Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Oyasuminasai Snoopy

I lived with Snoopy for nineteen years and I was her third owner. I suppose she was over 23 years old. She had a good life. Free here in the mountains. She passed away in her sleep a few hours back. She has been suffering since last August. I am going to miss her. 
Goodnight ol' Snooperoo.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Fair Trade Textile Buddy

Safia and I share almost the same birth date and year. We arrived in Japan 24 years ago around the same time. We area both textile nuts. We used to spend so much time together and now we squeeze a years worth of gossip, updates and future plans in under 24 hours. She is the founder of People Tree and Global Village. Always on the go. A dozen conversations and ideas going at once. Wish you were here more Saf. If someone out there is interested in Fair trade please Google 'Safia Minney'. She knows more about sustainable textile development in the world than almost anyone.

A few years back in Laos.

Indigo Knit Studio Open

Driving back and forth to Hon Atsugi over the past year and slowly tearing down and rebuilding the old place, gnome-like in a dark cave, suddenly seemed worthwhile this weekend as the knit machine started to humm and buzz and to well.....knit  The studio looks somewhat magical and creative energy is ready to burst forth. There will be four of us for the time being. Daphne, Liza, Kurihara san and myself. I am being cautious at first. Not wanting to force anything to germinate that isn't organic and healthy. The original footing is important. I am excited about the possibilities of making some cool clothes from natural dyed silk, cotton, linen and wool knitted on our mid-50's knitters. My three partners are all gung-ho as well. Learning how to work these babies. The samples we made yesterday were great.

Justin and Noriko came and helped out last moth. Thank you to all the helpers.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Respect for Indigo

I would love to understand and hear more about your respect for indigo. I know it's in your writings about your processes of working with indigo, but what is it that you feel is not right about just putting something in the dye pot, without the care you think it deserves? on Indigo Dyeing Old Fabrics

Hi Cynthia,
I thought about what you wrote as I drove to the new studio today. I pictured a microwaved turkey with not even a drop of butter basted on. Served on some cold microwave-safe dish with no garnish and eaten in silence. 
The poor turkey. The lazy cook. The lost chance for a warm gathering of people and a full tummy.
When I first started indigo dyeing I took the train a few hours to an indigo studio that you paid by the gram what you wanted to dye. They have a dozen indigo vats in a beautiful reconstructed barn with a stone floor.  The human atmosphere was miserable. The owner was a drunk. The staff were afraid of him.
I would spend hundreds of hours tying a cotton kimono and then take it there to dye. As a fermentation indigo vat exhausts after time the bubbles on the top are a pale blue and the whole thing looks sickly. These were the only vats the paying customers were allowed to use. I would dip and oxidize over twenty times to get a medium blue. I begged to use the better vat and was turned down. 
I understand their policy.  To make the customer understand how expensive and precious indigo is. To make the customer appreciate the skill of the staff who take care of the fermentation vats daily. To stop anyone one from just dumping in a pair of old jeans thoughtlessly, killing the vat with too much oxygen.  There was a religious feeling of awe towards the vats. It was spoiled slightly with the stale smell of potato alcohol breath from the chief dyer and the egg walking nervous glances of his staff who were in love with indigo dyeing with no other option to find work.
The place was not welcoming. If I were to ever open an indigo dyeing studio to the public I would encourage the customers to enjoy the process and the preciousness of the experience. 
 I have problems balancing that. Like the turkey dinner, there is so much potential with indigo. The dyed cloth should be perfect. Why waste your time and effort and money on less than great material? I don't want to be a  boar and grumping over every item that goes it the vat. There are times that I think and feel I should be ( or at least pretend to be) the alpha indigo troll and bark at anyone who steps within a meter of a vat. Standards would go up. Satisfaction with projects would go up. Playfulness would take a direct hit. 
It boils down to taking time and having high standards. I am spreading myself far too thin these days. It would be too cynical/hypocritical of me to be an out and out ruthless teacher. I settle for encouraging words and nods and tugs in the direction I feel the students should go.

The standard should be to have the students make their own thread from nettles and silk. Dye it with a dye they made themselves and weave it on looms they make themselves. I do teach all these these things. Perhaps next year when I am less overwhelmed with work I'll put the focus where I deeply feel it should be.

Again, the brochure with information of the spring workshops at my house in Japan:

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Indigo Dyeing Old Fabrics

People often show up with some item of clothing they want to dye blue in the indigo because it has a stain on it or they are bored with the colour. Someone gave me her Issey Miyake cotton wedding dress and asked me to dye it blue...'the marriage only lasted a few months and I really liked the dress'.
Just dumping in the indigo usually makes it worse. There is little thought gone into what the outcome could or will be.  A particular shade of blue is about all that is considered.

Flat machine plain weave usually looks tired when dyed. Polyester stitching remains white and looks cheap. Indigo is precious. Treat it with respect!

Kawamoto san had this interesting white material and I stopped her as she was about to dip it a few times. I know from experience it would come out looking like a blue dishrag.  I showed her how to take a little time and scrunch up the wet material. Then pour on spots, let them oxidize and repeat three times. Open the cloth and squeeze it out. Re-scrunch and repeat this over and over. The gauze-like material looks cloud-like and the applique arabesques are charming instead of annoying.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Back Strap Loom Kasuri

With all the excitement of the autumn workshop and the new indigo knit studio opening soon, my faithful students are as productive as ever. I haven't documented their work as well as I wanted. I'll try to catch up a little. Yamaguchi san sat quietly on the second floor weaving away as late summer turned to autumn just outside the window. The regular student traffic honked and sped along downstairs.

It amazes me at the quality of material that can be woven on such a simple loom tied to a pillar. She tie- resisted all the thread, indigo dyed it, and patiently wove it up, a shuttle pass and beat slowly and surely. 
As it gets cooler it is time to give the indigo dyeing a break and weave more. I'll nudge the students towards the warping board tomorrow. 

Ogata san is caught in the Japanese gift giving cycle.  People love to spoil her with presents and she loves to dye indigo towels and scarves to give as thank yous for the present...and the cycle keeps going. I taught her how to fold the tenugui slightly differently. So this time she has a dozen hexagon shaped patterns. They look great.

On the katazome front, Catherine is knocking us all down with her straightforward and concise patterns she cuts out. The woman's washroom symbol was a clever idea.

As this is a blog and things go down, I'll add the link to Spring Workshop in Japan at the end of each blog post for a while. I have a few members signed up already. The thought of having some spring guests will keep me looking forward and counting down the months to the cherry blossoms are out. 

Come and Stay in Japan and Study Indigo at the Farmhouse

The new studio in Atsugi....almost there.

I am still basking the glow of the autumn workshop while rushing around for the opening of the studio/shop in Hon Atsugi next weekend. Does this look like it will be ready in one week? Yikes!

I have inquiries about spring workshops and people who want to book their flights soon. Yes, spring and autumn workshops were immensely enjoyable (although the prep took a few years off my life.) I will hold them again in 2013. I tweaked the program a bit as I was biting off a tad too much and expecting the participants to chew through all the tough stuff with me. I was stressing my guests out at the indigo vat with too much work.

I will be busy with the shop. I ma certain their will be same typos int his. Please bare with me.

The Spring 2013 Japanese Textile Workshop in Japan:

Friday, 9 November 2012

Thank You Autumn Workshop Participants.

I have to thank Angela, Jenny, Sally, Megan, Carmen, Baukje and Celia for travelling from such far flung corners of the planet to spend ten days with me at the farmhouse. Time flew. I wish we had an extra few years together so I could get across even a fraction of what I would like to share with you all. I enjoyed every minute. I was a little too ambitious with the projects. Sorry.  On the other hand, I was impressed at the mountain of items dyed. I realized how important it is to be there splashing around in the indigo and getting a feel for it's possibilities and it's limitations.

The effort gone into the shibori homework was impressive. I didn't manage to get a photograph of them all in the rush to pack and be off to your next adventures. Here are a few above. The preparation often seems easy when you are ready to see the end result of your labours. Unstitching can be a real headache! Check out Angela's indigo dyed lock. Matches her glasses perfectly.
Once again, thank you all. I hope all our indigo paths will wind around and we meet again.


Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Kimono and other Japanese textiles are literally covered in flowers and other motifs from nature. There is something Japanese how the flowers are composed and represented. Taking a quick look at Japanese flower arrangement composition might fire some synapses when appreciating Japanese textiles and designing stencils.
Hiro took everyone for a walk and gathered branches and flowers and mossy rocks to use in their own arrangements. He was such a good teacher. The results were great. Snoopy made a rare appearance on the third floor to enjoy the party.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Autumn Workshops in Progress

It as an enormous relief to meet all the members. It was the end of  six months of preparation. Actually, the past year and a half of life has been focused on one single thing. Endless carpentry work on this house to make it presentable for the guests. The end is in sight! I must admit it is looking pretty good. Hiro filled the house with flower arrangements. And friends have made such a stupendous effort to support me and to make my guests feel welcome in Japan.

The weather is cool and gorgeous.

The workshop members are enthusiastic and fun.
 (With all due respect to the original Indigo Sisters. I wish you were here to meet them.)

I had intended on posting about our daily activities each night, but that proves impossible with evening hot spring trips and campfires etc. Time is so short. I wish we had ten years instead of ten days.

Welcome lunch waiting.

Welcome lunch waiting to be eaten.

3rd floor table waiting to be used.

Preparing for the first indigo dips.