Saturday, 7 March 2015

Combining a Difficult Palette of Warp Threads

Putting together a beautiful warp is one of the more enjoyable steps in the long process from the silk moth egg to silk cocoon to cloth.  (Much more enjoyable than weeding an overgrown-rainy-season-mosquito-infested mulberry field on sweltering humid days in July.

 I had some beautiful reeled double cocoon thread sitting in a box from years back. Elizabeth wanted to see a Japanese loom warped. (Should have known better to work under a deadline.) I dyed the thread with madder, gardenia pods, indigo and oak bark individually and over each other. The colours were fresh and spring-like. The problem was forcing them together in a reasonable warp.

Looked pretty daunting & nightmarish.

It warped like this and I figured it would manageable. After World War Two the women in my area would weave with whatever thread they could get their hands on. Bright colours were welcome to brighten spirits. The contrasting colours were put together and the sheer will of the weaver somehow made them work together. I figured this might be the case with these colours. Natural dyes almost always work well enough together. 

Elizabeth painstakingly wove eight colours in the weft for a few meters. Her sheer will made it work. Far less patient and with almost no free time to weave I will weave up the remaining seven meters with a red weft and dye the whole thing with madder when it is finished. The texture of the threads is sublime. The colours just couldn't be forced to sing. It will make a gorgeous red lining for a hanten jacket this autumn when over-dyed deep red. 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Easiest Silk Cocoon to Thread Technique.

The easiest way to make a thread from a cocoon is to 'mostly melt' the natural glue that holds the cocoon together and just pull the cocoon into a thread. Make a pH solution of 9  from ash or slaked lime then place cocoons in a laundry bag. Submerse them in the water at 90 degrees centigrade for an hour while occasionally stirring the cocoons in the bag.

Rinse very well.  Left with a high pH the silk will  frazzle over a few hours. In other words, neutralize the silk by gently washing with warm water as soon as the cocoons have collapsed.

simplest silk thread video. 58 seconds.

Here is Elizabeth well over her initial disgust at the whole de-bugging steps.

I've been teaching Elizabeth several silk thread making techniques. The Japanese words for these are pretty obscure and hard to remember so she coins the words in English as we go along. This technique became known as the "squid technique." Easy to remember and reference.

The work is a tad gross and time consuming so we worked on a manageable  50 cocoons at a time. 
After pulling them into threads we hung them up to dry. They harden as there is still a lot of natural glue in them. Once tied together and plied they can be de-gummed properly to make them softer and shinier.

Elizabeth proved herself to be a natural at reeling high quality ten cocoon thread. Almost no slubs to be found. (There is still some snow on the ground.)

We took the fresh reeled silk to a village not far away that used to specialize in throwing silk since the Edo period. I tried to give her the rudiments of throwing (twisting or plying) in a few hours. There are a few old throwing machines at the studio that are somewhat operational.

There are some old photographs on the wall showing life in the village 90 years ago where throwing silk was the main activity thousands of worker's life centered. 

Changing the gears in the throwing machines determines how many spins per meter.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Cocoons to Thread

These 3500 little specks of black pepper are actually baby silkworms born last spring at the house.

Twenty-five days later they were spinning cocoons. (Click to enlarge.)

Cocoons from last spring ready to be processed into thread.

It takes time to process the cocoons into thread. Time was precious the past seven months and reeling  and spinning silk never made it to the priority list. The cocoons were kept in a fridge and once in a while a few hundred were taken out and reeled. 

Reeled silk is when the ends of the thread is found and the cocoons are unravelled using a zaguri. 

Here is the mystery of finding the end of the 1500 meter thread that makes up the cocoon.

Elizabeth from Kentucky, (whom I met in Vancouver at the Maiwa Symposium) is at the house for two weeks learning how to make different kinds of threads from silk cocoons. We started with the reeling ten cocoons at a time. Five to seven of these strands will be played together to make kimono warp threads. We will be working on decreasing the mountains of cocoons on the second floor.

Momo that lovely Minx is guarding the reeled silk.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Fabric Shopping in Tokyo. Nippori is the Place. (?)

Linen thread is of course the best thing in the world to make your indigo vat feel useful and it's life meaningful. Linen woven by hand it is sublime. (Right Jean?)

Hand-spun cotton will also make your indigo vat glow with importance and self-satisfaction.

The indigo vats more or less need cloth as well. Their existence is almost meaningless without it.

The best cloth would be something hand-woven.
(This could be repeated one hundred thousand times by every indigo-dyer and indigo consumer on the planet.)

Good cloth to indigo dye is not easy to find. It is out there but often enough, the selection is limited and you settle for less than satisfaction and a few dips later you're not so choosy.

There is a textile area with eighty-five shops or so in Tokyo. It is on the Yamanote Circle line. (Green one.) The station is called, Nippori. (Not 'Nishi Nippori' which means 'West Nippori'.)  Avoid this place on weekends and during sales because it can be crowded. There are designers from Japan and all over the world buying textiles on these few streets. There is a lot of 'Made in Japan' textiles so you can expect the highest quality. Like the monstrous textile markets in Bangkok, Delhi and Morocco it can be overwhelming. Where did all this stuff come from and where is it going? There are mountains of polyester fabric which essence is shouting, 'throw me away' before it is even made into something.

Unless you read Japanese this map of the area won't be of much use. It just gives you an idea of how the 85 shops are located in the general area. Nippori station is at the bottom of the map.

Students here at the house are always looking for material to dye in the indigo. I suggest they go to Nippori and at times drag them along on my trips in. There are several large stores called, 'Tomato' that have a strong presence in the area. They have good stuff.

Yesterday, I took the luxury of walking around for a few hours and exploring the smaller stores and the upper floors of the big stores. (Usually in a mad rush to get out of the area, I swoop in, shop and run.)

The retro-Japanesque stuff makes good presents to take back to your home countries.

There is a hotel right in the midst of the madness. It would make sense to stay at this hotel your last day in Japan as it is only a two minute walk to the Keisei liner that serves Narita airport.  Go on a textile shopping spree and buy an extra suitcase and take it all home.

It is also a reasonable place to go shopping for cloth if you are coming out to the farmhouse and staying in Tokyo beforehand. Remember all cloth has to be boiled to have the sizing removed and this takes time and energy.

All this written....back home, exhausted from a long day in Tokyo I finished the fringes on these blankets woven last year. The wool is amazing. It is from Nancy Zeller at Longridge Farm. The wool was first dyed with gardenia pods to get a clear yellow and then a few dips in the indigo to get the green. Peddling around on the twill and using Nancy's silk/wool blend yarn for the weft on the lighter blanket.

Thinking....this is what I should be making and teaching. Stop all this Nippori bought stuff nonsense and focus on making thread/yarn from materials at hand and weave them. Hand-made is important. Very very important. Having been a marketing student in the 80s when marketing, targeting youth was about to take off, watching this documentary made me nauseous. It is worth a watch. If you do make things by hand it will definitely make you feel better about yourself as you despair on the future of humanity.
Make You Feel Good About Making Things.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Ogata San is Well. The Fukushima Pups are Well.

Ogata san, being a typical Leo just laughed her famous guffaw when I told her yesterday that I had received a flood of get-well-fan-mail. She is back at home (after being hospitalised with pneumonia and then influenza) surrounded by her loving and adoring family and looks like her normal witty, hard working and charming self.

97 and indestructible.

One of my Fukushima refugee doggies, like Ogata san, has quite a history behind her. Momo was a little princess dog at a large rice farming house only a few kilometres from the melted-down reactor. She was in her yard with her husband on that fatal day. The ground shook and then everyone in the house escaped. They thought they would return to their house but it was impossible. The dogs were left in the yard and the owners came and dumped in a pile of dog food every few weeks for them. Momo had puppies in this horrible situation. A wild boar was coming to snack on the dog food and Momo's husband tried to protect the puppies and was gored and killed in front of Momo. The owners of the house and  Momo realised  they couldn't move back to their home because of the radiation and it was dangerous for Momo to stay. (Momo means 'peach' in Japanese.) They were all put up for adoption. 

Her poor pups were a mess. Bad skin disease.

And Momo herself was something out of a Dostoevsky novel the day she was rescued. 

Before and after.

Geiger (he had no name) was a bit of a wreck as well. He and Momo kind of love it when I tell everyone that they met on the crest of the tsunami and were washed ashore together. Their destinies entangled. They made the several week long hike down to my place and slept outside the door a few days until I accepted them in. She sometimes reminds him that he was a homeless dog from the wrong side of the tracks while she was a bit of a rice princess. 

It is snowing today. Hiro quit smoking. The dogs are all happy. Everyone is healthy.

......and Momo's miserable, scabby, radiated, traumatised puppies?????

They have good healthy fur now and good healthy homes too. 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Indigo Buddhist Project Stirring.

I've monkeyed around with stencil dyed Buddhist images and indigo for many years. Always hesitating to be using images appropriated from the lofty heights of Buddhism.

Emily is thinking of ways to have the monks at her partner's temple in Bhutan use indigo and Buddhist iconographic images. The idea of helping the monks in Bhutan was a key to unlock some energy kept on a small burner, well out of sight.  With these thoughts exciting us we took the lid off the indigo and started dyeing for 2015.

Years ago, I cut this stencil of a somewhat lightly muscled bearded Buddha and used the indigo material I dyed as lining for a small bag that was used to hold a toothbrush, toothpaste, condoms etc. (More or less a one-night-stand bag.) He was out of sight but his presence was there in morning peeking out.  (I hope I don't get in any trouble with this.....)

The red paste washes off and the colour of the material is left. 

The wheels are turning and I would love nothing more than to spend a few months working on this project. 

(ps. Trouble for the religious iconography not the one night stands.)

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Teaching Japanese Textiles in Japan.

Today was regular Tuesday textile class at my house. Trying to simplify life and get rid of some possessions I handed out a few boxes of silk thread I will never weave up in this life a few weeks back. Takeshima san took some different madder dyed pinks and red silk I reeled and dyed years ago and set up that unbelievable rickety old loom I gave her years ago and wove up this gorgeous red silk obi (kimono belt) material. All this old stuff being used. Tidying up life and creating at the same time.

Please click on the  photos to see the full version.

Our much loved 97 year old Ogata san is in the hospital. She used her daughter's cell phone yesterday to call me from her bed. "I'm OK. Don't worry. "

We were worried. Pneumonia and then catching influenza in the hospital. Jeeeeesh.

She has been coming to class for eight years now. She brings some vegetables from her garden and cooks lunch for us without fail every week. She climbs up the back mountain to get whatever extras she needs. Mushrooms, persimmons, shiso or ginger....  She started studying indigo at 89 at this ramshackle old house with this scruffy Canadian and his guests. She weighs 35 kilograms. (Snoopy weighed that much before I halved her with a strict two-year diet.)

I have about eight more or less regular students who come to the house and work on their individual projects. A few are just working on shibori or katazome. Some are reeling cocoons or making floss and spinning it into thread. A few are weaving and well on their way to be better weavers than I am. We occasionally boil up some natural dyes from roots and barks and dye the silk. We look at a lot of Japanese textile books for ideas and inspiration and knowledge. We try new things occasionally like eco-dyeing.

Yamaguchi san bought a loom and weaves at home. She comes on Tuesdays to dye and wrap warps. My god is she weaving beautiful stuff.

Our lives are interconnected now. The students met here at the house and now are part of each  others lives outside the class.  They tolerate how busy I am with other projects....ripping out a kitchen, workshops with foreigners. The seasons go by, the years go by.

Kamei san worked with madder dyed silk last year. Daughters worked with their mothers and grandmothers in Japan for many years to slowly pick up the hundreds of steps it takes to get a kimono from silkworms. It is not easy to get the lengthly processes across on Tuesdays (sometimes Fridays and Saturdays). By the time one weaving project is finished the initial steps are distant. The students help each other like neighbours and family members did in past times.

                                       The warping wheel upstairs feeling useful again.

Kamei san and Ogata san threading string heddles.

                                                                    On the loom.

It is not easy when everyone is working on a different project at one time. I learned indigo and silk farming and weaving over many years from several people. There was not much structure. I had to fill in the blanks myself until I ran across something that worked or someone or something that made something unknown clear. Not just techniques. I can never forget those precious times with the old farm families learning to grow mulberry, reel silk, warp looms, weave kimono. I was so lucky. The learning was organic. Like how kids can learn.

I went to look at a few textile related schools. Freaking nightmares.  Not relaxed atmospheres and spaces where students can explore and be creative. People learn different ways. Some need step by step instruction while others just take off from the start.  Do onto others.....I hope my house and approach works for my Tuesday students like it did for me.  I can see them taking off now. The runway was longer for some but the plane is up and banking and taking in the textile scenery now.

                                     Fedora san reeling cocoons in the kitchen on Saturday.

Yamaguchi san threading a warping reed today. Beautiful silk she dyed with loquat bark last week.

Takeshima san is getting the hang of my very old kimono warping wheel today. Indigo dyed warp.


The house is alive. Many more beautiful things to come this year. Just a blog of thanks to my students here in Japan.