Thursday, 25 June 2015

White Shadow / Shirokage Shibori

Muriel drops by Japan a few times a year to do research on Japanese textiles. She drops by and stays a few days now and then to use the indigo, drop off some Swiss cheese and chocolate.  I get to see her meticulous shibori work and progress.

White shadow shibori is one of the difficult shape resist techniques. It is tough to get the balance of the shapes and sizes right so the indigo does not bleed in from behind and ruin the perfect white background. She got it perfect on her last masterpiece.

First the pattern was drawn on the cotton and then painstakingly stitched and stitched. (Muriel has done some haute couture embroidery in France and knows what slow progress is all about.)



She used a q-tip to push through all the white parts to the backside. It is then tightly bound to a pipe/pole to resist the back and let only the raised ridges dye.


It is easy to see how long the oxidation of the indigo takes on the first dip as the green is so visible. By the tenth dip you can't see the green turn to blue and have to estimate how long it takes. 


Taken off the pipe the back was white! 



The moment when it comes to open it up.


Washed and dried. Perfect results.


Here are a few more pieces from Muriel this year.



She is searching out indigo in remote corners of Japan and ran across this indigo hottie. He was surprised to see her beautiful work. (Hurray Gaijin!) 



Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Mokume Shibori Magnolia Leaf Motif

Ogata san is still stitching like wildfire at 97 and three quarters. We work on projects together. This time we went for a walk and found a few beautiful magnolia trees on the dog walk path.





The magnolia leaves were drawn on with a brush and aobana (disappearing orchid ink).

Then lines were drawn at three and a half centimetre intervals up the length of the cloth and stitched from selvage to selvage jumping over the outline of the leaves. 


Ogata san took over for homework and stitched three more rows across between each row. It took a hundred or so hours to sew up the whole thing.


We pulled all the threads through and then wet it, pulled them tighter and tied them off in pairs. 


We then dyed it 12 times in strong indigo and opened it up. It was surprising to see some of the nuances of the brush strokes were still visible in the shibori.  Someone should convince Ogata san to sashiko stitch the whole piece to a back.... and give it to her indigo teacher for his birthday....or Christmas...or Boys Day...whatever...


On the same day we started this project we simply gathered some maple leaves and stencil pasted over them through a special net I rigged together.  The results were quick. The crepe texture of the cloth added visual interest to a pretty mundane technique.








And yes...that is not Momo but the famous shiba ken "Maru". He visited the house yesterday for filming a new program.  He was surprised to see that I had one of his books. Thank you Melody and Sana for that present last summer.  I never dreamed I would actually meet Maru.  Momo was flirting like crazy with him. Poor Geiger....




Thursday, 18 June 2015

Cocoons and Workshop

                      It is cool. The five week rainy season is weighing heavily on our spirits.




Ten days after the silkworms finished spinning the cocoons I removed them from the frames and took off the outside fuzz. The next step is to boil them in a straw ash solution to make silk floss and then spin the floss, dye it and then weave it.




Caroline the amazing French knit designer attended my spring ten-day Introduction to Japanese Indigo Workshop. She was so kind to write about her experience. She writes both in French and English.

Please take a look at her knit designs. I shake my head in disbelief at her work. You would keep it for years. It lacks...throw-away-ability.... I just heard that fashion is the second most polluting industry on earth next to the oil industry. Shouldn't we buy clothing we keep for twenty years?

These are the links to her blog about the indigo workshop. You can easily click around to see her work. Practise your French.


Number one
Number two
Number three

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Apartment Blocks for Silkworms

People have been clever throughout the history of silk farming making the tools needed from what is close at hand. The silkworms eat mulberry for a month and on the last day they start looking for a place to make a cocoon. (They make the cocoon to protect themselves from being eaten and to keep warm while they transform into butterflies/moths.)

In nature they would just find somewhere on the branch to make the cocoon.

When I am doing a lot of silkworms I use these folding cardboard apartments. They were developed in Japan in the 1960s. They are very practical. They save space and the silkworms are more or less forced to make uniformed sized cocoons.

The silkworms spit silk as they walk around before finding the real estate they prefer and climbing in and making a cocoon. The frames get all dirty with old silk. Instead of using a wire brush to individually clean each compartment it is easier to make an even charcoal fire and add a few pieces of wood for flame and singe off the old silk. It is a little tricky to get the heat and flame just right so that the cardboard doesn't catch fire.

                            Old silk form last year stuck on the mabushi.
Passing the mabushi over the flames to burn off the old silk.


Setting up the mabushi with Dani.



Silkworms making cocoons today in the mabushi hanging upstairs.



Alternatives to the cardboard apartments. I made this one out of rice straw and bamboo. 

A Basket used in Laos for the same purpose.

Good old cut up toilet paper rolls serve the same function.



Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Freshest Mulberry and The Freshest Guests.


The weather has been cooler than usual and the silkworms are slightly behind schedule. They are plump and stuffing themselves during the day but as the temperature drops at night they are quiet and just nibbling the mulberry. I figure there are three more days before they decide to make cocoons. 

The early blue mornings gathering mulberry in the field are hypnotic. Years of mulberry morning memories overlap and blend together. To have it cut while the dew is still on the leaves and the sun's tongue has not retreated is best. Best best best. 

The well-swept-hearth is the freshly leaved shelves and the sound of the silkworms eating like light rain. 

The gene pool is very interesting this year.





It is all about leaves this time of spring.
Tea harvest finished for another year.





Except for the sound of the worms eating the house is proper quiet. The last spring ten-day-workshop members have gone. Thank you Hilary, Jill, Sumi, Caroline, Faridah, Korrina, Jane, Janna and Frank the second.  Thank you for sharing your good will and talent and wisdom. Precious days at the indigo vats and dinner tables. Time flies. Thank you for taking a little bit of my heart and leaving me a bit of yours. Thank you. Bryan



Friday, 15 May 2015

The Cro-Magnon Silkworm Invaders




Silk farming for all these years, you get used to normal caterpillar behaviour.

Something is weird with this current batch of silkworms. The eggs were in my walk-in closet and when I stepped in a few weeks back there were thousands of little black silkworms looking for mulberry amongst old watches, unused foreign currency, expired passports and some gift sake cups I'd forgotten to get in the mail.

I brushed them with a feather onto some white paper to keep an eye on them until I found some mulberry leaves. They all looked uniformly hungry and pleased to be off the shelf.

I had bred a dozen or so moths for this spring (2015) last summer before I left for New York. While I was away last summer Hiro found some silk moths walking around on some paper and laying eggs.

He was proud of his rescue mission and I put those eggs in with the ones I had carefully chosen from good cocoons and chrysalis and moths and bred under fairly perfect sterilised conditions.

The silkworms this time around are not all behaving as they should. I noticed a few kuwako, the wild silkworms that occasionally come in on the mulberry from the field.

Then I noticed a few more. They walk around and stand on their simpler brothers and sister's heads and behave in other cheeky ways.  Climbing up the walls and running across leaves.

Something the gentrified amongst them just throw shade at.

Now I can see a good portion of my silkworms this year are these slinky Cro-Magnon types.

I am guessing that a wild stealthy silkworm moth flew into the house through an open window last summer (The moths can fly, unlike their snooty homebody Bombyx Mori distant kinmoth.) and had a good hearty romp with a welcoming trophy moth.

I imagine a black-backed-wagtail swooping down and making dinner out of him as he was 'kiss-and-telling' to his buddies flitting around the light bulb.

Insect karma.




I wrote this related blog five years ago:



Silkworms have been bred for docility as well as the quality of the silk over thousands of years. The modern hybrids won't walk more than a few centimetres to find food. If the mulberry isn't directly overhead or right beside them they would starve before going foraging for themselves. It would be just to much trouble to raise a lot of wander lusting silkworms hiding in all corners of the house. They have to stay in place. Like foot-binding the ancient Chinese were very good with limiting mobility for convenience sake. The urge to walk was simply bred out.

There is still a variety of wild silkworm closely related to his/her contemporary cousins. They are called kuwako locally. They seem Cro-Magnon like. Stockier with a large brow. Slightly hairier.

Almost always found solitary, disinterestedly nibbling on leaf..... they seem to have been cast out from all the games the other reindeer play.

You can find them occasionally on the back of mulberry leaves brought home to feed their domesticated relatives . I've tried to keep the wild ones from straying, tempting them with the freshest choice mulberry I can find. Alas, they are a free spirited variety and need to roam. So they end up on the mulberryless ceiling or squashed on the floor. I found this sexy pre-historic one on the leaves last night and is now relocated to the dozens of saplings in front of the house. I hope it hangs around long enough to make a cocoon.

You can find their thin beige-coloured cocoons in the dead of winter clinging to the bare branches of the sleeping mulberry.  A small hole on the top of the cocoon to show that no one is home and the occupant flew off as a moth months before.

Just for reference here is a photo of his modern cousins.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Silkworms in the House for almost 20 Years

I moved in to this small mountain village over twenty years ago. There was unused dusty silk farming equipment in the rafters of this old house. I had no idea what the stuff was used for.

Actually I had no idea really what I was doing moving into an (then decrepit) old farmhouse in a place I knew no one and barley spoke the language. It seemed like an fun thing to do. The place was beautiful and the energy was good. If I had known how life was going to unfold would I have moved in here?

Twenty one springs later. I know every corner of the mountain and know the nuances of the changing seasons. I rescued a frog being eaten by a snake this afternoon. Gave the snake a little boot and the frog popped out of it's mouth and jumped in the pond and swam across....free. The snake slithered away and will probably have another frog for dinner. I just got in the bath and looked at the iris next to the pond and smiled.


Time flies.  There is barely enough mulberry right now as the eggs hatched a few weeks early and I'm up early to pick the freshest of the freshest in the silver morning light.

I found these old slides and scanned them onto my iPhoto. Trip down silkworm memory lane.








Now this is an old picture....the kitchen three incarnations ago. Two Scandinavian girls came to see how silk was reeled. I was surprised that anyone was actually interested in the whole thing.