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.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Warping Silk Preparation the Japanese Way

I learned to warp a traditional Japanese loom from an elderly woman in my town. I live in a town which had been a silk producing area for hundreds of years. Unfortunately I am the only one left raising silkworms.

My teacher had learned to weave from her mother and grandmother. Every house would have several looms for silk up until 40 years ago here.

I believe this silk thread preparation technique would have come from the late Meiji and Taisho period in this town. Early 1900's to the 1920's. Households would get thread from a distributor and they would weave "Oshima Tsumugi" and sell it to back to the wholesaler. The quantities of the rice and seaweed glue are probably appropriate to that specific thread and dyes. I've played around with the proportions but keep it much the same as how I had learned.

Three ingredients:
Funori. A type of white seaweed that melts in boiling water to a watery rubber cement consistency. When it dries it makes the threads stiff.

Rice. I boil a cup in two liters of water and filter out a milky paste that will bind the single threads together gently.

Walnuts. I crush two walnuts in a piece of heavy cheesecloth and then when I put in water I can get a slippery white milk. This let's the beater slide easily and improves the sheen of the silk.

I submerge the already warped threads in this mixture for less than a minute ands gently wring it out. Using a fan to dry the silk as it is warped onto the larger drum. Quite a process.

New Warp

I have a new student Yuko who is nimble learner. Very good with her hands and quick at calculating warp count. She has a sterling sense of color and ingrained knowledge of Japanese color combinations. It is her first time to weave but the project is quite complex. She is a graphic designer and I bought $1500 worth of Adobe software several years ago and it sat in the boxes unused. So we are exchanging lessons. Weaving for Creative Suite...about as far apart on the analogue and digital spectrum as you could move.

It is early early spring and persisting with my notion of weaving the local landscape we wound these Japanese wooden waku with ten colors that we see outside. The cherry and apricots are out so we have some pink shades. Other than that just some faded greens and fawns. No youthful green yet. The landscape is bleary-eyed and hopeful. Inclement breezed with some rhythmical decay and determined steps towards warmth. We will weave up a project together. 5 cm wide Japanese scent bags. We warped four 'bags' worth and will play with the interference of the wefts on the warps.

Here are the basics colors we started with:

All of the silk comes from silk I've raised and reeled and dyed myself. The dyes all natural. Kudzu vines. Laquot leaves and branches. Plum tree bark. Madder (Akane). Thistle stems. Persimmon tannin. Most of the silk was reeled from ten cocoons and 7 combined with a single Z twist. 250 turns per meter. Only the pink was fully de gummed. The other thread was simply semi-degummed in boiling water so it isn't shiny.

Snoopy played her part as Gaurdianess of the Winding Warp. She never gives up hope that the entire process will eventually end up as some sort of barbeque where she can feast on the leftovers.

And the four sections of the warp to be later cut into strips.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Indigo. Still green, fresh from the vat.

Noriko came back to classes after a five month visit to her hometown in north Japan. She headed straight to the indigo and started to dye the homework that had piled up over her absence.

Cloth comes out green when dipped in indigo. It turns blue in less than a minute as the broken indigo pigment sugar picks up an additional oxygen molecule in the air outside the vat.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Indigo Season

It is hardly what you might call warm but the indigo vat looks as if it will be as popular as ever this year. Hitomi came over this morning to do some dying with friends. A slight warm breeze and some freshly arrived birds twittering away.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Current Exhibition

I am currently having an exhibition of naturally dyed silk scarves and indigo dyed tapestries in Ginza at a small gallery. I am exhibiting with Mayumi Ikuta a lacquer artist. It is a simple event. I am not exhibiting pieces that I have woven from my own silk like kimono etc. It is too confusing to exhibit my high-end stuff with simpler work. Even mixing stencil dye and shibori as well as linen and cotton and silk pieces is confusing. Quite a few people who have caught me on TV in the past year seem have come expecting to see what they have seen on TV. They are a little disappointed because it is a natural dying exhibit. The work is still good!