Monday, 28 January 2013

Back-strap Loom Weaving

Projects get started and not finished. The inspiration gets lost. It doesn't turn out right. Other things come up. What should one do? If the project is simple like dyeing thread and the colour is not just right it is easy to over dye. But weaving something can take ages. And ages. You could waste weeks weaving away at something that will never be worth it. This goes for cutting stencils. The touch can be wrong. Do you keep on cutting away or just scrap it?

 No. No. No. It isn't working. It could be much better.
A clumsy warp. A stencil that lacks something. It is better to try to salvage the thread or use part of a stencil. I can be ruthless if it seems like it will become a time waster. Out it goes.

I've had this warp on my back strap loom over....four years. There were too many other things on the go. A few meters had been woven and it was a rare piece that was coming out exactly as envisioned. But it had been left too long on the loom and had probably atrophied. There was not much to do except cut off the thread and start something new on the loom. A few passes of the shuttle and it was apparent that it wasn't a write-off and the rest of the warp could probably be woven up.  It was originally warped  as an experiment with the color scheme and a thread test.

The inspiration for the weave had come from a January sunset. (The photo reminds me much of the one that Velma has recently posted on her blog.) Madder and tannin and pale indigo sky with dark menacing tree branches warping upwards. It is finally on it's way to being finished. There may be enough for a men's obi or if not there wil be plenty to make various bags for the tea ceremony.

It is great to be weaving again on a back strap loom. Your whole body get's involved in the weave. It weaves up so tightly.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Facing Exhibition Preparation Paralysis

Someone very interesting with a very very interesting project  visited me yesterday.

I won't name drop because he is kind of well known and working on an art piece that may take several years from his original inspiration, following research and then actual execution to take place. He needs his privacy until it is in the museum or gallery or wherever he chooses to exhibit this particular work of art.

This work will center around a single(?) katazome piece that he painstakingly researches and produces from scratch over these several years.

Wow. Was I impressed? He contacted me last year and asked to drop by for a visit and talk. He was bit of a blessing without a disguise. I've been struggling with several ideas over the past few years. They have been coming into focus lately but had not crystallized. I live by myself, (albeit with a lot of guests dropping by) in a quiet mountain village in Japan. Daily stimulation with nature but not much with the broader constructions of the world around me and my work. (You can't have everything.)

I made some relatively good work for an  exhibition with Tohei and Eros in Europe a few years ago. I was busy being the organizer/logistics man and the work I was to exhibit was second to my responsibilities there.  The work had to be good enough that I wasn't embarrassed. And not embarrassing for them. It was shown with two guys who leave puddles of talent behind when they walk.

That was the level of the bar. Pretty low. I know. Well, the work ended up being a few notches above the lowest common denominator. But my contribution to the whole exhibition could have been much much more. It needed to be lifted from the 'craft' category to something more complex. I saved face by knowing a lot about silk farming and indigo processing, tea ceremony etc... blah... blah. Old stuff for me. I am tired of it. The talks and workshops I held on those subjects saved me. The work sitting and hanging there needed all my effort to communicate the value of Japanese textiles. (Covertly, of course.) The work itself could hold it's own but only to those with a good eye. It wasn't slowing down the fast gallery walkers like Eros and Tohei's work that could stop everyone in their tracks.

I was asked a few days back on what I was planning to do for my next exhibition. I replied that I know what materials I will use. I know what colours and what the basic inspiration is. I just haven't found the groove to slide into and and rhythm to keep going and not stall part way there.

After a full day talking with my visitor yesterday I could sense a groove not far away and felt my feet sense some soft surface below, a no-fear-of-slipping ground. I felt the grass between my toes with socks still on so to speak.  (I slept deep but was exhausted this birthday (49) morning with my head still spinning with possibilities of tackling an exhibition a few years from now. (I want to have it in Italy. Somewhere far away and beautiful with food, killer coffee and stone alleys.)

My visitor is a European artist, who studied film making, print making and textiles at art university. He usually spends a year on a single short film. Using actual film, he crafts the images millisecond at a time to come up with the highest resolution images that sometimes work with intricate surfaces that somehow manifest an interference pattern of sorts. I immediately thought of models of a holographic universe, where all the information of the universe is mathematically present in a minute sliver of the actual interference structure. This image of how the universe is structured has been with me since I was a teenager. Sad to say, it has sat there in my head. When I spread the rice paste on a stencil and then intentionally slightly shift it it to get a offset shadow it comes to mind. I was blown away when my guest intimated that he would like to work around this idea with Japanese stencil dyeing.

 I smiled so much my eyebrows hurt.

He was caught by a small scrap of old Japanese material he saw in a museum on Rhode Island. It was a Katazome piece and with his past work and appreciation with the subtle complexity and shocking simplicity of interference patterns he immediately recognized the sophistication of the Japanese pattern maker / stencil cutter hundreds of years before in a place he had never visited.  While researching his trip to Japan to research all aspects of katazome he found this blog and contacted me.

Looking though a few of the well-thumbed through old books I have collected on Japanese textiles we were able to ooh and awe and pound the table in amazement when we recognized the genius of some of these old pieces pictured.  He is a fine artist and will produce a single cool untouchable piece and place it in the middle of a spotless gallery to sit in splendid isolation.

I soooo respect and envy that.

I'll aim at 12 pieces that are warmer and beg to be placed in someone's home and perhaps have good food and killer coffee eventually spilled on them.

Maiwa Workshops In Vancouver

I've had a few emails after mentioning that I will be in Vancouver this fall giving three workshops at Maiwa. They have pretty much been planned out. Maiwa hasn't posted the workshops yet. They run such first class textile workshops I am honoured to have been asked. To make it worth their while, (plane tickets from Japan are not cheap) I will give two two-day workshops and a single day workshop as well as a lecture with wine etc. I'll also be having an exhibition nearby at Diana Sanderson's Silk Weaving Studio. Maiwa allows the workshop leader's to sell their work at the workshops however, I do not think I will have time to prepare anything. Missed opportunity approaching ...grrr.

Japan is not that far away from Vancouver, just over the ocean if you think about it.   It would be delight to meet any blog readers in person. I haven't spent more than a few days in Vancouver over the past 25 years. Beautiful city but I never thought I would see the skies above it again. Charlotte, the owner of Maiwa just does such a mind-boggling wonderful work creating and preserving and supporting textile culture, I wanted to see first hand what she has accomplished and take a small part in her vision.

The lecture will be on my experiences with silk farming here in Japan and some stories of working in the remote area of Laos with development projects concerning silk. I'll have some pictures etc.


Here is the rough run down; (Sorry for a quick cut and paste from my correspondence with Maiwa.)
Outline Japanese Indigo Workshop
Saturday and Sunday October 5th and 6th 10am - 4pm
Maiwa East 16 students

Introduction of indigo. Different kinds in the world with a brief history.
History and use in Japan.
Japanese aesthetics and indigo.
Okinawan indigo is different.
My background in Japanese indigo.

Show samples of indigo dyed Japanese cloth and discuss them.
From seed to dyepot explanation with pictures and samples.
Japanese craftsmanship ideals and indigo.

Dye a gradient piece of indigo. Small linen piece or something from Maiwa, (pending advice).
Dye skeins of cotton, linen, degummed silk, natural silk and wool. Discuss indigo quality on different materials. Advice for dyeing thread skeins in indigo.

Brief history of shibori and it’s affinity with indigo. Look at Motohiko Katano’s work. Use him as an example of a quintessential Japanese craftsman.
Shibori preparation. SImple mokume. Folding triangles.
Dyeing the shibori.
Katazome demonstration and brief talk. Show samples. Each member will dye a small katazome piece of linen.

Discussion of indigo in Japan now. Contemporary Japanese indigo craftspeople.

The second two day workshop will be on under-dyeing with indigo.

The goal of the workshop is for the participants to experience the possibilities of under-dyeing with red, yellow and gray to get subtle colors when combined with indigo.

There are no natural green dyes in nature. You have to use a shade of yellow in combination with indigo or another blue dye to achieve them.  The depth of the green is determined by the amount of dips in the indigo. The shade of green is determined by which yellow/orange tone is created with a particular natural dye and particular mordant.

Shades of purples are created by under-dyeing with a red dye. Madder is the most stable but lac and cochineal used with iron or alum can create an almost endless spectrum of reds and purples. Tuscan reds, eggplant and dark plum etc. I will just use madder for the reds in the workshop at Maiwa.

The Indigo pigment doesn’t make a chemical bond with the material, simply a mechanical bond so it is weak to abrasion. (Blue jeans fade because the indigo is worn and washed off.) This is important to consider when combining indigo with other dyes, especially on silk where the initial bond of indigo and fibre is not strong to begin with.  The occasional tendency to fade should be incorporated into the textile from the start. The dyed piece can be expected to ‘age’ to a certain degree. The students need to understand this well.

Over the two days of the workshop the students will dye pieces of silk (and perhaps cotton) cloth with gardenia pods to get a vibrant yellow, onion skins to get a rusty orange, and madder to get a red. Those pieces of cloth will be divided into eleven sections. One section will be left as the original color. The remaining sections will be dipped and dyed from one time until ten times in the indigo to get a gradient of purples and greens. The cloth will then be divided up so that each member will return home with several  sample cards with the gradient colors attached.

I will thoroughly explain the propensities of wool, plant fibres, and silk with indigo and how the under - dyeing processes differ in technique and result. I am afraid we will be pushed for time but will prepare some skeins of each material to give a visual back up to the explanation if time allows.

Each student will dye a silk scarf to take home using the technique learned.

I am debating with myself to use cotton (in addition to silk) or not. Impregnating it with a protein may simply be too much information for the workshop members. I will talk about it, and perhaps bring some pre-dyed sample pieces to dye with the students. I will run through the exact workshop with my students here in Japan in the spring to ensure it runs like clockwork. Then I will know if I will have the time to add material or have to reduce the amount of time spent on dyeing.

The third workshop will be:

The first hour will be spent on talking about the process of making cocoons and what can be done with them. Different classes of cocoons and how the waste silk leftover from the reeling process is used. I’ll bring thread samples and photographs.

Since it takes several hours to boil cocoons in an alkaline solution to make floss we will immediately start boiling the cocoons after the initial introduction. They will be ready to use after lunch.

After lunch we will reel cocoons in different ways to produce different threads. The students will take home the thread and floss and a few cocoons. The goal of the workshop is to show how different threads are made and why some threads were made in traditional Japan

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Japanese Textile Workshop in Japan Information

I was having a tough time pasting the pdf file onto blogger. My friend told me how to do it with this Scribd. It doesn't look right.

The May workshop looks as if it is full. (I have one space left but someone is waiting for vacation time to take it. I will know by Feb 1st if it is open.) The April workshop has a few spaces left after some members decided to postpone the workshop until autumn or spring 2014.

 I will be out of Japan in October 2013 giving indigo dyeing and silk thread making workshops in Canada. Therefore the autumn workshop will be in late autumn.

I have a few requests for a ten day to two week katazome and indigo and persimmon tannin dyeing (Traditional Japanese stencil dyeing) at the relatively cool farmhouse in August. Summer is very hot here and I don't want to be going into Tokyo and moving fast. If I hold the August Katazome workshop it will be slow paced. ( Those who know me are rolling their eyes.) I will put something up next month for this. If you are interested, drop me a line beforehand so I can incorporate your ideas into the curriculum.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Frozen Indigo Gives Cold Blues

The hydro-sulphate indigo vat outside the front door has a thin sheet of ice on it's surface. I stir it every few days. It is minus 7 at night. Freezing during this coldest week of the year. The slightest breeze of the frozen solid snow goes right through a down jacket.

Miho and friends were over today and they were itching to do some indigo dyeing. You can't be outside more than a few minutes with your hands in ice indigo water. I tried something new. A simple roll of cotton placed on the surface ice. Sure enough, the resulting blues were ice cold. I wonder if the handkerchiefs will keep any of the cold when they are used to wipe sweaty summer foreheads six months from now.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Motohiko Katano: Shibori Genius Extraordinaire

Geiger was pawing through my recently acquired postcard books on my Japanese craftsman hero, Katano Motohiko. He could instinctively know how much these meant to me and didn't nose them off the chair before he alighted. 

Tohei made these lion dogs years ago. They hang out as a group on tables and window ledges throughout the house. Sometimes paying homage to Hiro's flower arrangements  or eyeing a bowl of tangerines. What were they up to staking their territory on these particular postcards? Someone was trying to send me a message.

The lions on the postcards brought back memories of how I started with indigo in the first place.
The message might have been: Revisit  roots.

I studied Japanese ink painting for a few years when I came to Japan 24 years ago. Selling my first painting I figured it was a pity purchase.  A few dozen paintings later purchased by people I didn't even know made me think. It dawned on me that it was possible to make a living as an artist/craftsman of sorts one day.  It troubled me that I wasn't working at something that would not become a life project in my early twenties.

I was not cut out for painting by the simple fact that I didn't love it. I met an order for paintings with dread and grim resolve to do as well as I could. The process of creating the paintings was new. I enjoyed the isolation and weeks of focus watching the paintings evolve. But dread of not being able to get it right was something I felt I would never get used to. (Looking back twenty years I probably would have gotten used to the fear etc.)

After reading, The Unknown Craftsman by Yanagi Soetsu everything changed. Drooling at the thought  of  being a master craftsman of something Japanese.  I had to choose a path. The thought of becoming a potter or a carpenter was forefront.

In a bookstore one day I picked up a book on indigo and shibori. After looking at a few photos of Katano Motohiko's indigo shibori work and a description on how to grow indigo and ferment it into a dye I had a little epiphany in the grungy old Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku. Knowing exactly what I was going to do with the rest of my life,  closing the book and grinning I walked to the counter to pay for it.

To be an indigo dyer and work with textiles and use my indigo and textile experiences to be my own self-styled cultural anthropologist felt perfect. As my wallet opened and my hand pulled out the 5000 yen I smirked...what an investment. I get a lifetime of direction for the price of a few beer.

I found indigo seeds within a few weeks and I was on my way.   No dread.

To be a well-rounded indigo dyer in Japan you have to know how to dye yarn and cloth of all shapes sizes and material. You have to know how to do a variety of shibori shape resist techniques and dye them well.  (Katazome is more complex. I think very few indigo dyers really go deeply into this technique.)

With a general increased interest in clothing craftsmanship techniques, there has been a minor shibori boom in the past few years. Magazine articles, websites and books delving to different depths of shape-resist dyeing are easy to find. 

Shibori has a certain affinity with indigo as the oxidation part of indigo dyeing process can be played with to create subtle bleeds and nuances of blue in the folds and creases of shape-resisted work.
It sounds rather negative to say but the enthusiasm for the possibilities of shibori often outperform the technical prowess of the indigo dyer.

It is easy to liken shibori to haiku poems. Too much or too many makes you regret you ever even heard the words.  Yanagi Soetsu the founder of the Japanese folk craft movement asked Katano san to burn some Arimatsu shibori and from the ashes create a higher standard of shibori work.

The resulting shibori work of Motohiko Katano (1889-1975) is in a class by itself.  From 1957 until his death in 1985 he produced shibori work that was complex, subtle, proficient, distinctive, enchanting, intriguing, with no gimmicks and with intonations that can be so gentle, tasteful and subtle. (This sounds like a description of Jimmy Page's guitar playing.  The commonality of music and textile design is intriguing.)

It is a new year. Fifty is only one year away. Glancing to the side of life, certain walls are closer while others are farther away and warped in ways not noticed before.  With a break in carpentry work on the house, there is time to think and reflect and slightly adjust the trajectories of the various activities I juggle. Since revisiting Katano Motohiko's work that inspired me to work with indigo in the first place twenty years ago, I can't wait for the ice on the indigo vat to melt and get back to dyeing.

Tine and I were looking through the postcard books the other day and noticed that there was one technique that wasn't immediately apparent. We looked and speculated and started to sketch and stitch cloth and dye samples to figure out how he had done it.

Try number one was a failure, number two was getting somewhere. Try number three was dive bomb. (It reminded me of that old film on the first airplanes attempting to fly. They never took off and some comically folded on the runway. ) We will have them figured out in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Perfect Indigo Stitches

Blue is the title of the Joni Mitchell album from 1971. It is the top female music album on the Rolling Stone magazine Top 500 Albums of All Time list. I've played it one zillion times.

"The Blue album, there's hardly a dishonest note in the vocals," Joni Mitchell told Rolling Stone in 1979. "At that period of my life, I had no persona defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world, and I couldn't pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy." With song after song of regrets and sorrow, this may be the ultimate breakup album. Its whispery minimalism is also Mitchell's greatest musical achievement. Stephen Stills and James Taylor lend an occasional hand, but in "California," "Carey," "This Flight Tonight" and the devastating title track, Mitchell sounds utterly alone in her melancholy, turning the sadness into tender, universally powerful art.

It is the work of a genius. Why? Well because there is, hardly a dishonest note on the album.

The edges of Serge's last linen piece had holes in them from opening the shibori tied linen roughly when it was wet.  He asked me how to fix them. I started sewing precisely with some store-bought cotton thread. I stopped. Thinking about perfection. No. It wasn't right. He was asking me questions about how and why to repair textiles. I couldn't answer in textile talk so I answered in music talk. (We both play the guitar.)

"Think of Joni Mitchell Blue. There is not a single dishonest stitch or weaving pass on this piece of linen you dyed. The dyeing is perfect. My stitching stinks. It is the dishonest note on the fabric."

I took out the stitches quickly before there were any trumpets blaring and clouds opening and angels appearing, found some handmade indigo dyed linen and stitched it up with honest stitches. Safe.

This year I hope not to backslide too much.

You can listen to the full album on youtube:

I haven't posted the information for the spring workshop in a while. I have some openings as a few participants are opting for the autumn 2013 workshop.

Spring Indigo Workshops in Japan:

Best Wishes for Your New Year.

2012 was the busiest year of my life. It was so busy that I didn't realize it was New Year's Eve until 8:00pm!  I thought I had one extra day to work on the computer. I spent the afternoon raking leaves for compost at the side of back roads with a very cold Mt Fuji looking down on the Momo, Geiger and Hiro and Shuji and I. 
The doggies had a fairly dramatic year roaming around in Radiationland Fukushima, being caught and introduced to their new home with me. 
This blog has become a part of my life. I am isolated from English speakers here and the readers comments and acknowledgement gives me a tremendous amount of energy with my work. I started the ten-day workshops and they have given me much. I spent so many years in semi-solitude just following my bliss and to see that there are people who are interested on what I have learned astounds me and deeply comforts. Thank you.