Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Baby Silkworms, Hantens and Mulberry Saplings.

I ordered 2000 silkworm eggs and they arrived a few days ago. They hatched this morning. New genetic material was needed after breeding the same lineage for a few years.  These ones can be bred for a few years before they go a little wonky.

Dillon and Ishii san and Takeshima san are very interested in starting to silk farm on a small scale. This is exciting. I was hoping for a few quiet days but instead I got machine gunned with questions on sericulture.

A few eggs hatched last night.  The kerosene heater kept them warm all night.

In the morning 95% of the eggs had hatched and it was time to feed them fresh mulberry for the first time.

Some mulberry plants fell  victim to nasty insects and hungry bark eating starving winter monkeys last year. There were hundreds of hand made mulberry saplings a few years back and they ended up in the compost as enthusiasm for silkworm farming tanked. With some helpers I have taken a deep breath and am looking forward to the whole process again. There are a few more available fields near the house now. You can make mulberry saplings from seed or cuttings. To try something new I cleared some grass around some scrappy saplings in an abandoned mulberry field only a few hundred meters from the house.

It was necessary to cut the thatch grass around the mulberry. Birds are chirping and the tea is ready for harvest.

The bottom of the branch is scored before being bent down and buried in the dirt.

Picture from Heather of that abandoned mulberry field next to the tea.

Roots will grow from the branch and it will be dug up again this autumn and cut into sections that will each become a mulberry tree.

Busy busy days between workshops. Tea harvesting and silkworm care....playing with the new kittens.

Three more jackets from the hanten workshop.

Heather from Australia used the madder paste to colour the maple leaves on her jacket. Brilliant. The jacket will age so well.

Heather from Canada/living in Beirut went for a western image of mountains and tree silhouette that worked well with the soot touch. A jacket to treasure for many many years.


Mary in Equador knocked us out with this mokume shibori lining and delicate cherry blossoms.

More pictures of hanten work to come.

A group picture by the frog pond.

Sleeves not quite finished yet.

Thank you Teresa, Truus, Heather, Mary, Korinna, Jean, Heather and of course Hiro. Thank you thank you and thank you again. The sewing was a slog but look at those jackets!

Start to harvest this tea field tomorrow.  The village is magically beautiful right now.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Seven Jackets. Blood sweat and actual tears.

These hand sewn and hand stitched hanten jackets have been a lot of work. All seven are finished today and we are reviewing the hundreds of steps it took to get them together.  Beautiful work.

Teresa is the dog lover of dog lovers. She chose the Japanese character for 'dog' (inu) for the center of her back crest. She sprinkled cherry blossoms around the character. (I had a hundred year old plus stencil of cherry blossoms we brought back from its long sleep.) The red is from the madder paste and the black is soot bound with soy bean juice and steamed.  The blue is from Japanese indigo.

I sent the linen lining material to her in Brooklyn a few months back. She stitched it up and dyed it here.

Resist pasting the antique linen material.

Every millimetre hand stitched.

The lining took days of stitching.

She carefully cut the stencil and kept the cut out part to use as a positive of the negative stencil.

The jacket will age well. I look forward to seeing it again in 20 years. Well patched and full of memories.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Shirushi Banten

I put together a few trial workshops over the past few years on designing and sewing Japanese jackets before I had enough guts to officially hold a two-week course here at the house.  I  invited students who had been to my place in Japan and showed interest in coming back. Ten days of hard work so far. Four more to go.

I think it takes ten or so of these hanten jackets before you get the idea of measuring and finishing them up just perfectly.  We can finish two and perhaps a baby third if all goes well. I picked up some Edwin Jeans off cuts and we sewed jackets the first three days.

 Here they are:

The second jacket we made from either antique linen or some hand-woven organic fair trade cotton I  picked up in Sri Lanka a few months back. We calculated the measurements and dyed the designs right on the body of the cloth. Seven creative indigo hamsters on my hands. Things are coming together today.

We made some red pigment from madder roots to paint and steam onto the designs on the back of the jackets. 

The madder grows wild all around this area. There isn't enough time to dig it ourselves so I bought some and had it ready to boil. It takes over a week to get the red azilirin paste.

Here Teresa holds a madder stem. The roots is where the dye pigment is concentrated. 

After the liquid has been pH neutralised for a few days of rinsing and settling it is sieved through a coffee filter. Then the paste is ready to be painted on with soy bean juice and steamed. 

It needed a few hours in the sun to jell up.

Heather from Australia painted on the paste and then dyed the background with soot and indigo. Then after removing the paste she carefully painted in the red. First a sample on a small piece and then the actual jacket.


Hand made madder paste paint on the crest on the back of the jacket.

There was a lot of painting and steaming and paste resisting the past few days.

97 year old Ogata san came by and made udon from scratch for our lunch.

We needed a break from all this fresh green, croaking frogs and singing birds so we headed into Tokyo for a day. We went to the Amuse Boro Museum and the Edo Museum. We sought out old fireman jacket designs.

We were completely museumed-out at the end of the day. Overwhelmed by hundreds of years of sophisticated Japanese culture in our faces.

The small paper models of the festival-goers in Edo period were amazing.

The Edo period wood block pictures provided us with more insight into the jackets we are designing and sewing.

This particular wood block print commissioned for a fire brigade in Edo period was particularly informative.

And the beauty of resourcefulness at the Boro Museum.

As always we want more time to study and make things. It is frustrating. I wish we had months to really master the processes. The sewing of the jackets, the history behind Japanese clothing, the indigo dyeing and the pigment making and the design genius of the Japanese traditional Edo craft masters. But if we had months we would want years. And a decade would be necessary to really get it right.  (We know all a long that it takes a lifetime and even then we may miss the mark.) Jeeeeeeesh.

Julie Cat with her new kittens in her box.