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. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

I am Jizo. / 私は地蔵です。

This little guy lives just outside the front door in the garden. (He is as well photographed as Momo and Geiger and the indigo vat.) We actually didn't see much of him most of the year as fallen indigo seeds took and he was hidden until harvest and the cold winter winds found him shivering. Ogata san noticed he was looking tad shabby. (and not that chic.) She appeared a few days before New Years and stripped him of his 2014 clothes. He was left shivering for a week or so while she made him some new garments. 

 Knit hats are 2014. He has a stitched hat this year. Thank you Ogata san.

not my script...I cut and pasted.... 

O-Jizo-Sama as he is often respectfully called, is one of the most 
venerated Bosatsu in all of Japan. He is usually depicted as a monk,
wearing robes with a shaven head. He often holds a staff called a
shakujo. This is used to both scare away living creatures so he doesn’t
hurt them accidentally, and to awaken us from our dream-like world of
illusion. On many images and statues, he holds a wish-granting jewel
that he shares with Kanzeon Bosatsu and Vishnu in the Hindu tradition.

You can find O-Jizo-san in cemeteries,
gardens, on road-sides and of course temples all over Japan. He is the
protector of travelers, children and all beings trapped in hell.

The story goes, that the souls of children who die before their
parents, are not capable of crossing the fabled Sanzu River (similar to
the Styx river in Greek mythology) in the afterlife. This is because
they have not had the time to accumulate enough good deeds (karma) and
they have made their parents suffer. It is believed that Jizo saves
these souls from the punishment of having to pile stones eternally on
the bank of the river. O-Jizo-sama, is thus widely recognize as the
saint patron of dead children, especially still-born and aborted

You often encounter Ojizo-sama in graveyards and it is not unusual
to see the idol adorned with a red bib and a red baby hat. The reason
for this, is parents put it there to either thank him for saving a
child from illness or to ask him to protect a child in the after-life.
Thus each time you see a Jizo statue, adorned with these clothes, you
witness the pain of a parent. Sometimes, you’ll see small piles of
stones next to the statues and those are connected to building stupas
for the granting of merit. Doing so, the parents hope to earn enough
merit for their child so that it can cross the river as fast as
possible and thus, end suffering.

The hikers walking up the village often leave cans and bottles of sake or tea and the occasional soft drink for the White Horse Kannon Bosatsu at the bottom of  the driveway. The Buddha also has a healthy sense of humour. (You can almost hear the timeless giggles when there is can of Coke sitting in front of him.)

Thursday, 25 December 2014

End of the Year Greetings

Thank you Mr Mark san for the photo. It was a wonderful year. So much happiness. (The neurotic part of me has me worried.....I used up my bucket of blessings. The future is going to be rough.)
Best to everyone. I pray and hope all our paths continue to cross with our indigo and other journeys in life.


Monday, 22 December 2014

Aliki's Rain Work/Indigo Work

Aliki is a designer from the Netherlands. She uses rain to make patterns on cloth. She would run outside the house when a shower started to take a reading of the rain. Just two quick reads.

This one has pictures of katazome process at Noguchi's studio:

Aliki's rain work:

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Japanese Textile Study in the Mountains in Japan.

I had four ten-day indigo workshops this year at this old house in the mountains outside Tokyo. I don't know what to say.... The members are always varied and the energy is always different. I keep the schedule flexible enough so that professional designers and first time indigo dyers can all feel at home here. It was a really great year. Thank you all for getting on the plane from all corners of the planet and sharing your time with me and the others. There were a lot of magical moments and I will keep them all with me. Ten days of indigo/Japanese culture boot-camp with food (Hiro...way too much food!) and I've seen some friendships develop because of the common experience of being here. I see little chunks and nibbles missing from  my heart for the workshops members after we spend a short but precious time together. Heartfelt thanks and hugs to you all.

I haven't advertised for the ten-day-workshops for next year, 2015 because they are almost filled up with people who have simply written and asked to join.

I have a few spaces open for a few of the workshops in 2015 and waiting lists for others.  Please email me and I will send you the link to the brochure and give you information on availability. The yen is the lowest in 30 years. (I cannot believe that Japan is actually reasonable to travel in after being here 25 years. ) Japan is safe and travelling fairly convenient and easy. I look after you almost door to door for you travellers a bit worried about stepping into Asia. I can also help you with planning some extra time in Japan either before a workshop or after.

The summers are too hot and the winters to cold. There is only a few month window open all year. I will hold them in April and May and from late September and October.

The house has been full most of 2014 with guests studying textiles here at the farmhouse. There have been a dozen long-term students here who have come for a week to three months and created and worked hard.

It has been great fun. Truus and Mini, Ruby, Dillon, Marty, Aliki, Bee, Mark, Stephen, Sana and Melody, Gwen, Kim, Roosmarjin, Lena, Bridgette, Heather, Ariana.... What an honour to have so many talented, energetic, generous, smart, creative and human people in my life. Chunks and nibbles of my heart are missing from you guys. Cracks actually.... (Letting some light into the recesses.) This little flat spot on a mountain with the drafty old house sitting out of sight. All this beauty.....the fragility scares me. Thank you.

A few requests a week from talented, energetic....people of all ages from all over the world asking to come and stay at the farm come in. Sorry, 2015 will be an off year . It is not east to say no. People  are generous, smart and creative and to spend time together would be precious. I will take students for the ten-day course but no live-in students for 2015.

In 2016 I will put together a few long-term live-in courses on sewing Japanese clothes and perhaps a cocoon to kimono project.  Sorry friends...I need a break.

Moments of pure happiness...kimono sewing class while the silkworms munch happily away.

And sad sad moments. Annette and Ellie...drenched inside with indigo and sadly saying good bye to the Momo. 

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.