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.


  1. What a beautiful quilt. As a quilter and stitcher I can identify with the symbolism of the blocks but more with the labor of making a piece that encompasses memories and feelings. My class with you was an experience that still makes me tear up with joy - making new friends and realizing my true textile focus. You are much loved and respected Bryan - this quilt truely shows that. Glenda

  2. What to do to qualify for such a hanten class? 👩‍🎨💙❤️

  3. What to do to qualify for such a hanten class? 👩‍🎨💙❤️

  4. Hello,
    It's amazing! Keep doing your great work.
    Masako from Yokohama, Japan