Saturday, 30 September 2017


A gritty wet pavement day. Drizzling, grey twilight out the window of the bar in wintry Melbourne. My light down-jacket got a snag on the sleeve  sometime in the past five weeks in Australia and is humorlessly launching a single poof of white feather each time I lift a chip to my mouth and two feathers just escaped when finished off my drink. I'd walk up and order another pint  of beer but there is a dumb grin on my face I can't swallow due to the image of a back eddy of down feathers on wood floor following me to the bar counter.

There is probably a roll of tape at the register and I can temporarily remedy the problem with a cross of cellophane on the way out. Tomorrow I fly back to the heat of Japan. I'll deal with a more permanent solution to the leaky jacket next January.

I was in Australia to work and take a brief look at the country. A few dozen Aussies have made it up the driveway in Japan and spent some time at the indigo vats. Due to their good open nature a few have become good friends. It was good to spend time with them on their turf. All was good.

Aside from the choo choo train of down feathers, the solitude of wandering around the city these last days, riding trains and trams, eating too much, looking at architecture and people-watching/ listening while reflecting on and digesting the past few eventful months is a gritty luxury.

I put together a special program for the students and gave the same two day class  six times. I took a good stack of antique Katagami stencils I'd collected over many years than still had a few prints left in them. Some of the stencils were from the early 1800's. Used with the tenderest care with a specially made net/screen to protect the fragile paper from tears while pasting and washing 90 students were able to make a dozen or so prints each.

Yes...the stencils are rare and even a little expensive. But instead of just sitting on a shelf they were used a few more times. There was some inevitable damage to some. They are retired now. A few of the rarer and beautiful ones can be remade by a professional stencil cutter in the town of Ise by being having a dry ink brushed through the stencil onto new persimmon stencil paper and re cut. The damaged areas can be redrawn quite easily.

I hope I can be like those stencils at the end of my life. If someone comes along and I can show them how to spin fibres, make bamboo reeds or some other skill I'd be taking with me. It would be a pleasure to be put to use one more time.

The first three hours of the workshop were spent looking at the stencils and the individual character of many of them. We looked at the feudal society that produced this culture in 17th century Japan. What were the social, cultural and economic circumstances that led to the creation of the indigo stencil culture of that level of sophistication. How was the special persimmon tannin paper made, how it was cut, sliced, awled and carved to get a pattern. 

 We looked at a collection of Edo period scraps of indigo cloth and discussed the techniques that had been used. 

We were busy. The afternoon found us cramming a huge amount of information, including a chemistry lesson on how indigo dye is made from leaves to kind of blue green yogurt. 

In the same afternoon we managed a lesson on Mochi rice flour stencil paste making.

It was important to see the true fragility of the stencils and how they could be used a few times more. Some of the stencils haven't been used in over 150 years. 

A few delicate stencils melted before our eyes and had to be retired.

Most of  the students were truly enthralled in the process and the new information. I left Australia knowing that I had converted a few people to the indigo world and left some with a desire to visit Japan and see the culture with their own eyes.

I was so busy that I didn't take any pictures of the workshops. We indigo dyed cloth with the antique stencils and we dyed many shades of plain blue so that the students take home a pile of beautiful indigo cloth to cut up and make quilts from. I look forward to seeing what they make.


There was time to drive a few days through the magnificent kangaroo laden Australian countryside from Adelaide to Braidwood to spend some time on Kate's truffle farm with the truffle dogs digging truffles. It was good to be in winter for a short time.

The dogs are adorable. While they point a delicate paw to the hidden truffles are under the surface they casually look around to see what the other truffle dogs are up to or if a kangaroo is hopping by. They wait for their reward as  you carefully brush the dirt away and look for the truffle shape and delicately dig the truffle out. The Snoopies munch down a treat and maybe another truffle pooch may drop by and expect a treat from the treat bag for doing no work. I wasn't sure what the treat/reward protocol was so I snuck them a beef jerky and even the obligatory ear scratch for not even doing a thing except being cute.

On to the next truffle. 

Alpaca and sheep and truffles.

A dorky sleepy sweet wombat trots by and the truffle dogs go and want to play with it. It takes some time to call the shiny black Labrador crossed with a Dachshund back from the uninterested wombat and get them to concentrate on the work at hand.

Many thanks to Jean Haese for getting me to Australia finally. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to Jacky, Judi and Chris, Kate, Sue and Adam....