Saturday, 27 February 2016

Indigo Katazome Hankerchiefs for Free

I watched a Japanese TV show years back, (I always remember them because I have never had a TV and when I see one I am glued to it.)
It was a  novelty like program. The question was: What are your favourite words?

On camera people answered;

Then  the interviewer questioned with a lowered voice and a 'don't BS' me expression....
"Yeah right...Honestly.....what is  your favourite word?"

"Without fee."
"Sleeping in."

I am off to Sri Lanka for my winter vacation tomorrow to meet Hiro and Anna. I'm all packed and the weather was gorgeous this morning. Yesterday we prepared 50 stencilled handkerchiefs and we took  them to the local "Art Village Market" and set up an indigo vat in the parking lot and asked people if they wanted to dye a handkerchief for free........ without fee even.

Disbelief and then they piled right into the task on hand. Mothers and fathers with their little ones wandering around in the slightly winter warm sunshine. It was good to get some blue sky with music wafting in the background. Old friends coming and going, coffee and freshly baked cookies on a Saturday.


Friday, 26 February 2016

How do you visit a studio fairly?

Three of us decided our budget before we flew to the other side of the Japan to visit the studios of three textile craftspeople in advance. We phoned and made appointments and asked them for two hours of their time and we would pay for their time directly or by purchasing their work. We were going to interrupt their work day in their homes and ask questions about techniques and just generally interrupt their lives. We know well that the house gets a tidying up and our thoughts are on other things besides our work before guests arrive. We would be interrupting our hosts life for a few more hours that the ones we spend there.

How do you manage this fairly?

We brought the obligatory Japanese visiting presents of some specialty from our town. We show up on time with our heads low and voices quiet and respectful.

Our first stop at the weavers house was wonderful. We were given a brief tour of the studio and we asked plenty of questions and fought over the wonderful weavings she had at the studio. We all had tea together, laughed a little and left with a good feeling.

The next stop didn't go so smoothly. The work was not very good and our host seemed tired of receiving guests but was very very kind to us. We headed quickly for the shop area and tried to be enthusiastic about buying $500 worth of stuff we didn't want. We left yawning and cold footed into a wet directionless wind. The bottom of the stream in front of the studio seemed muddier than it had an hour earlier.

We went out for drinks that evening and debriefed on the days activities. Japanese craft masters who were producing work that was far far beneath their skill and knowledge level because they had to make a living. (?) Tourist shop stuff. It was painful to witness. Cheap cloth with bad motifs dyed with precious indigo with hundreds of years of technique development behind.....a crappy placemat.... I tried not to be negative... I was the non-Japanese and I try to keep my critical tongue in my mouth. It is hard to not sound like you are criticizing all Japanese and not just the particular craftsman. A few beer later we were shaking our heads and trying to get somewhere in a discussion about what was so wrong.

You don't know whether to cry or scream or hang your head and walk away.

The next day we visited an indigo dyer in a remote small town. We were not very enthusiastic about the whole thing. We were in for a surprise. Amano san was animated and passionate and skilled, charming and intelligent. (and drop dead handsome)

His knowledge is broad and deep and he tries new things. He was open-minded and civic-minded. He shared his knowledge and his time making humans look very good.  He was busy and although we would have liked to spend longer with him we left him to get some work done.

I've had an endless flow of visitors through my house/life to look at the silkworms and indigo and the old house itself. (I have felt like a panda in a zoo a few times. Look at how the foreigner lives.) I let visitors know in advance that I have nothing to sell from the house. Nothing. (That takes care of many problems.) I take cues from how they behave in my place. (Respectful, funny, warm and brief go a long way.)

It is tricky visiting the studios of  'makers'. I am interested to hear other's experiences and attitudes.

The indigo posers...

Thursday, 25 February 2016

History Museums in Japan

I spent a few days wandering around cold empty museums and empty cold ancient temples. Late February is not the coziest time to travel on the wet west coast of Japan.

Wet snow in soggy parking lots.

The main attraction of the area was the Izumo Taisha. This is the area where the Japanese state originated. The waves of immigrants would have come from the mainland and the Korean peninsula and found a relatively flat area suitable for irrigation and growing rice. An ocean for fishing, mountains for timber and a local population of stone age hunters and gatherers. There was iron ore (and even silver ore) to be smelted and forged into good old weapons and horse trappings. The specific-to-the-place Shinto religion was born here with all the myths of creation along with it.

All fascinating but they still make me nervous. A lot of power, a lot of ignorance, a lot of exploitation and a lot of violence. But the continuous ingenuity is impressive. Stability and a rich culture evolved still filled with these things over hundreds and then thousands of years.

Driving a rent-a-car through the ancient depopulating rice farming villages and stopping at a 7-11 to get a plastic bottle of tea and some chocolate almonds and a few rice balls.....was disorientating.

Shinto shrines spook me more than a little. Organized primitive religions....rituals and priests etc.

There was a lot to digest and talk about. My goal was textile research. Textiles don't last that long in the climate of Japan so much of my time was spent looking at the culture that produced the textiles. The woodblock prints are always a good source of textile patterns.

This Samurai had some seriously great stencil patterns on his indigo dyed clothing.

There were some 5th century spinning whorls and a few iffy looking 6th century fishing dudes challenging the local bearded authorities in a diorama. Only the guy with the sword had a blue tunic that indicated that indigo was on someone's farmland near the rice and hemp.

The ancient weathered wooden buildings with the studied grand understatement and perfect architectural balance and flawless craftsmanship made the hair on my arms lie flatter in respect.

The wood should have been knotless and there was a perfect wooden patch over the one knot found on the hundreds of screen pillars. Jeeeeeeeeeeesh. Don't offend the perfect gods with a small knot. 

Aghhh Japan.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Ancient Villages in Japan

A few days back I flew to the backside of Japan with Takeshima and Ishii sans to look at some textile related places near the most ancient area of Japan.  Izumo in Shimane prefecture.We rented a car and drove to local historical sites.....1600 years of continuous history. I was dumbstruck at the depth and breadth of the history.

We visited a woman who had grown up in Tokyo and wanted to live in the countryside. She married a guy from the deep countryside  whose mother was a weaver. They have a beautiful old house and several other barns and studios. They grow cotton she spins and dyes with indigo and weaves.

Click the pictures to see up close.

The studio was full of looms. There was a carpet loom that the granddaughter is weaving on. Such peaceful lives.

She has four indigo vats in the ground and throws in a bucket of sawdust in the space in between them and lights that. The smouldering wood keeps the vats warm enough to ferment for a few days at a tine.

This is the cauldron she uses to boil the sizing off the thread before dyeing.

She filters boiling water through the ash to get her alkaline solution to ferment the indigo.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Hanten Jacket Making

I have been giving the ten-day Japanese Textile live-in workshop for three years now. It works. I'm lucky to have such wonderful people make the effort to fly all the way to Japan and spend time with me and my friends up here in the village in mountains near Tokyo. I sort through the many emails asking to come and study so I can make sure that what I am offering is what the people coming are looking for.

Some people want to make the journey back to Japan and study some more. It took me a few years to get my act together and put a new workshop curriculum together. I ran the course a few times as a practice. Dyeing the cloth, cutting the stencils, making the pigments and then hand sewing the garments. I decided to make these shirushi hanten jackets because they look cool with a pair of jeans on everyone.

I have made a few dozen of them now and am ready to teach.  I've been going back and forth to Noguchi's studio in Hachioji to perfect my soy/pigment ratios for the paint on dyes. I'm ready to go.

I have eight repeater students(...well seven... Teresa is bringing her dude with her.) and we are going to make some really cool jackets together this Golden Week. Hiro is going to stuff them with his Japanese-Brazilian fusion food. I am looking forward to seeing some familiar faces (Jean!!!) and working out the inevitable kinks in the program. (I always try to cram in took much.)

Ilkka from Finland is working hard to finish up his projects before he heads back home in a week. I am going to miss him. (Almost as much as the dogs who love his extra long dog walks.)

He can now hand sew these jackets to perfection. He cut the stencil and made this one for his nephew Carlo who is 7. The letter has two meanings. One is 'strength' and the other is 'CA' Carlo's first initial. The jacket was made from a traditional white Finnish tablecloth.

The lining is handspun/woven Japanese silk dyed with madder.

Here is Noguchi san helping us with the pasting and dying.

We are using crushed soy beans as a binding agent for the pigments.

Takeshima san worked on adding colour to an old stencil she had cut years ago.

This freshly shaven baldey worked on shades of madder pink for flower petals.

Ilkka used an old shibori technique here. He took the time to embroiderer a small motif inside the collar.

I whipped this one up and then realized how cute kid's clothing can be. This is the jacket that seems to have launched a dozen more...and then so on and so on...

When the kinks are out of the program and all my repeater students have had their chance to make jackets I will open this course to others.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Japanese Bamboo Basket Making

There are various kinds of bamboo growing throughout the village. Aotake is the prized one for fine basketry. The bamboo is harvested from November when it has stopped drinking water for the cold months.

Such an amazing natural resource. Like most of they traditional crafts the Japanese have taken the use of bamboo to a head-shaking-in-disbelief astounding level.

Luckily I have a human resource nearby as well. Many of you know my driver, Ishikawa san and have purchased his fine work and taken it back to your home countries. I've studied on and off over the years how to work with bamboo. I've had a few workshops at the house the past few months and I participate myself trying to keep a cool head.

There are blankets that need weaving, stencils to cut, Japanese jackets to make, indigo fields to plow and silk to spin......the last thing needed is another passion. There isn't enough time. 

Ilkka is a sweet and bright Finnish guy staying here at the farmhouse for two months to study with me. He has fallen in love with Japanese crafts. Ishikawa san came over for the afternoon and showed Ilkka how to weave a basket from bamboo freshly cut and sized down to workable strips.

Takeshima san and me removing the natural oil from the bamboo over the fire. The Japanese go through those extra time consuming steps to get it right.  Perhaps in the future I will set up bamboo residency programs at the farmhouse. In five weeks the workshop members could harvest bamboo and process it into strips a few hours a day to build up a stock to take home. For a few more hours a day they could study basket design with Ishikawa san. I would take the time of myself to participate.