We were all looking for old weaving tools. Only 50 years ago many Japanese houses would have had one weaving loom to make the families clothes and to sell the extra cloth for extra income. This is not a long time ago. There are still a lot of weaving tools left in attics and barns throughout the country. Reeds, shuttles, bobbins, silk reelers, loom parts and thread are easy to find at any antique market. Most of these tools are bought for interior design purposes and not to be used.
We were also hunting for old katazome stencils. These are collected by people who can use them as light fixtures or to be framed. We have been designing and cutting our own for years now and the students were so excited to see stacks of these at the market and know how they are used originally. I bought two and they have already been used yesterday and today. Kawamoto san said today that she is starting to be able to judge the quality of kimono and Japanese textiles recently thanks to the classes. I was moved.
She bought some old un-dyed hand woven linen kimonos and had taken them apart to dye. How to use these precious pieces of cloth with respect? The cloth is thin and would not really be right for a shirt and to make a table center seemed to be lazy. I showed her some old sashiko hand stitched cloth I have. This is how people in the old days respected and valued everything. The cloth was worn-out but they carefully layered the weak cloth and sewed it together with millions of minute stitches to make warmer and stronger clothing. With a new respect for the cloth and the Japanese of years ago, she used the old stencil I bought at the market to dye her linen. Now she will try her hand layering the linen and stitching it together, valuing each stitch and wrinkle as it forms. Great. We spoke at length at the quality of the linen, who might have woven it and when and why. The balance of the warp and weft is poor. The selvages are not tidy. The weft changes part way through the kimono. So many little de-constructive hints for us to piece together a probable history of this cloth.
Here is the old stencil, unused for umpteen years and the taken apart kimono, the indigo dyed cloth (in the rain today) waiting to be stitched together with sashiko stitches.
I question my teaching technique sometimes. But today I felt validated for going about it the hard way. I want to teach about Japanese textiles the same way I learned about them. Organically and serendipitously. I went to Minako's house to pick up skills one at a time over years and years. In an old village I found a loom in a neighbors shed and slowly acquired old tools from their original users in barns and attics. The tools were always in need of repair with some part missing. The really old stuff was more than 200 years old and you can see the evolution of the weaving and silk farming equipment over those years up until the 1960's. I found it all fascinating. (And still do.) The knowledge came together over many years from many sources. No classroom with fluorescent lighting.
I started the classes in a rented classroom closer to the train station about ten years ago. I thought the extra ten minutes by car to the village was too far for students to travel. I was wrong. Students travel several hours one way to come to class once a week. They want to be at the old house in the village and be surrounded by all the natural stuff going on. Sometimes it is a group of monkeys outside the kitchen window picking through my compost or fighting over bamboo sprouts and mushrooms. Today it was the endangered green forest frogs who are like a Dolby surround system chorus these days. I put in a pond for them to lay eggs last winter and have they not let me down! The pond is full of tadpoles and more egg foam appearing weekly. Everyone piles out of the car and heads straight for the pond to see how big the tadpoles have gotten.