Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Lotus & Death & Textiles

At my friends funeral last week a large purple shroud with lotus patterns was held up and its significance explained to the mourners before being placed over his body and before we all gathered around and filled the coffin with flowers before the actual cremation.

Another aspect of Japanese textiles I hadn't given much thought to. Buddhist-influenced funeral related textiles.

Speaking of lotus & death.

Every other year the lotus pots outside the front door need to be turned upside down and the stinky muddy roots untangled and trimmed and replanted. The dirt requires bonemeal and fish fertilizer to grow healthy leaves and flowers.

The love dog of my life, Snoopy, died years back. I had her cremated at a local Zen temple. Just like humans in Japan, her bones are places in a white urn and in a silk lined box. It sounds morbid but I take out a few Snoopy bones and crush them and mix them in the lotus clay every time I re-pot them.

So Snoopy can come back and visit in flower form every summer.

Just as I was sprinkling some Snoopy powder in the pot my friend arrived and she started to shriek!

She thought we were sprinkling my recently deceased neighbor in the pot. 

I quickly let her know it was Snoopy and not Kiyotaka. We had a good laugh.

I remember a lotus stencil I had drawn and was cutting years back. I left it on the floor and Snoopy walked over it and snagged the delicate paper and put holes in it.

It was my stupidity for leaving it on the floor. 

I kept the stencil as it was and used it a few times. I plan to recut it one day.

I used those lotus and their magnificent leaves growing outside the house as motifs for stencils for years. It may be time to use them again this summer when they bloom. 

Lotus flowers grow on the end of long stems like this.

Water lilies bloom near the surface of the water like this:

Lotus season seems far away with a full day of spring snow today. The pets just collapsed near the stove and dreamed of the door back into the spring they were enjoying just days ago.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Katazome...Japanese Stencils: Recreating Antique Japanese Textiles

I've seen thousands and thousands of pieces of Japanese katazome indigo stenciled cloth. I don't get too excited.

Only a well-drawn stencil, a cleverly designed stencil, a rare motif, exceptional indigo color and often a nostalgic stencil a friend or old student has cut can make me pause, examine and think.

I picked up this Japanese butterfly patterned cloth at Morita Antiques in Tokyo a few years back. Butterflies would not make it on a list of favorite motifs but the clever use of other natural motifs set in the wings was so elegant yet humble. The use of soot to get the gradations of grey to black and the delightful shades of faded blue made it irresistible.

Pre-industrialised poetry. Before electricity.

It is from the late Edo period  1800 to 1850.
It is made of handspun  Japanese cotton and handwoven at a 36-centimeter width.
It was part of a cotton kimono or an afterbath kimono worn by a man. Samurai class or perhaps merchant class. 

The background is naturally dyed indigo. The black and grey parts are dyed with soot and bound to the cloth with soy milk. 

The pattern is finely drawn. Natural motifs of peonies and bamboo leaves are inside the wings of some of the butterflies. Typical of Japanese design.

I took the cloth to my old friend 7th generation Noguchi san's studio and told him I wanted to reproduce the cloth and needed his help with the eventual pasting.

He looked at it with disbelief.

 The main obstacle to reproduce this antique cloth was finding someone who can cut the stencils for it. I thought of trying myself but simply do not have the time or the skill level. I found the master of masters, Isao Uchida from Ise in Mie prefecture. (This town supplied all the stencils for all of Japan historically. ) He is the head of the Japanese persimmon paper stencil preservation association. He is a tsukibori stencil cutter. He uses the board with the holes underneath the paper so to cut graceful lines. 

I visited his home and studio 5 years ago and took the above pictures.

I took a  sample of the cloth and headed down south to meet him and ask for his help last month. 

He agreed.

It took him a few weeks to complete the cutting.  I can see how he cleverly reproduced the stencil with the use of carbon paper and his God-given drawing skills and infinite patience with a razor sharp knife. 

People are bigger than they were hundreds of years ago and I asked him to add a few butterflies on the 36cm width to get a full 40cm width.

The stencil arrived today and they are beautiful. It takes seven different stencils to recreate this pattern. Three for the white lines alone and four to help cover with paste the grey and black areas once they are painted in with soot and soy milk.

The stencil would be too fragile to be cut on a single piece of paper. So the fine lines were spaced apart from each other and spread over three papers.

You can see the pattern with two of the three overlaid on each other.

Whiteboots photobombed the stencil to be used to resist the grey sections. 

I started writing a book on Making Japanese Hanten Jackets. Starting with indigo seeds. 

The reproduced butterfly stencil will be used to dye a gorgeous lining for the jacket.

I'll take the stencils to Noguchi's place with my first wave of workshop students this spring and see what we can do.

Very very exciting days...

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Monkeys, Drag Queens, Glasgow and Van Morrison & the City of Paisley.

I went running a few days back and a group of twenty-odd monkeys came racing up the mountain from below out of the tea fields and spilled up onto the road around me and ran with me a few dozen meters.

At that moment I was listening in rapture to Van Morrison on earphones. Thinking about the opening lyrics to Domino with a big grin...

Don't want to discuss it
I think it's time for a change
You may get disgusted
Start thinkin' that I'm strange
In that case I'll go underground
Get some heavy rest
Never have to worry
About what is worst and what is best (get it)
Oh oh Domino (all right)
Roll me over Romeo

There you go

Lord have mercy
I said oh oh Domino
Roll me over Romeo
There you go
Say it again
I said oh oh Domino
I said oh oh Domino,

I had to stop and laugh and dance for the monkeys....."there you go... Lord have mercy..."
I punched the air Rocky-style smiling so hard I couldn't laugh and I swear a few of the monkeys joined in with me for the following verse dancing in the trees...
The Van Morrison and the monkeys....agh...  I never finished writing that blog in Glasgow started in December.

Domino Van Morrison

Back in Glasgow after some quiet time on the Isle of Skye I wandered for hours on end in the streets holding my camera by my waist with the flip out viewfinder secretly taking endless pictures of mostly unsuspecting random people walking down the street or preparing for a Christmas parade or staring into a pawnshop window looking at guitars.  I've been in the habit of this for years. In Russia,  Georgia, New York, Melbourne, India..
You get drunks and punks and mates. Occasionally a couple in love, a toddler with a walleye eating a sugar glazed donut.

The moment was gone.

The already low-angled solstice sun lowered, it was raining and snowing and the buskers were mixing in Christmas carols next to Rolling Stone covers. I nicked into a pub to sit quietly and edit out the blurry pictures, the empty frames, close-ups of down jackets and think about the habitats of the city I captured for my own amusement digitally.

I got my pint and some chips and glanced around the pub to see who my fellow sleet-escaping buddies were.

A little on the gloomy and serious side.

All ages and no specific dress code. Even the matron who moved in on me and was curious and looking to start up a conversation as soon as I looked away for my camera editing.....

Where you from?

I had to smile.

She was speaking with a deep Glaswegian patter.

She had to smile back...she raises both arched eyebrows, one at a time, and turns her head slightly, glances sideways, coyly up and away and takes a sip through a straw of her cocktail and lets the razor stubble, eyeliner and peculiar cleavage and husky voice register and then the eyes move back to meet mine and then the head follows for dramatic effect.


A few pints later I had heard her family story.

A North Irish bricklayer father who had eloped with her Scottish mother to escape the troubles and then escaped the troubles of looking after a family and vanished. She was living with her bloody handsome straight brother, built like a refrigerator, who came back from Iraq with a post-traumatic disorder and was between wife number three and four.

So what do you do in Canada?

I'm a farmer and a textile designer and actually, I have lived in Japan for the last thirty years.

I raised my eyebrows, turned my head slightly, gave it my best world-weary distant gaze, (probably man-spread a little), took an intentional manly drink of my beer and then moved my eyes back to meet hers and then slightly pivoted my head so the vision and the nose lined up and locked at 90 degrees.

I thought of that old song..."When love congeals, it reveals, the faint aroma of performing seals."

She blinked those clumpy mascaraed lashes in rapid succession. Three quickies and a slow rise. Set them and smiled while seemingly making her incisors grow a little...

Well.... you must go to Paisley then. It is only an hour away. That is where all the paisley was made for the world in the days. The trains leave Glasgow station every twenty minutes.

So the next day...

No weaving has taken place in the town of Paisley since before WWII. Living in my village in Japan where every single house had produced silk for hundreds of years I know how that industry determined generations of local's lives. Again, the not-well-funded-aesthetic of small museum rooms with donated looms with moth-eaten threads dryly suspended from the front and back beams, rusted heddles and miscellany of weaving production awkwardly displayed on poorly made display boxes and cabinets.

It was a wonderful three hours non-the-less. Reading through the placard history of the weaving union workers and the history of the shawl adaptations as styles changed and seeing some beautiful work was well worth the short trip from Glasgow.

The sad Christmas fair with almost empty amusement rides in the town square I'd have to pass through again to enter the train station made me reluctant to brace the cold and wind. I bought a good book on Paisley from the museum gift shop and sat in front of a life-sized paper mâché Darth Vader near a radiator and read it until it was 5:00 and the museum decided to close.

This makes the paisley shawl make sense. One minute clip.

I did go back to the Scottish pub in Glasgow the next day humming, 'Madame George' but she wasn't there.

Pure Heaven.

Down on Cyprus Avenue
With a childlike vision leaping into view
Clicking, clacking of the high heeled shoe
Ford and Fitzroy, Madame George
Marching with the soldier boy behind
He's much older now with hat on drinking wine
And that smell of sweet perfume comes drifting through
The cool night air like Shalimar
And outside they're making all the stops
The kids out in the street collecting bottle-tops
Gone for cigarettes and matches in the shops
Happy taken Madame George
That's when you fall
Whoa, that's when you fall
Yeah, that's when you fall
When you fall into a trance
Sitting on a sofa playing games of chance
With your folded arms and history books
You glance into the eyes of Madame George
And you think you found the bag
You're getting weaker and your knees begin to sag
In a corner playing dominoes in drag
The one and only Madame George
And then from outside the frosty window raps
She jumps up and says, Lord, have mercy I think it's the cops
And immediately drops everything she gots
Down into the street below
And you know you gotta go
On that train from Dublin up to Sandy Row
Throwing pennies at the bridges down below
And the rain, hail, sleet, and snow
Say goodbye to Madame George
Dry your eye for Madame George
Wonder why for Madame George
And as you leave, the room is filled with music
Laughing, music, dancing, music all around the room
And all the little boys come around, walking away from it all
So cold, and as you're about to leave
She jumps up and says, hey love, you forgot your gloves
And the gloves to love, to love the gloves
To say goodbye to Madame George
Dry your eye for Madame George
Wonder why for Madame George
Dry your eyes for Madame George
Say goodbye in the wind and the rain on the back street
In the backstreet, in the back street
Say goodbye to Madame George
In the backstreet, in the back street, in the back street
Down home, down home in the back street
Gotta go, say goodbye, goodbye, goodbye
Dry your eye, your eye, your eye, your eye, your eye
Say goodbye to Madame George
And the loves to love to love the love
Say goodbye, goodbye, goodbye
Say goodbye goodbye, goodbye, goodbye to Madame George
Dry your eye for Madame George
Wonder why for Madame George
The love's to love, the love's to love, the love's to love
Say goodbye, goodbye

Get on the train
Get on the train, the train, the train
This is the train, this is the train
Whoa, say goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye
Get on the train, get on the train

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Sad Days

I have been hibernating the past few months.

There was record cold streak here in the mountains.

I didn't mind it. Of course, this old house is freezing in the winter. Pipes freeze. Toilets freeze. The outdoor bath is heaven once you are in it. It is getting undressed and into the shower and slipping on ice on the wooden floor in your bare feet.

But it makes you feel alive!

The new year has not been without textile adventures. I've gone to Japanese kimono sewing classes once a week for the past few months. It is said that you cannot call yourself a kimono maker until you have sewn 100 of them. Not 98 or even 99 but 100.

 I am on hanten jacket 20 something.....still a few more to go. I'm taking meticulous notes and photographs for........a book I started writing on the subject. Shooting for 2020...

I set up the big Finnish loom with some gorgeous handspun alpaca yarn I picked up in Victoria, BC last June. Indigo Carole sent me some gorgeous Scottish yarn that is working itself into the weft.

Many thanks.

I usually weave things that show the beauty of the yarn/thread. Plain weave or an occasional twill.

Not this time.

Having spent some time in Europe in the winter I felt nostalgic for something old and religious. I decided to weave some gothic crosses blankets. Listening to some Doestovski chapters on monastery life in Russia and Dark Nights of the Soul by St. John of the Cross while I weave away in the cold silence. Pets around the heaters keeping me quiet company while Hiro is in Brazil to escape the cold.

It is a shadow weave with 8 harnesses. The peddling sequence is 52 steps for one pattern. I made a few boo boos the first few repeats but seem to have it correct now.

I visited my friend in the hospital almost every day the past few months. He was born in this old silk farmhouse 79 years ago. Many of you who have come to visit or study here have met him. He would come by almost every morning to visit. We cleaned up the mountain underbrush. Kept the tea terraces in good form. Picked yuzu oranges together. Dug bamboo shoots in the spring. He was born into a silk farming family and silk farmed a good part of his life. He was a charcoal maker as well.

His old farmhouse was full of silk farming and kimono weaving equipment.

"Use it or burn it."

And he showed me over the years what many of those odd-looking tools were for. He smiled when I had a tattoo of one of his old silk farming trays drawn on my forearm.

He let me live in this house 24 years ago. It is a very conservative village. No one would think of lending a house to a long-haired broken-Japanese speaking (at that time) Canadian guy with a scruffy beard and a scruffy dog.

He did.

Just for the fun of it.

Open-hearted and helpful.

He was patient, resourceful and affectionate.  A cheerful homebody.

He wasn't quarrelsome or greedy.

Always watching the foibles of the often close-minded villagers with a wry smile.

Never any ill-will to anyone.

He spent all his life in these few square kilometers.

A sparkle in his eyes.

Thanks to him hundreds of people from around the world have had the opportunity to stay in an old farmhouse in the mountains of Japan and have some context for the textile history and techniques they come to study from me. Celia sent her thanks to him a few weeks ago.

I explained to him in the hospital that a red-head beauty from Holland wanted to thank him for helping her life. I think he understood.

I sat with him yesterday and told him about the last of the snow melting. How much my dental work was costing.  Hiro was back from Brazil. The monkeys ran up the side of the mountain and joined me for a jog.

He passed away a few hours later.

I will miss you Kiyotaka Sugimoto.