Friday, 19 December 2014

End of the Year Musings

It is the end of the year. Once again instead of having a pricey "forgetting-the-old-year-party" at a restaurant the Tuesday students and I spent the day making miso at the house. 100 kg of miso. (Miso is fermented soybeans and is used in Japanese cooking. Plenty of vegetable protein.) We can remember the cold winter day and the nutritious fellowship we are to each other for the rest of the year when we have a simple bowl of miso soup.

The beans are put in fresh stream water the night before and then boiled for six hours in the clean (no Mordants) dye pots. The soft beans are placed into a big zelkova mortar (That is used as a clothes hamper for the other 364 days of the year.) and squashed with a massive wooden pestle.

Rice with the appropriate bacteria and salt are turned in by hand into the steaming mush. The miso mix is flattened into ceramic crock pots and left to ferment for six to ten months before it is ripe.

Home made miso using the best beans and stream water is better than what you can buy. It makes it's way into almost every day's menu.

We had some guests over to help with the taxing business of smushing beans by hand. Tohei and Shunji and friends.

The day started with light snow. The fire was there to add spoil us...then we ended up spoiling the fire...

The cold and rain did not bother us. It was a perfect productive day. Great timing as a box from Austria with a big block of cheese, a bottle of schnapps, a chunk of smoked meat and an antique Persian carpet I picked up a few months back arrived by post to make the second party indoors complete. 

Shunji, it is always an honour to have you over. All this traditional Japanese textile work...weaving and silkworms etc. gets heavy. Knowing about the traditional techniques and aesthetics and all the other anthropological background to the textiles is important. What about making them relative to our lives now? That is where I respect your work as a designer. There are a few designers in Japan who do use the rich history of Japanese textiles in a fun and intelligent way. Shunji designed a fare share of this work at Kapital...the contemporary denim House of the Holy.

After a four ridiculously busy years I have some time off now. I was filled with self-loathing every time I bitched about being "crazy busy" the past years. Busy is good. But busy eats your soul. 

There needs to be some more work done on the yard and carpentry work here and there. The house is quiet and clean and warm inside while it is minus 5 outside. I spend the evenings with the doggies curled up nearby sketching and sewing in solitude. ( I am the one sketching and sewing not Momo and Geiger.)

Yesterday was the last day for indigo dyeing at the house. The atmosphere was festive with even a hint of Christmas decoration outside (thank you Hiro...Christmas has been ignored here for twenty years and the slow revival pace is perfect....maybe even a Christmas tree one of these years.) and some frankincense (Thank you Cynthia in Dubai... there is still some left!) on the heater all day. 

A good proportion of the indigo grown this year is still on the stalks. Nothing better than a cold few hours by the fire stripping leaves off. The bed of straw in the barn is almost ready to start the three month composting of the indigo leaves. An ember from the fire landed in the dry leaves in the mortar, (taking an extra day off from clothes hamper duty.) and I smiled before leaping up to extinguish it before all that work went up in smoke. Just the wooden mortar of blue leaves was satisfying enough....why ask for more?  

It was a Leonard Cohen moment.

Plenty of smiles even in the cold. Global warming was not doing it's job so a heater was needed to keep the behinds warm while hands froze in the indigo.

Good hibernation indigo vats....see you in the spring.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Recycled/Reformed Sweaters

I dropped by a box of old sweaters at Jun and Mixer's place a few months back. Some of them hand spun/knit and have lost their shape or I'm bored with the collar etc. Others are cheap uniqlo impulse purchases on a cold day.  Jun cuts them up and  makes something more exciting out of them.  What a great service. Jun's sense of space and emptiness is very Japanese. I have another wedding on Saturday and wanted something  formal and elegant. The black and grey together do the trick.

Hiro picked up a recycled/reformed sweater beauty the other day as well. Could there possibly be a sweater on the planet that  could look better on this handsome guy? Winter hit suddenly a week back. A few days of strong winds and the leaves were off the trees. Some heavy frosts and even a snow flurry. Time to hibernate in this drafty old place. Bears with cool sweaters. 

Mixer's hand stitched blankets are works that need time to absorb. The message is slowly released.  The red sashiko threads run like blood in arteries throughout the work. Hundreds and hundreds of hours spent on a single piece. 
Mark has a sign in his workspace: "No Commercial Potential." He was leaving last summer and I had to steal away and take him to meet my friends. The thought that they would not have met seemed an injustice to the universe. You know that feeling when you start crying and not understanding why? Then you realize that it  because all is right, there will never ever be a moment like the one you are in and nothing is better than a few precious moments with friends. 



Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Hand Sewing A Japanese Firefighter Jacket.

Although the jacket looks deliciously well worn it has yet to be worn once. It was  just finished being sewed a few hours ago. The cotton is from some antique bed sheets from France. I cut the stencil and dyed it last August but just got around to sewing it up the past few days. 

The sheets were cut up into 40 centimetre wide strips and sewn together. Measuring out the positions of the sleeve stripes and white borders along the bottom were a bit of guesswork as I hadn't sewn one before. The red comes from this pigment box.

I am hoping it is not real cinnabar. (Poisonous mercury mining by-product.) It is probably a simple chemical vermillion. I mixed it with crushed fresh soybeans and water increasing the concentration of soy milk and pigment with each coat. Red from madder root would look better. (Like the dye used on the rug.)

The stencil was only going to be used twice so it wasn't worth lacquering a net on. It was placed under a lacquered screen I threw together just for that purpose and the rice paste scraped across the surface. 

Chimney soot mixed with soy milk was painted on to Japanese character for the 'manly'  black lettering and a more diluted solution on the length of the cloth several times to get a medium grey. (Ok... I was having a bad day creatively not coming up with a better character than that. ) Cloth dyed this colour and then dipped in indigo has a more magical quality than a straight indigo dips. The dips were up to ten minutes long. The soot was probably painted on to save on indigo.


This is the second of ten jackets I want to hand sew in the next few months so I can teach the sewing construction myself. These jackets are wearable and easier to sew than kimono. Hand stitching a jacket is simply wonderful. Taking the time to know the garment so intimately. I hope to offer some courses in making these jackets in 2016 here at the farmhouse. From designing the patterns and cutting the stencils, making the rice paste and actually sewing the jackets by hand. Stitch by stitch. 

Taking notes to eventually put together a manual on making these things.

The idea for the red shoulders comes from Edo period fire fighters jackets not 70's Canadian ice hockey uniforms.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Indigo Wedding Presents

My good old friend Luc got married recently at the Meiji Shrine. The ceremony and dinner party was just for close friends and family. The bigger party and dinner will be next weekend. Luc is a celebrity in the beer world as a master brewer. He fell in love with Japan over ten years ago. He then fell in love with Eri. He moved to Japan and bought a bankrupt brewery and got it up and running  (and selling out of beer immediately).

Eri wore a traditional kimono for the wedding ceremony in the back recesses of the Shinto shrine. The hat is called,"hiding the horns of jealousy". They are made of silk but not long ago they were actually silk floss hankies that the newly wed bride would take to her new home and spin into thread to weave. 

In Japan, the couple give presents to the guests who attend the wedding. We spent the day indigo dyeing presents. Long tenugui towels that will wrap individual bottles of beer that Luc is brewing specially for the occasion.

One good beer wrapped in a hand dyed indigo tenugui. We made one hundred of them in two days. Hopefully the people who receive them will treat them with some respect and keep them for a long time. (The beer should be savoured as well.)  

The tenugui before they are cut into sections are drying upstairs next to this years crop of indigo that will be fermented into indigo paste in a few weeks time.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Ink and Wax Painting in Japan.

My friends know Eros Nakazato as the guy with the great  hair who makes cool stuff around my house. (Like the outdoor bath light and the staircase railing going upstairs. )  We have had a few exhibitions together in Europe over the years.

He had an exhibition of a sumi ink painting he did on cloth at our local restaurant last month. As always it was breathtaking... his work sort of takes the oxygen out of the room.

Of course it was filled with horses. The background writing is a poem written by a Japanese poet/ essayist in the final months of the second world war. The painting referenced some of Eros older work and of course the tsunami and Fukushima.

He did not melt the wax off and left it there to add to the surreal lighting from behind. The only colour was on the moon behind the horse.

(Please click to see them up close.)

Yoshio and Liu are in there to give some scale to the picture.

His sculpture work is also very good.

And the man himself. 

Years ago he drew this horse and snail for our exhibition in Liechtenstein. 

Friday, 28 November 2014

Dyeing Leather With Indigo.

There have been a few guys at the house the past year trying to get an idea of how to dye leather with indigo. I don' have that much direct experience but keep an eye on the experiments going on in the indigo vats.

There is a huge difference in how different leathers take the indigo. Of course the leather should not be treated with anything. The key is to have the leather well wet before dyeing. A few hours in warm water to be safe. Brushing the leather with a soft brush in the water helps to get in wet evenly so the dye job will be even.

The indigo should be top condition. Keep the leather under the indigo for at least five minutes. Not the average one or two minutes. Oxidise for at least ten minutes then rinse the leather thoroughly and brush it lightly to take off any indigo pigment that is simple caught up in the fibres of the leather but not actually attached to the leather. Repeat this until you get the depth of colour you want. Remember the leather looks dark but will dry several shades lighter.

To neutralise the alkalinity of the indigo before it damages the leather and shrinks up nastily, wash and wash and rinse the leather. Use whatever kind of cream etc. that you usually use to keep some suppleness.  If the leather is not taking the indigo well let the object dry and wait a few days before repeating the process.

The indigo makes a simple mechanical bond with the leather like it does with blue jeans. It will abrade off. This cannot be helped. Sealants etc. can help but the indigo leather will weather. Calculate this into your design aesthetic and make sure your client knows this well before selling.

Jonathan, (Bandana Almanac fame. was here yesterday from Osaka to dye some leather boot uppers.  They looked great and look forward to wearing a pair in a few months. The order will end up in Chicago.

Leather can successfully be dyed with indigo. It takes some experimenting and understanding the properties of both the indigo and the leather being dyed.  It is possible to use stencil dyeing with leather. Don't expect crisp clear lines though.

Jonathan carefully starts the dyeing.

Mid dye.

Five dips later and ready to dry. I would't wear good light coloured socks with these boots at first.

How could I write about indigo leather dyeing without including a picture of the belt I wear almost every day. Hand carved with a sketch of the indigo vat it was dyed in at the tip, preceded by lotus, carp and bamboo and a chrysanthemum images. (Thanks to the Irish carver out there in Italy.)

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The blog has been quiet but not the house.

I didn't have time to write enough on the exhibition in Europe. Barbara's sharp curating eye did a good job with the old advertising towels I persimmon dyed and patched together to resemble knock off buddhist kesas. It was good to catch up with old friends in Liechtenstein. Muriel and Ullie travelling all that way to spend a few precious hours.  Mark driving up from Italy to lend his uber talented hands to the whole effort. Thank you all for all the help and support.

Rickie Lee Jones says it best:

I'm soulful and grateful and gleeful
Hey, hey yeah
Caught me in its ray

Tender moments at the indigo vat in Liechtenstein when a beautiful mother traces an indigo tattoo on her beautiful son's arm.

After coming back from Liechtenstein in late September the house has been full of students and the indigo vats have not been lonely.

Hundreds of photos taken by myself and friends...I can't keep track of them.

We visited Noguschi san's stencil paradise three times this autumn.

97 year old Ogata san comes by and makes udon for us for lunch on Tuesdays.

Hiro fills the house with his magic flower arrangements.

There is always that last midnight silk cocoon reeling demonstration because we are behind schedule and the workshop wouldn't be the workshop without it. And the last second group picture.

And of course students work. There were too many works to document. I lose sometimes. The students bring originality and determination. get first prize for your mokume shibori and your repeat stencil was amazing. 

The good will of the workshop members who travel from all corners of the planet to spend time at my house overwhelms me. Thank you all. You give my life meaning. Thank you.

There are moments of calm now. Momo gets some reading done and the light shines peacefully thought the kitchen waiting for the fun to start again.

Click to see full images.