Saturday, 17 August 2019

Summertime Indigo Life.

An Australian doctor, an artist/ teacher from Hong Kong, an artist/teacher from France. We spent ten days together in the heat here in the mountains getting to know each other and time at the indigo vats and time in the river rinsing the cloth. It was a beautiful time. There was harmony and happiness the entire time. Hiro kept us well fed. We were all valuing the precious time we had together. 
I am thinking of packing in the live-in workshops one of these years. I will have to find some solace somewhere from the sadness of not having times in the future like these past ten days.
My lovely dog Momo was bitten by a pit viper and was in the hospital for a week. She came home and for a few days Joanne, Yuk Ling and Helene were able to meet her. She is getting better day by day. 
We harvested three varieties of indigo. Persimmon dyed in the morning before the heat was too much. Some projects ready for the next steps. To be embellished and cut up and stitched together. 
Hiro arranged lotus flowers on the dining room table.
Magical days...and Momo is better....























Tuesday, 2 July 2019


Most of the silkworms have been spitting out silk since yesterday. Spinning a cocoon around themselves so that they are safe to metamorphosis into moths.
They are like tubes of toothpaste. They are practically empty when the cocoon is finished three days later. The little nub that remains hardens and a moth forms.
It is quite easy to find the end of the thread and unravel over a kilometer of a silk filament. Or melt the cocoon into a floss and spin it. I do it both ways but these years I prefer the spun silk. 
They hatched 29 days ago and were the size of medium ground black pepper. They eat for days and then stop and shed their skins and then eat some more. They shed four times.
The last week they eat constantly. Fresh mulberry leaves only.
Their appetite slows and then stops. They sit still for a few hours while the liquid they have accumulated from eating mulberry leaf turns into a liquid silk inside them. Then they start to walk and climb looking for a reasonable place to make a cocoon. 
Silk farmers around the world figured out different frames from natural materials on hand to make a place for them to cocoon. Branches of shrubs evolved into bamboo and straw woven tools in Japan. And then to these cardboard suspended things.
They look like huge dreary brutal apartment buildings from
the 1960s and 70s. Japanese and Soviet style monstrosities I've seen first hand. Arghhh....
Charlie Chaplin could have done a good job on silk farming parody. 
Beneath the hilarity of being farmed and fed and pampered...the fears and sorrows of every silk worm. 
As I picked up the fallen silkworms for hours on end and replaced them inside the cubicles and hoped they would start to cocoon in the space I allotted them quickly so I can get some sleep I was thinking of Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick.
How would they use this melancholic scene as a metaphor for our Modern Times?
Ingmar would have been direct...memory... the reality of cruelty...
Kubrick...would have used dark humor and music....
Memory...
I was thinking of how I took time to make those beautiful bamboo and straw cocoon spaces for the worms for years. How I despised the green plastic ones from the Ministry of Agriculture I have used. 
Some silkworms have escaped the dreary safety of pre-arranged destiny accommodation and made cocoons in corners around the house. 
There are other things around the house that are nesting.
The endangered forest frogs are laying eggs all over the yard. There is not enough space for them all to survive at my place. Tadpole mortality rates are low but with too many they attract too many poisonous snakes and other enemies. 
Yumbo Suzuki took two big foam bags of frog eggs home to his pond for his son to see hatch and grow. 
And dear Momo... she is deaf and her eyes are going. She is odd. Her trauma from being a Fukushima refugee seems to haunt her again. She has been a house dog for years. She prefers to spend her days and often nights outside now up behind the house. She has dug a little space for herself and looks forlorn up there when I look out the kitchen window and see her. 
Richard Grehan and I walked to the top village with three old silk farming houses two days ago with his wife and son. It was raining and the mist was rolling up the sides the mountains. It was pure poetry.
The slowness and sense of time almost made me gag on my busyness. It rose in my throat several times. 
We interrupted a couple and their bear dog while they were having lunch. They were siting outside with a small hibachi heating a charming cast iron kettle of water for tea. 
They have rented a small section of a barn belonging to one of the houses. 
25 years ago I was offered to rent the same small derelict space. Life would have been different if I had. 
Humble surroundings and the simplicity of the tea and the steaming rice ball they offered Richard's son made my heart ache. This extremely simple space with clothes hanging by a cheap metal pot-bellied stove seemed the epitome of sophistication. 
When is enough enough?








Workshop Season Over for a While.


Spring workshops finished this afternoon. I have had three months of solid work. Most of it completely enjoyable. Dozens of live-in guests at the house. I can't even begin to thank all the help I have received in making the whole thing run smoothly. Hiro, Keiwa, Takeshima, Sumi and Debbie.... Thank you. How may thousands of tasks completed? Thank you to all the wonder students who shared their talent and time with me. 
We had tea ceremony yesterday and Mr Whiteboots bombed the whole thing with his cuteness.
Silkworms are almost ready to spin cocoons. 
Busy days coming to an end.
The house and garden are tidy and bed is waiting at sunset.
The rainy season has started.




Textile Workshop



They are on the bullet train now. I just had 18 guests at the house for 12 days. An amazing amount of indigo work, a lot of time spent in close quarters, eating and sleeping and creating. I’m exhausted but very satisfied. Baby silkworms to look after as well. Managed some down time at the camp fire.






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: japanesetextileworkshops@gmail.com for a brochure of upcoming workshops.