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.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Indigo Quilt

I run a two-week traditional Japanese Hanten/Firemans jacket sewing/dying workshop at the farmhouse here twice a year. The students are often repeaters who have come back to Japan to visit/study with me here time and time again.

One of the jackets we work on is a very ambitious project. Designing an insignia for the back of the jacket. Cutting a stencil for that. Deciding the colors to use. Soot for blacks and greys. Madder for pinks and reds. Indigo for all the blue tones. (And combining these for more nuanced colors) There are sight variations of sleeve length and width and body length and drape etc. Dying a full lining with persimmon tannin. Putting together antique cloth to make a second hanten....

It is a fun but intense stitch filled two weeks. Living together and eating together and making artistic choices in front of each other.

And some strong beautiful accomplished characters from all ends of the planet.

The designs are so personal. Although we focus on perfecting our own design while learning the construction and dyeing techniques we are aware of our fellow hanten otters working on their individual projects.

My old buddy Jacky Eyre did something special that made me tear up with delight and and gratitude.

I repeated a story to Jacky and the students from Yazaki san the kimono seamstress whom I have known for 25 years.

"You can't call yourself a kimono maker until you have made 100. Not 98 not 99 but 100."

The old saying is not just referring to a kimono stitcher. It is meant to refer to all crafts...writing, playing an instrument and stonemasonry. (Some of these skills are more quantifiable.)

Having made a few dozen of these jackets myself over the years but knowing that true mastery is elusive...maybe two hundred at my pace.

Jacky made me this quilt with 100 hantens. At first glance I could see that it was constructed with Japanese folk textile scraps.

I was moved.

It was a lot to take in at once with a group of people watching me open and receive the gift.

I was smiling in gratitude and admiring the overall design and color scheme. I felt a little choke up coming with the 100 hanten theme.

Then one block caught my eye. It was a hanten with a large box kite embroidered on the back. It was instantly recognizable as lovely Alex's lovely design.

A single tear escaped and then I noticed that the central panels were all images of the other students in Jacky's group hantens. I bit my lower lip to stop the flood and walked into the adjoining room to hide my tears.

Jacky is a larger-than-life-no-nonsense-practical-clear-blue-eyed-Australian-tough-beautiful woman.

She captured those two precious weeks of being together and put them in that quilt with humor and respect and talent.

(One rule Bryan....No shagging on top of that quilt...but underneath is fine.)

Camilla  meticulously placed carp stencils her hanten.
Molly the surgeon chose a brain and heart insignia. (Heart on the sleeve.)
Jo used antique material carefully composed.
Melissa who lives in a forest carefully drew a pine motif.
Harriet the social justice activist  meticulously hand wrote out the names of the victims of a factory fire in  Britain in the early 20th century on the lining and an emblem of worker/ farmer solidarity on the back,
Sophie the French architect was tired of concrete and used a butterfly motif.
Alex used her kite motif.
I used some old persimmon and indigo scraps.
Jacky hand pasted concentric circles on her hanten.
There were many other references to our time spent together here in Japan and Australia.

So it all gets an A plus another A.
It works together and has a spirit. 
Thank you Jacky. 

Misc. pictures of the workshop last spring. Thank you.

And our perfect kimono sewing teacher Keiko Yazaki with her shy back to the camera.