Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Smoked Dye Patterns on Deer Leather in Old Japan

Wistful smile on the train through the mountains in Japan to Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture to hunt out what is possible of an ancient technique of smoking deer leather that has been resisted with string for stripes or rice paste and stencil patterns.

My birthday and the anniversary of immigrating to Japan fall in early Aquarius. 28 full years in my adopted country. It was a anniversary trip.

Wistful hairline....wistful cold wind through my sweater.

Kofu is only a few hours away. It is the peach and grape growing area of Japan. Famous for warlord Samurai, thick wheat noodles, greedy pork barrel politicians  and lacquered leather.

Last spring at Morita textiles, Mrs Morita excitedly showed me a newly acquired pair of deer skin trousers from the late 1800's. The beguiling story of the trousers....they were refashioned from  deerskin samurai jacket from the Edo period. The obvious wear of the jacket collar was now visible on the bum of the trousers. Wow.....

  

The trousers looked like they had a orange striped lining but in more careful examination it was actually the suede side of the leather that was patterned.

  

She explained that the pattern had been smoked onto the leather with paper resisting the stripes. She continued on that is an extinct technique.

Gone.

My imagination ran wild.

The next mystery was how the green colour was created. There are no natural true green dyes in nature. It is always a combination of a yellow and indigo. How can you dye only one side of the skin?

Always playing with the idea of a small indigo museum on the second floor of the clay storehouse next to the house the trousers were procured. (They actually fit.)

They have sat on an open shelf and admired frequently.

I figured out that they had actually come from Kofu a few weeks back and on a clear day a few of us took the train out to Kofu to see what vestiges of the tradition of smoking deer leather we could find.

Turned out to be a gimmicky sort of display in the corner of a gift shop selling lacquered "inden"
leather products. But we all got excited like kids and decided on the spot to rig up a smoker, find a small mountain of rice straw, fix up a barrel to rotate over the smoke, find some deer skin.....and make some smoke patterned leather and paint on indigo on the opposite side.....just for fun.

We are getting all the materials together and as soon as it warms up a little we do it.



These techniques are regional secrets....we asked as many questions as the shop keeper was willing to answer.



And some stealth photographs of the tools hanging around were shared later over a beer as we plotted to overthrow the local industrialists of the neighbouring fife.



The smoker oven with a roof tile door.



Tied and smoked and tied again and smoked some more....so ingenious.

The small museum was just so satisfying. What is the word for the uplifting feeling when you see beautiful old masterfully crafted textiles?

The small museum had indigo dyed deer leather items. Katazome dyed indigo deer leather. Laquer stencilled leather and smoke dyed leather goods.

Jackets. Gloves for archery. Purses. Tobacco pouches. Leather armour scraps. Shoes. Drum bags. Hats. Horse saddles.


So beautiful... all this pre-industrial  Japanese hand work.



















These are deer leather stencilled patches from samurai armour.





Fine stitching on archery gloves.









Regular Ise katagami stencils are used for the resist process.















18 comments:

  1. Happy Birthday, Bryan! What exciting discoveries. I think that uplifting feeling is sort of a confirmation of your faith in cherishing these old crafts.
    In eco-dyeing peach tree leaves and lemon leaves give a gorgeous green but I guess that is not what you mean-you probably mean dyestuff made from a plant as in indigo?Can't wait to see your smoke patterned leather.
    Claudia

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    1. I am thinking of boiling dye pots. There is so much green in nature but chlorophyll is not a transferable pigment. I am looking forward to playing with the smoke and stencils more than the arashi smoke shibori.

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  2. I am in absolute awe of the smoke dyeing process... who knew?!!!

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    1. Crazy....I wonder how long it takes to get the smoke smell out?

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  3. I am constantly amazed at the Japanese's ingenuity and skill, and patience.

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    1. The are amazing. I still get goosebumps after all these years when I see Japanese handwork.

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  4. I'm obsessed with all things leather. I'm so jealous of your trip. I want in on the all the leather experiments! Pretty please? I'll see you in 6? 7? weeks?

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    1. It wil probably be rigged up and ready for you to sit and rotate the barrel...it is not as bad as vacuuming.....think you might be able to give it a try?

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    2. I keep forgetting how lazy I am...

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  5. can't wait to see the results of the smoking experiment - can you hang a piece of salmon in there,too? YES to a museum in the kura.Wonderful pictures of small works of useful art, I want a pair of stenciled tabi. I've been shovelling snow for 1 1/2 hours, time to sit by the fire and stitch.

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  6. I am trying not to take on any any any major projects that take up more than a few hours. I'm like the straw-house little piggy these days.

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  7. first, happy birthday. second, WOW. what amazing work. i am eager to see what you all learn, and of course i can see these as lovely patterned leather covers for books, too. not everything has to be traditional, right? but oh, the craftsmanship. to ride in a saddle made of such leather...

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  8. just scrolled through the photos only here, wordless, and was impressed by the patterning, the need to make beauty on functional items, the love of color and pattern. just noticing these...

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  9. omg be still my heart. count me in.and happy birthday.

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    1. The pictures didn't capture a fraction of the beauty. I was not breathing deep enough to concentrate on taking photos.

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  10. Wow the beauty of those patterns on the leather ....makes my mind race to think of all the ways to combine these old techniques with the new... really admire your abilities to experiment creatively and really hoping it works out that I can visit! Do you have a workshop schedule planned out for the year yet? Tess

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    1. Hi Tess, Please write me at japanesetextileworkshops@gmail.com

      I'll send you a link to my brochure.

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