)

It is only natural to want to cut all original stencils for the knit project now.

One of the very old, worn out stencils is this wave pattern. It seemed a little banal at first. But if you scrape the paste across and then slightly shift the stencil and re-apply it makes an interference pattern that is interesting and easy on the eye. Since the goal is not to have perfectly lined up repeat patterns and a cold perfectionism it is fine to do this. The stencil has been in tatters time and time again and it has been painstakingly patched.

 It was time to carve a new one. I ended up netting both sides of the stencil and as a result the paste started clogging up. Grfrrrrrrrr. It was no longer fun to use. It was a late Maria Callas concert. Plenty of adoration and respect but there comes a time to retire.

These are the effects possible with this particular stencil. You can see why it was sad to see it fall apart. 

Stitch three pieces of katagami paper together so you can cut three stencils at once. It is harder to cut three at a time but obviously it is time efficient. The original wave stencil seemed too fine to reproduce with mortal motor skills so the waves were enlarged. To compensate for the boldness of line,  the lines were cut as if they were painted with a brush.  Connecting islands between waves to keep the stencil stronger were carefully added. The overall the pattern is OK. But it was missing delicacy and had no poetry. (Some of the horizontal lines are actually from the paper lighting fixture it is being held in front of.)

Trying it out a few times with indigo (had to break the ice on the surface) it isn't bad but too much of it would be a mistake. (Combined here with some shape resist with the stencil dyeing to get that separate tonal wave effect. )

So it was back to the drawing board last night. Using the old stencils basic measurements of 8mm spacing I redrew it.  It is now at  the tweaking the touch stage. Not in any attempt to make it mine but to hide a few deficits in cutting skills.  The waves need to be a little sexier before the cutting starts.  You may pick up a few griding-out-for-waves tips here. ( Open to advice on this side too.) It took about six hours of concentration to get it this far. It will need 25 to 30 hours of cutting now. Instead of stitching together three separate sheets of katagami paper, the paper was simply folded in thirds and then stitched to stop slipping around. 

This stencil will be used in tandem with another yet to be cut stencil of some seaweed-like stuff.  The goal is ten good stencils this year. Five wave motifs and five something in/under/amongst the waves motifs. (As my turning 50 next week crisis continues I am setting these sort of goals.)

So katazome is being moved from peripheral vision to centre stage for a the next few months. There is a   clear place to use them now. Everything is good.