Saturday, 1 August 2015

Quiet Days and Silk Floss Weaving.

The blog has been quiet all July. I had thought that I could have all the preparation for the autumn (and next spring already) workshops finished by July 1st.

There was more work involved than imagined. It was a non-stop  14-16 hour a day two month slog of administration work. It's over. July 31st.

 It took an entire extra month......Hallelujah.

All the homework boxes have been mailed and the workshop members are all ready to start their trips to Japan in late September. (Even a non-yogi can hear them stitching away at the prep homework across planet.)

The house is ready months in advance. Instead of going to the airport and getting out of Japan for a few weeks I will be spending the time at quiet quiet home and working on my own projects........heaven.

Many of you know I keep the doors open and the coffee ready. I've been replying with, 'I'm busy.' to good friends and foes alike the past few months. The lotus are blooming at the front door today. Pickled plums are drying in the sun.  The tadpoles in the pond have sprouted legs and are almost ready to head to the forest.  Heaven.

Working on endless carpentry projects on this huge house and teaching hasn't given me the time to work on textiles like I used to.  It used to be possible to work on different projects at one time. 

Cutting stencils and stitching shibori, growing the indigo etc. are time consuming projects. But compared to the silk farming to woven textile they are like fast food.  

I had to face the facts....when you move your focus from one thing to another something suffers. And like playing guitar, you can't just pick it up where you left off a few months earlier.. 

There are boxes of beautifully reeled and naturally dyed silk upstairs that I've produced over many years.  I set up a luxurious kimono warp late last winter. It was beautiful and ready to weave. Throwing a few shuttle passes it all was set for a smooth 14 meter weave. Sitting at the loom looking at it with a twisted frown.... the warp and weft were extremely fine. It would take hundreds of hours to weave it up. It would end up looking like it was machine made. Everything was perfect.

The investment of time and concentration wasn't worth it.

I took a pair of shears and ziiiiiip.....had all the threads off the loom in less than five minutes. Considering the time it had taken me to set up the loom and weed the mulberry field, feed the silkworms and reel the silk and dye it was a pretty crazy thing to do.

Having been so busy the past few years something was lost.

That slow progression of related project one after another.

If you start a project with the criteria: "I should use up that thread" and "I haven't woven a kimono in years." There are too many wrong turns just waiting.

That whole project was off on the wrong foot. Rather than stumble through it, it was better to swallow some pride and take the loses with a deep breath.

The episode was a good bucket of cold water reality. Don't start an extremely time consuming project unless you feel right about it. All the colours and textures of the project and your own mind better be chosen carefully and harmoniously.

Hand spun silk... back strap looms.  The thread-making process and the weaving itself take much much much longer than using reeled thread on a regular loom.

There are some precious cocoons left upstairs from last summer and the recent cocoons from two months ago.

So day after day the cocoons are being boiled and de-bugged and a pile of silk floss and hand-spun thread is appearing. Some of this years silk is already being woven.

The cocoons are put in a gentle-wash laundry bag. A large pot of boiling water is readied. In a mild alkaline solution (Can use freshly burned straw ash or purchased de-gumming agents.)  the cocoons are kept just below boiling for a few hours. An inverted stainless vegetable strainer with rocks on top keep the cocoons from floating.

The chrysalis are picked out of the floss one by one. Manly work...not for the squeamish.

To lower the pH of the floss, it is gently rinsed to avoid matting. 

The floss is squeezed and the process repeated at a lower alkalinity and temperature to ensure all the natural glue in the cocoons is removed and the silk is smooth and soft and ready to spin.

Once dry I fluff them up individually and then start to spin them.

I hand spun the floss and dyed it several shades of indigo with some light yellow gardenia dye for some ever so slight green tinges.

And it weaving up like this:

This whole process takes forever but worth it. Audiobooks are keeping the weaving company as it inches forward.


  1. Love your blog...I too am spinning degummed's a mess. How do you fluff them up?
    I think that would make spinning it so much easier.

    Aloha, sandy

    1. Sandy, They have to be degummed enough that there are no hard parts. Then you ust take one bunny tail at a time and gently pull and fluff.

  2. Similar problems. Have been working on a piece and finally decided to call it quits. No satisfaction and it just wasn't coming together. So frustrating but once the decision is made to let go the mind and fingers come to life again. Love that new weave. Must feel really great to be doing something for you after all that admin. Hope all goes well for the spring workshops. Take care of you

    1. Hey Beautiful,
      Yeah, you have to keep your brain switched on. If aesthetically it isn't working. If it isn't satisfying because it isn't you. If there is something wrong with the materials that doesn't click. Think of food or coffee....dogs...dudes...whatever.. You have to be comfortable and have some meaning. I should have cut and run a few more times.

  3. Very very precious what you do, I am so humbled by your work !

  4. Not precious enough....I gotta try harder.
    Thank you.

  5. difficult to do but good to know when to cut and run - to mourn the loss of all your labours and then spin the fibre for new beginnings. ganbatte kudasai.

  6. ouch! you are a brave fearless soul i wouldn't have had the guts to snip all that silk off the loom.
    why don't you sell the spun yarn? i could be game.
    good to hear you have some time for's really a balancing act.

    1. A student dug it out of the trash bin and took it home. It will go to some good use.

  7. Hi! Once again browsing your blog, I love it, and would love to participate in one of your workshops.
    Where can I find more information about them/how do I contact you other than here? Thanks!

    1. Hi Karin, Just drop me a line at
      Unfortunately, I am full this autumn and Spring 2016 is almost full.

  8. looks like a window has opened and life is giving you time. time to be the you that you like, perhaps? it's been a summer of strange struggles and eases.

    1. Hi Velma, I am so used to not having any unstructured time I am actually uneasy about the few hours a day I can do whatever I please. Sitting by the pond watching the tadpoles swim around with a cup of coffee is good for the soul though.

    2. i just ambled by, and thought about your, there are frogs and wasps making their final hurrahs before fall really cools off. it's amazing, this beautiful world.

  9. hi Bryan, I'm catching up on your blog posts, after the baby first weeks kept me away from my usual readings.
    It's wonderful reading this, and keeping on learning with your work.
    This week I took our cocoons to be reeled with the help of a portuguese artisan, an older lady that used to be a silk farmer. It was my first time and it was magical touching the first skein of silk grown by me.
    Thank you so much for your precious help!

  10. Hi, stumbled upon your blog while researching natural dyes, and very much enjoying reading your posts! Thank you for sharing :)