Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Teaching Japanese Textiles in Japan.

Today was regular Tuesday textile class at my house. Trying to simplify life and get rid of some possessions I handed out a few boxes of silk thread I will never weave up in this life a few weeks back. Takeshima san took some different madder dyed pinks and red silk I reeled and dyed years ago and set up that unbelievable rickety old loom I gave her years ago and wove up this gorgeous red silk obi (kimono belt) material. All this old stuff being used. Tidying up life and creating at the same time.

Please click on the  photos to see the full version.

Our much loved 97 year old Ogata san is in the hospital. She used her daughter's cell phone yesterday to call me from her bed. "I'm OK. Don't worry. "

We were worried. Pneumonia and then catching influenza in the hospital. Jeeeeesh.

She has been coming to class for eight years now. She brings some vegetables from her garden and cooks lunch for us without fail every week. She climbs up the back mountain to get whatever extras she needs. Mushrooms, persimmons, shiso or ginger....  She started studying indigo at 89 at this ramshackle old house with this scruffy Canadian and his guests. She weighs 35 kilograms. (Snoopy weighed that much before I halved her with a strict two-year diet.)

I have about eight more or less regular students who come to the house and work on their individual projects. A few are just working on shibori or katazome. Some are reeling cocoons or making floss and spinning it into thread. A few are weaving and well on their way to be better weavers than I am. We occasionally boil up some natural dyes from roots and barks and dye the silk. We look at a lot of Japanese textile books for ideas and inspiration and knowledge. We try new things occasionally like eco-dyeing.

Yamaguchi san bought a loom and weaves at home. She comes on Tuesdays to dye and wrap warps. My god is she weaving beautiful stuff.

Our lives are interconnected now. The students met here at the house and now are part of each  others lives outside the class.  They tolerate how busy I am with other projects....ripping out a kitchen, workshops with foreigners. The seasons go by, the years go by.

Kamei san worked with madder dyed silk last year. Daughters worked with their mothers and grandmothers in Japan for many years to slowly pick up the hundreds of steps it takes to get a kimono from silkworms. It is not easy to get the lengthly processes across on Tuesdays (sometimes Fridays and Saturdays). By the time one weaving project is finished the initial steps are distant. The students help each other like neighbours and family members did in past times.

                                       The warping wheel upstairs feeling useful again.

Kamei san and Ogata san threading string heddles.

                                                                    On the loom.

It is not easy when everyone is working on a different project at one time. I learned indigo and silk farming and weaving over many years from several people. There was not much structure. I had to fill in the blanks myself until I ran across something that worked or someone or something that made something unknown clear. Not just techniques. I can never forget those precious times with the old farm families learning to grow mulberry, reel silk, warp looms, weave kimono. I was so lucky. The learning was organic. Like how kids can learn.

I went to look at a few textile related schools. Freaking nightmares.  Not relaxed atmospheres and spaces where students can explore and be creative. People learn different ways. Some need step by step instruction while others just take off from the start.  Do onto others.....I hope my house and approach works for my Tuesday students like it did for me.  I can see them taking off now. The runway was longer for some but the plane is up and banking and taking in the textile scenery now.

                                     Fedora san reeling cocoons in the kitchen on Saturday.

Yamaguchi san threading a warping reed today. Beautiful silk she dyed with loquat bark last week.

Takeshima san is getting the hang of my very old kimono warping wheel today. Indigo dyed warp.

The house is alive. Many more beautiful things to come this year. Just a blog of thanks to my students here in Japan. 


  1. Replies
    1. I heard for Lesley today. Big smile. I sit in her chair everyday and use my computer. It sort of took her name.

      Thank you for the lovely update. I have to make it to Sheffield.....I'd leave now but it it snowing.

    2. Ditto, our second mini blizzard in two weeks. We made bread and kept warm. The hens stayed indoors. Perhaps they will lay more than one egg between them, if they are bored! Cake for the weekend, no candles.

  2. what an amazing way to be taught. I read your blog and follow your work and think that one day I will come to Japan to learn from you. the pictures are great.

    1. I'm not going anywhere for a few years. Just drop me an email when you decide to visit Japan. This year is booked up though.

  3. Inspirational - thank you for sharing.

  4. so sorry to hear about Ogata-san she is such an incredible life force, hope she is better soon. Love seeing all the looms in action, made me want to jump on a plane! Beauty and inspiration is all around you.

    1. One loom open and about to get a kimono on it. Haven't woven a kimono in years. Makes me nervous. Thank you for the lovely hand written card. I'll see you in summer.

  5. By far, one of the loveliest, most heartfelt posts I have ever read. What a joy that you all have each other !
    Best wishes for good health to Ogata san.

  6. so sorry to hear ogata-san's unwell.
    the red warp is gorgeous, makes me want to weave.and love the clever use of the itomakis.

  7. ahh, i, too, receive so much from my students. here, there's a spinning group that i started 30 years ago. more than informal, and though it still meets, i work during that time. yesterday i took a silk cocoon to school and we explored it. the kids were amazed. i spun a tiny bit and plied it, they were still amazed!

  8. I also look forward to reading your blog posts, and hope, perhaps in a couple years, to also come study/learn. Best wishes to Ogata san, and a return to good health. Your photos of indigo, weaving, your work and students work, and especially those of Ogata san.

  9. Bryan, I have learned so much about silkworms, dyeing, weaving, and Japanese culture from this blog. Thank you for the gift of sharing your rich experiences with us. I am sending best wishes to Ogata san for a speedy recovery. I so enjoy seeing the lovely and intricate pieces she creates. She is such an inspiration to me. Laurie

  10. Wishing Ogatasan a speedy recovery. I imagine her hand stitching as she recuperates. Teaching and learning has always been a two way street and at your home it is such a gentle art. I long for the opportunity to spend an extended time with you. Much love xx

  11. always a joy to read your stories. a rich fruit-cake of a life being well-lived

  12. The Peter Gabriel line, 'Show me 'round your fruitcage and I will be your honey bee' made a lot of sense to me.