Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Scalping a Yeti and Using the Fur to Make Ropes

Ogata san showed us how to do this a few years back. 94 years old and knows how to dress a downed primate. This woman is tough. None of us had the confidence to pull it off by ourselves so I've been waiting for the chance to give it another go. These tropical dudes look out of place in the winter here with snow on their fronds. They have migrated north from the Japanese tropics with birds over time.
 They look scrappy but a novelty that most houses in the area have one on their land somewhere.  There was one looking out of place above the pond when it was dug a few months back. Who likes to cut down a distant relative that wasn't particularly doing anything obnoxious except looking scruffy and out of place? (I know the feeling actually and felt some sympathy for the poor thing stuck in a place it really shouldn't be.) Fate seems to have dumped it there. It took root and there it was making the best out of life. I couldn't do it myself so I had a friend to take it down. 

The old guy next door saw me trying to skin it with a regular sickle. He brought over this special Yeti skinner he had in the back of his barn. The woven matted fur was traditionally used to make good quality cord for garden work. It took a few hours to cut off the stuff and it was difficult to convince anyone it was a pile of palm tree bark when it obvious it was a  pile of Sasquatch/Yeti scalps.

It doesn't take much to imagine that humans first got the idea to weave something by looking at the naturally occurring weave. 

After the yeti has been scalped it is necessary to untangle the mottle of unbroken fibers that were closest to his head. 

With some twisting and rubbing it is possible to groom the fur to look like this:

Then things got blurry when Ogata san just went wild on the thing ripping it and tearing it into strips like a veteran Yeti skinner gone mad.

Here is Ogata san in her slow motion glory, almost purring like a cat, as she manhandled that Yeti fur into a rope that she will use to to go out and trap another of these unsuspecting silent men in the forests of Japan. She won't take us hunting with her. Perhaps it is her secret of how she manages the stalk and the actual kill or perhaps she uses some magic that isn't fit for our mortal eyes.

Look at her expression...all in a days work!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sky Tree Feudal Leftovers

Today in class we looked at the Bernini's St Theresa and the katagami exhibition book. Kamei san and Yamaguchi san were interested in how they were related.   The conversation was interesting as we were all primed for the subject because the 'Sky Tree Tower' opened in Tokyo today. Heavy news coverage anyone? The general population seems embarrassed by this ugly carbuncle (What's one more?) on the face of Tokyo.  Something like a nuclear reactor... foisted on the people who will just grin and bear it. Hardly necessary, poorly designed and it will be there for several million years in one form or another. Why is Tokyo such an ugly city? How can Japanese have such exacting high standards of quality and aesthetics and manage to build a city that sounds like fingernails on a blackboard every time you look out the train window?

We will fight back we figured by making really beautiful indigo dyed and woven projects  in the future. A pretty paltry and insignificant weapon but it is about all we have. Kamei san dyed half of this cotton scarf with gardenia pods the other day. She contrasted the light green with a belt of the darkest blue indigo with white circle shibori.  The exhibition and the Sky Tree opening was a little kick in the butt to get back to the original direction I wanted for the textile classes when I first opened them. Cocoons to naturally dyed thread and then made into small bags like the ones used in the tea ceremony.  Sato san and I set up this silk warp from thread I had long ago dyed with thistle leaves, pomegranate skins and walnut tree bark. This silk will be used to make tea ceremony items.

I set up three kumihimo stands to braid cords for the bags. The Sky Tree somehow energized the class and made our priorities clear again.

The silk thread on the left was dyed with onion skins and a copper mordant. The silk thread on the right was dyed with walnut tree bark and an aluminum mordant. They were wound onto wood waku and then  set on a small warping board. Next step onto the bobbins and then onto the kumihimo stands. 

And Snoopy had it right. Sky Tree hmfffff.... Bernini grmffff. 

Monday, 21 May 2012

Katagami Style Exhibition at Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum

The posters for the exhibition have been in all the tonier train stations for the past two months. Katagami Style written out in a faux Jungenstile font. I had misgivings about the exhibition. The same kind of misgivings you might have about Catholic restoration art. I can't find the source but I believe it was Kenneth Clarke who worried about 'illusion ' and 'exploitation' in the swooning beauty of Bernini's St Theresa sculpture. He said something along the lines that, "All art is an illusion. It transforms experience into order to satisfy some need of the imagination. But there are degrees of illusion, depending on on how far from direct experience the artist is is prepared to go."

This idea along with the Japanese Folk craft Museum founder Yanagi Soetsu's essays on the beauty of pre-industrialized societies arts and crafts and Zen Buddhist ideals just stuck in my brain twenty something years ago and I have not digested them and moved on. I suppose if I met someone and we could talk these out to some logical conclusions my head would be freed up a bit.

After coming down off harvesting the tea terraces this morning I met Tohei and Eri and we had a look at the exhibition in Tokyo. Tohei lasted about three minutes and he was out having a beer in the rose garden. I know why. There was something sick about the exhibition and he was having nothing to do with it and made a bee line for the exit. Eri and I stuck it out. There were hundreds of katazome stencils some dating back 300 years and old Japanese stencil dyed clothing. Impressive and unforgettable. But the main idea of the exhibition was how tens of thousands of Japanese katzome stencils found their way to Europe in the late 19th century to the Vienna, Paris and London World Fair exhibitions and explosively triggered a design freak out. William Morris wallpaper and furniture and graphic design, fireplace grates, staircase railings, clothing, lighting, Frank Lloyd Wright stuff.....everything. And the museum had samples of them all. And they were all nauseating and obnoxious. I felt like a puppy getting my nose rubbed in it. Don't you do that again..bad dog.

Seven hundred years of stencil dying history in Japan. The refinement and techniques breathtaking. And the designs show up in Europe without the techniques  and the history in the form of used stencils and they are exploited....aghhh it was painful to see. It seemed almost to be a uber-sophisticated right wing Japanese nationalistic  exhibition to show the vast artistic and culture superiority of Edo period Japanese to North Americans and Europeans. They needed no words to do it. The facts were right there before your eyes. Refinement and poetry in the old stencils and then mindless miserable mannerism in Art Nouveau. It was agonizing.
Is it offending when the artist seem to be pulling one off on you by going way to far beyond his or her own experience?

Outside in the rose garden over a beer the three of us were talking about the pottery festival in our town last weekend. We tried to make sense of it's wretched decline. Painful. I need a large bottle of sake to get me through the evening.  A lot to digest. (Especially my hard core artistic conservatism.)

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Last MInute Shibori for France.

Guillaume , thank you for being such a great help these past months.  We were harvesting tea and Guillaume looked anxious checking the time...."Bryan I won't have time to indigo dye my last shibori if I don't go now!" He came as a WOOFER and stayed at the house off and on for the past six months doing carpentry work, cutting bamboo, cleaning fields and finally harvesting tea. He heads back to France tomorrow morning with some really original and cool shibori presents for his family and mementos for himself.

How did we both get so skinny recently? It seems all we did was eat! Your Mom is going to have to fatten you up with some good French country cooking.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Under Dyeing Indigo

Tanaka san spun and spun some old silk hankies I had made years ago from cut cocoons I had used for breeding and brought some very well done skeins to class today. We dyed them with gardenia pods to get a deep yellow with an aluminum mordant. Then the thread was dipped once, twice and three times in the indigo to get this green spectrum. She needs a little more practice on the spinner before the thread can be used for warp. But very close. This thread will be her weft. Gorgeous.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A New Project Before the Last One is Finished.

There are two very cool knit machines that have been thrown at my life here. One is the 1950's American tube t-shirt knitter. The second is a way way cool 1950's pile sock knitter. These two wonders are enough to build an 'intentional life' (Thank you Velma) around.   Oh the things you could knit! (Oh the places you will go!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaUwrrE6rEc&feature=youtu.be

Really these are too much.  They both need a home and it should be near Kurihara san's house for at least a few years before they make the journey to my village. So a home for them appeared. It is a one hundred year old beauty near the river in Atsugi.  It needs some love and imagination. It will take a few months to complete the renovations. (With the house here not finished.) The scale is smaller there. First we will take on a few small rooms to make a small display room and a second room for the machines themselves.  This is quite a complicated project. Bringing together ideas that are not formed, to a place (not named) that is not re-formed with machines that need to be studied with people unknown with products not developed a.......recipe for....... fun and good memories. Never a chance like this again. It will only happen once in this universe. A dozen of us are ready to give it a spin.....
So here are the initial photos of the space that needs everything.
The space will be used to dye thread indigo and use on the knit machines to develop products for a group of designers. It is going to be fun.

Monday, 14 May 2012

木目絞り Woodgrain Shibori

 Takeshima san went the extra ten miles to do it just right on this mini-masterpiece of woodgrain shibori. It turned out tough, bold and healthy. Yeah, throw me two cold beers.  I'll-drink-them-from-the-can-kind-of-shibori.

Student's Invisible Work

Students can work for months incrementally on a shibori or weaving project at the house and when finally completed the work vanishes forthwith.  It is like pulling teeth to get it back at the house to get a decent photograph. Kamei san worked away for a few hours each week for one eternity last year in the cold half- finished broken floored center room.  The blanket and the construction came to completion within minutes of each other and then the blanket was mysteriously gone. It had been a constant in the chaos peeking from under a separate dust protecting blanket thrown over the top of the loom. After a good nettling she sent some pictures of her first twill indigo-dyed blanket with the flawlessly twisted fringe.

So many wonders come out of the indigo vat as well. In the rush of cleaning up and the excitement of having made something the piece of work seldom gets the attention it merits. Set on the table with a round of green tea with praise and observations. Taking time......some quiet silent time to observe... where the object made is the subject, not the maker or the mistakes the maker felt they made.

For the past year with the nuclear accident and then the house construction and then the tour coming the subjects have been: the disaster, the victims , the radiation , the cedar plank flooring , the necessary extra bathroom, the mysterious coming guests, the unfinished electrical wiring. Now the subject is: me, me, me. I didn't finish this. I spent too much on that. I didn't listen to instincts. I need to get this done, etc. Life is exhausting with "I" as the endless subject. Somehow a shift took place. Where is the 'caps unlock' button for this?

Maybe in observing the finished piece of indigo work on the table and figuring out why it turned out so good or why it was a bit of a flop.

Good work Kamei san. The light is playing cooly off all those indigo dips and shuttle passes.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Tsumugi, Kasuri and Katagami hori

It was a quiet class day with everyone concentrating on their projects. Kamei san's carpet made a few rows of progress.

 Tanaka san spun silk floss on my spinner for the first time. She had pulled floss like they do for Yuki tsumugi for her graduation project last month at the Kurashiki one year textile program. This hand spun thread will be dyed and used for warp and weft of her first back-strap loom project.

With so many fresh leaves outside they were the natural subject for a new stencil project. I drew it out on paper to give them the idea (it was slightly more complicated this time) and they drew their patterns out on persimmon paper and started cutting them out.

Yamaguchi san started her third back-strap loom project. This time as warp kasuri. Here she is patiently tying up the resists. They will be dyed with indigo and then the wrap removed.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Finishing Up a Hydro-sulphate Indigo Vat

The chalk-like sediment is visible when you stir the indigo adding to the guesswork of the condition of the vat.
A hydro-sulphate de-oxidised indigo vat cannot last forever. The slaked lime (or other alkaline agent) and the exhausted hydro-sulphate eventually build up at the bottom of the vat. When the vat is stirred the liquid in the vat becomes cloudy from the disturbed sediment. This adds one more factor to consider when reading the condition of the vat each day. It takes time after each agitation (intentional or accidental) to settle to the bottom again and then it is lurking there and going to effect the quality of the dyeing by getting on thread etc. When the thread dries a white powder can form. This could be the result of suspended sediment in the dye liquid.

It is not desirable to make a new vat every few weeks because there will be a reasonable amount of precious indigo pigment thrown away with the water as well as being a lot of work.  When you stir the indigo and feel the sludge at the bottom of the vat building up, imagine what is happening down there in the deep blue.  The above mentioned whitish-green cloud in the freshly stirred indigo is also an indicator that  it is time to go through the hassle of cleaning up the vat and starting fresh.

Of course the vat will have usable indigo pigment in it. The trick is how to exhaust the pigment effectively and properly.

There was no denying yesterday that the ceramic vat outside the front door needed re-done. Liza dropped in a piece she was dying. It floated to the bottom and when I retrieved it it was covered in deep-sea indigo monster mucus.

There were three more kilograms of red cotton thread to over-dye with indigo sitting there. They were put in the bath tub after the humans were finished last night and this morning they were well wet enough to dye. The indigo vat in question got a good spiffy up with a topping off of water, the pH adjusted and a good hit of hydro-sulphate and a strong whirlpool stir  before bed. The sediment had all settled by morning and the thread was dyed gently five times until it was obvious the pigment was nearly all soaked up.

Thank you indigo vat. I set this one up with Eri chan one cool November morning a year and a half ago. It had been very well used.

I threw in an old Snoopy blanket to suck up as much pH as possible and then hung that in the sun to dry. It will get thrown away with the regular garbage and they can burn it with the filter at the garbage dump. The exhausted dye bath was drained onto the gravel near the stream. Not strictly the most environmental thing to do but I worry that the sudden pH shock will kill the bacteria in the new state-of-the-art septic tank that was just installed.

Ryoma and Ryota were over for a visit and nothing could keep these curious little handsome weasels away from the main event of the day.....green sludge coming out of a hose. Of courser their white t-shirts ended up dyed blue.

The sludge at the bottom of the vat was scooped out and spread thin on a piece of plywood to dry in the sun.  That will take a few days and then it will be scraped up and put in a plastic bag and thrown away in the regular garbage.

The work involved in keeping a indigo vat going over a long period of time is daunting whether it is a fermentation vat, a hydro-sulphate vat or a zinc vat. (Jean I think of you!) Any questions just ask.

Bamse kept a distance but was caught up in the general vat emptying excitement. On a windy spring morning the most mundane things are amplified and bigger than life.