Friday, 14 June 2019

A lot is going on here at the farm in May and June.

Tea Harvest. Live-in workshops. Silkworms. Indigo planting. 

The last ten-day live-in workshop of the spring ended yesterday.
It makes me smile to see the students reluctantly leaving the house wanting to 
'...stay here forever'.  

It is a sort of heaven I suppose. No need to worry about food. Hiro is a great cook. Cabin fever... I make sure you get out of here every few days to see something interesting and go shopping. The rest of the time is just sleeping, socialising and making textiles and listening to textile related lectures. A lot of supplies on hand and indigo to dye  in to your hearts content. 

I had five workshops this spring. Two regular indigo workshops. One Hanten jacket making course, a huge indigo production workshop group lead by Debbie Maddy and the annual Sumindigo course with people related to Otis Design school in LA.

For the most part I enjoy the workshops immensely. (Occasionally there are idiots that make me wish I had a trap door next to the indigo vat that I could one-way flush them to the train station with a single pull of a indigo cord.) Many interesting people staying at the house. Although I am busy I can hear their stories out if the corner of my ear as they talk and get to know each other and I can see there talent and skills as I work on their indigo projects together.

The cold early spring and cherry blossoms slowly turned into glorious green mountainside and tulips and daffodil paradise. Ending with an early misty rainy season. 

Silence today, except the sound of silkworms munching away. 

Unfortunately I don't have the time to document the workshops. I have too much going on.

The hanten jacket course is two weeks long. We had some great work come out of it this time. They each made two jackets. Hand sewn and at least one of them hand indigo dyed with hand cut stenciled insignia dyed with indigo. 

There is such huge volume of amazing work dyed at the indigo vats. It should all be documented but there is never time.

Some of the mokume shibori the students stitch for homework gets photographed.

And some group photos get taken.

We make a lot of samples during the workshop and they are often made into a kind of Buddhist  patch blanket when the students get home. Wonderful work. 

And of course soot dyeing.

Please contact me at: for a brochure of upcoming workshops.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Daddy Waiting.

I have been raising silkworms for over 20 years. Last year I took year off. 1000 eggs about to hatch tomorrow. Such anticipation and excitement. The mulberry is salad fresh. Daddy is waiting. A few months from now I should have some beautiful hand spun silk floss thread.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Winter Silence

The blog was quiet and hibernating.

I had the house to myself all winter. Hiro was in Brazil for three and a half months. I went to New Zealand for a trip. I loved it. I kept busy with textile related stuff... I just didn't write about it.

I sat on cold nights and wove the gothic cross alpaca blankets I had warped a year ago while listening to The Brothers Karamazov for the umpteenth time.
There was something wrong with the dent so I bought a new reed and re-sleighed it less densely. It looks great now. My buddy Yumbo came over to build a stone wall behind the pond and tried weaving for the first time.

Whiteboots immediately made the freshly woven blanket his own.

There were a few kilograms of medium dyed madder wool lying around that was not asking to be woven into anything. A few kilograms of madder and a re-mordanting.....

The two working back strap looms were empty and sad upstairs.
I warped them both in a few days and they are so happy to be of use again.

The indigo vats are open for the year! Diana Sanderson from the Silk Weaving Studio in Vancouver was here for a visit and the de-sludging of the sleeping vat.

Tobie and Janie were here for a visit and they managed some gorgeous work in a short time.

We visited Noguchi san for the day.

Cocoons were reeled and silk hankies were made.

There is never enough time. Never. 

I had a few cancellations for ten-day workshops this year. If you are interested. Please get in touch.


Quick visit to Laos

I worked on a few development projects in Laos 15 years ago.
It was all very exotic and exciting spending time in ethnic minority villages in the mountains of northern Laos. The learning curve was in your face.
What development work is. What the world might look like for traditional villagers when roads are built next to their isolated-for-millennia villages and a slightly better lighted and complex world starts to swallow their existence. 
The expat world of do-gooders, opportunists, nut cases and CIA operative do-gooders/opportunists/nut cases….
In short….I loved it. 
I was in the back of a dusty truck bouncing and sliding through the mud through the damaged tropical landscape. Smiling so much my face hurt….an added addition to the adventure was the impossibly handsome, charismatic French surgeon beaming and laughing while we tried to hang on and to not get thrown overboard by the teenage driver.
We were out of the truck and then wading across a muddy slippery stream to arrive in a dusty village of thatched huts as the sun set.
Inside a smokey hut our small group with the help of a translator tried explaining the protocols of a fair trade project.
The absurdity …… 
When asked how she would spend the wave of money that would flood into the village as our handicraft project flourished and lifted them out of poverty with schools and flush toilets….. and electricity ….. a village wise woman enthusiastically rattled on…pakpukpidywak..ajinomoto..snuckslackjatanalke..
I stopped the translator because I had distinctly heard the word “Ajinomoto”. The Japanese brand name for monosodium glutamate.
In the oil lamp lit, smoke circling in blackened rafters and molding palm frond thatched hut on stilts…
Sure enough…that is what she was hoping to purchase with the future village wealth.
I had the translator tell her, “It’s bad for you.”
He translated her tart words back to me, “I know but it tastes sooooo good.”
So much for sewer systems and graduate school scholarships.
I later snooped around the village and saw an impossibly horrible opium smoking dead-eyed father with a tangle of thin-legged hungry kids sleeping lengthwise across the battered broken floor slats of their home so they wouldn't fall through to the ground below. A pathetic drug deal instead of a monosodium glutamate deal materialized on a foggy screen in my sensory overloaded head.
I had the dumbest resume one earth…well so dumb I would have been humiliated to have written it down at the time.
I’d spent the last ten years of my life in a small village in the mountains of Japan learning about primitive silk farming and natural dyes and weaving traditional Japanese textiles. Along the way I had learn to repair silk farming, silk reeling and weaving tools. A few contemporary skills like breeding silk moths and using contemporary spinning and reeling and throwing machines.
I had missed the 90s completely. 
I'd been doing this simply out of anthropological curiosity and a habit I’d picked up as a kid to take things apart and be interested in long processes that ended up in some sort of art work….think 60’s Ford Mustangs and eagle feather Indian headdresses. 
Heading back in the back of the truck Dr Philippe had somehow sussed out the carefully shabbied, shaggy-pony-tailed 40-year-old-me … the skills and openness to adventure and his offer of work in Laos had my head spinning. 
A few years later the recession of 2008 put an end to the development games.
I’d seen Philippe a few times over the years since then. I was in Bangkok a while back and flew up to spend a few days with him and his family in Laos. 
Vientiane was much as I remembered it. 
We drove by the spot where we had a motorcycle accident many years ago. Cracked bones in my ribs, right foot and left hand. Still bothers me in bad weather. 
A dog had run out in the street in front of us.
Hours later as Philippe was finishing up a plaster cast for my arm and the beer painkillers were really working I asked him with genuine concern, “What happened to the dog?” His eyes twinkled and he mischievously kissed his fingertips and said, “Bon appetite.”
Philippe and Babette still keep the silk business going. He scooters back and forth to the hospital to operate a few times a week. Farming super foods has his attention now. Endless curiosity of life around him, a bear hug and a big smile as he moves through his compassionate, gregarious and humor-filled life.
Pictures now and then.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Japanese Traditional Book Binding

A tiny handmade box with a tiny book inside.

I am at a loss for words.
The Present God has graced me with something special.
Last September I ran a Japanese book binding course at the house. A group of ten strangers on my doorstep for ten-days of living together in the old barn. Although the place is huge we eat, indigo dye and work in close quarters. 
Most of the time the human dynamics are very good. We don’t get on each other's nerves. It is a little bit of an orchestra…we sacrifice a bit of our individuality for the benefit of the group. 
I was in rough shape and heading out for intravenous drips every morning and Yamazaki sensei graciously taught the book and box making part of the course where I managed to teach the indigo dyeing part.
The bamboo on the mountainside. The cats and Momo the dog are quiet presences. Steady Hiro in the kitchen keeping an eye on things. Occasionally monkeys scrambling through the green underbrush around the house. 

Throughout the year we had the wettest slushy snow and skin searing heat quieted by sunset indigo washing trips to the river. The sweetest softest green spring days and moody blue/black late autumn skies. 
A lot of variables…along with the sometimes scrambling, slushy, searing, softest, moody temporary human inhabitants of the house.
Kate is from Sydney. Once she arrived and we all get to know each other I saw that she is a very accomplished book maker.(Amongst other things...multi- talented.) I wondered if she was getting anything out of the course. Kind and quiet and talented…humble as they come.
This small book box with a book inside is a mini version of the books we made together.... arrived in the post last week.
Inside are the loveliest watercolors of the the house, the bamboo and of course the ridiculously over photogenic house dog, Momo.
I'm at a loss for words. 
I was able to see again a glimpse of her experience of the workshop.

It is a reward…I sometimes get frustrated with the work. A few times I’ve wanted to call it quits.
The photos people take of the workshop and each other and around the house of the endless amount textile related paraphernalia move me.
When I see that strangers who met at the workshop keep in touch and visit each other….even on different continents….
Makes me feel good. I suppose the workshops can be likened to a magnet. A brief orbit is created. And the larger orbit of the participants sometimes collide.
The orbits often bring students back to the house. 

Thank you otters.
Thank you, Kate. The precious little book will live on the precious-little-things-shelf forever.