Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Old Japanese Bamboo Reeds

Basically I am an old tool nut. Whether in North America, Europe or Asia I hunt out old tools at antique markets. I find it hard to resist carpentry tools such chisels and saws, farming tools such as scythes and I am powerless against any tool associated with weaving. Large or small I drag them home and the pile up in my attic grows and muliplies. It’s getting really really bad up there.

What is the attraction to these things? I could write volumes on the subject. Another blog even.

These bamboo Osa or reeds I find particularly poetic and fascinating. Very few people really know what they are used for and they are quickly overlooked in markets. They haven’t been swept up as a gentrification décor item like their cousins the spinning wheels yet so they are still inexpensive. I have close to a hundreds of them in every imaginable state of decay.

The ones from the pre-industrial era are of course the most beautiful. Smoke from the open fire in Japanese farmhouses that seems to have smoked and pickled the occupants and every one of their belongings in the past thousand years of Japanese history have left profound patinas on these once ubiquitous household tools.

Like a cooking pot was for food and a saw was for shelter a weaving reed was for clothing.

There seems to be someone still making these reeds somewhere. Perfectly planed slips of madake bamboo. The perfection of the new reeds is impressive. The alternative is a metal reed. These are too heavy to use with a backstrap loom. The metal can effect natural dyes as it gets older. The bamboo ones are simply beautiful. If one is going to that much trouble to actually hand weave the tools should be hand made and warm.

I wanted my students to understand weaving from the roots. I teach them to make their own thread and as many parts of the tools as reasonable. We make our own bamboo reeds. My house is next to and under Madake bamboo groves. I cut the bamboo in November and cut it to 40 cm lengths and quarter and let it dry for two years and then plane it to thin strips to use in making the reeds.

We take apart some old reeds to get at the heart of them and then make fresh ones. They won’t get that glorious smoked bamboo color with modern heating but they do age rather gracefully.

Today Naomi continued to work on her first reed. One centimeter will have twelve eyes.


  1. I always could snap them up for almost nothing at the Toji flea market every month! Nobody ever seemed to want them except me...

  2. Can some one please tell me how these are constructed? I'm trying to repair one but I can't figure it out.

  3. It took me a few years de constructing them and rebuilding them to figure it out. If you are in Japan I will show you how.

  4. Hi, i would love to make one also!

  5. I want to make my own bamboo Reed! Do you have a video somewhere????