Saturday, 13 May 2017

Ilkka & Krista of Finland

Ilkka is studying tailoring in a college in central Finland. He came and stayed a few months with me last year at the farmhouse and I watched his love of Japan blossom.

He came back this spring for a few months with is lovely girlfriend Krista. Their enthusiasm for Japan needs a few years to quench. I had a jacket making course on while they were here and they both participated.

Ilkka will be a tailor and he chose the Japanese ideogram symbol for 'needle' for the insignia on the back of his jacket. (The purpose of the large insignia in the Edo period was to quickly differentiate which brigade the fireman belonged to.) Later many kinds of craftsman wore the jackets and used symbols of their trade.

Ilkka was lucky that Eros Nakzato the well-known metal artist/blacksmith dropped by the house and drew the symbol for him with his bold calligraphic hand.

Ilkka then carved the symbol on the persimmon coated stencil paper.

On the band around the bottom of and sides of the jackets he drew the outline of Japanese scissors. The boldness of the pattern is perfect.

The red center is dyed with madder paste. The greys and black are dyed with soot and soy. The body dyed with natural indigo.

You can see the delicate traces of a pine needle insignia on Ilkka's soot dyed collar. They represent the new area in Finland he is moving to.

The weather was cloudy and we needed to start a charcoal fire and swing it under the soya and pigment dyed areas to dry them before adding additional coats. The process never seems to get simpler. The jacket is dyed as one long piece and then cut into sections and sewn together.

Krista opted for something simpler. Just indigo and white on this gorgeous cotton hand spun and handwoven cloth.

In Krista's first jacket she cleverly used the  positive of her tree stencil to create this soot dyed forest in the lining.

The jackets were fully hand-sewn with full indigo-dyed linen linings. I hope the Finns wear these for many many years and I see them in Finland years from now with patched and faded indigo jackets.

I hold these dyeing/sewing courses at the farmhouse once or twice a year for about 8 participants. 2018 looks to be full already but drop me a line if you are interested and I will see what I can do. 

Friday, 12 May 2017

Grateful Dead Hanten...

There have been plenty of action at the dye vats this spring here in Fujino.

Besides the students designing and dyeing and sewing Japanese fireman jackets I've been at it myself.

One nameless, grammy-award winning guitarist who dated Taylor Swift and Katie Perry ordered a jacket from me. (If he wears it while he performs in Tokyo next week I will post pictures...)

Instead of a Japanese inspired insignia on the back he asked for the old Grateful Dead electric skullbone logo. I drew it up and cut a stencil on the persimmon tannin paper.

The paste was applied and then dried in the sun.

Then the entire cloth was coated with soot and soy several times to get a dark grey and the black soot was layered on the insignia outline.

Then it was dyed in indigo several times.

I dyed the insignia red with madder paste and indigo and soot. The next step was to hand sew the whole thing together. I used a linen lining on the body and on the inside of one sleeve I used a rather crude old Japanese towel I had found at a flea market and then dyed with persimmon tannin. 

Whiteboots helped as a modelling prop.

It will look so good if it is worn and washed over years. I have a feeling it will only be worn a few times as he looks to be a real clothes horse. 

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Hand sewn....thousands of stitches

 I sent out simple homework boxes with massive pieces of Japanese slightly crinkled linen to Finland, Belgium, Australia, America and the UK. The students spent hundreds of hours designing and stitching a woodgrain lining for the jackets they would make here in Japan.

Graces stitching was magnificent in its precision and elegance of design.

Here (below) she wears the jacket inside out to show off the lining.

She cut a stencil with her name in a Chinese character for the back insignia on the jacket. The insignia is coloured with soot and a watered down indigo and soy based dye. Here she is wearing it outside out. (properly.)

The jacket was dyed with soot and soy milk instead of indigo.

Really beautiful work Grace.

Zoe had a different approach. She taped on a design then rice pasted resisted it on the linen and then brushed on a soot and soy dye several times to get the nuclear hashtag effect. She brought some soft leather and made white sleeves for the jacket. The lining crosses worked wealth the back design. Gorgeous Zoe.

Claudia worked hard on this soot dyed masterpiece,  Pine & Plum & Bamboo characters wrapped around the bottom of the jacket. A pocket carefully constructed and set in the jacket to add some subtle extra visual interest to the jacket.

More jackets to come.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Japanese Indigo Dyed Fireman Jackets.

There is a museum in Tokyo dedicated to Japanese fire fighting.

There is a collection of old fire brigade uniforms on display so I went for a few hours to take a look.

The museum was quite lively. There were plenty of mothers there with their young ones who seemed to aspire to be fire fighters. There is a fire station in the building so there were plenty of brave, duty loving, serious looking Japanese in the building along with a few non-Japanese hunky fire fighter looking tourists who would be very interested in the long history fire fighting in Tokyo.

There were millions of people living in this city for five hundred years plus. The city was crowded and made of wood. One of the fire brigades main jobs was to tear down buildings quickly to create a fire break. (Interesting aside...There was a small city upstream where large boats owned by the wealthy held all the materials to rebuild buildings after fires or buildings being torn down as a fire break. )

As with all Japanese museums there was a magnificent miniature recreation model. This time of a section a Tokyo with a fire watch tower and fire fighters tearing the clay tiles off a roof before collapsing the building to make the fire break. (I love Japan on museum days.)

But my interest this day was the indigo dyed work jackets. What was the spirit they were wore in?

I have nine guests at the farmhouse from April 1st here to design and indigo dye these jackets for themselves. It is time to get out of the cave of winter hibernation and get in the work mode again.

Japan is beautiful in May. I had a few cancellations in a regular indigo workshop. If you are up to a ten-day workshop here at the farmhouse with a lot of indigo dyeing, good food and cultural activities we will spoil you & take care of you well. Drop me a line at

The jackets on display were typically masculine and bold.

Fire fighters were always gorgeously tattooed. He is carrying a mattoi with his brigades insignia design on the top. These are made of white painted leather. They are amazing when every man holds one and they do a choreographed uber tough guy parade dance.

There was a healthy collection of these matoi on display.

Here is a sample design pattern for the hanten jackets. The amount of stripes and their position signifies rank.

The Museum is the Tokyo Fire Museum.

A few more related pictures of old time fire fighters..

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Smoked Dye Patterns on Deer Leather in Old Japan

Wistful smile on the train through the mountains in Japan to Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture to hunt out what is possible of an ancient technique of smoking deer leather that has been resisted with string for stripes or rice paste and stencil patterns.

My birthday and the anniversary of immigrating to Japan fall in early Aquarius. 28 full years in my adopted country. It was a anniversary trip.

Wistful hairline....wistful cold wind through my sweater.

Kofu is only a few hours away. It is the peach and grape growing area of Japan. Famous for warlord Samurai, thick wheat noodles, greedy pork barrel politicians  and lacquered leather.

Last spring at Morita textiles, Mrs Morita excitedly showed me a newly acquired pair of deer skin trousers from the late 1800's. The beguiling story of the trousers....they were refashioned from  deerskin samurai jacket from the Edo period. The obvious wear of the jacket collar was now visible on the bum of the trousers. Wow.....


The trousers looked like they had a orange striped lining but in more careful examination it was actually the suede side of the leather that was patterned.


She explained that the pattern had been smoked onto the leather with paper resisting the stripes. She continued on that is an extinct technique.


My imagination ran wild.

The next mystery was how the green colour was created. There are no natural true green dyes in nature. It is always a combination of a yellow and indigo. How can you dye only one side of the skin?

Always playing with the idea of a small indigo museum on the second floor of the clay storehouse next to the house the trousers were procured. (They actually fit.)

They have sat on an open shelf and admired frequently.

I figured out that they had actually come from Kofu a few weeks back and on a clear day a few of us took the train out to Kofu to see what vestiges of the tradition of smoking deer leather we could find.

Turned out to be a gimmicky sort of display in the corner of a gift shop selling lacquered "inden"
leather products. But we all got excited like kids and decided on the spot to rig up a smoker, find a small mountain of rice straw, fix up a barrel to rotate over the smoke, find some deer skin.....and make some smoke patterned leather and paint on indigo on the opposite side.....just for fun.

We are getting all the materials together and as soon as it warms up a little we do it.

These techniques are regional secrets....we asked as many questions as the shop keeper was willing to answer.

And some stealth photographs of the tools hanging around were shared later over a beer as we plotted to overthrow the local industrialists of the neighbouring fife.

The smoker oven with a roof tile door.

Tied and smoked and tied again and smoked some ingenious.

The small museum was just so satisfying. What is the word for the uplifting feeling when you see beautiful old masterfully crafted textiles?

The small museum had indigo dyed deer leather items. Katazome dyed indigo deer leather. Laquer stencilled leather and smoke dyed leather goods.

Jackets. Gloves for archery. Purses. Tobacco pouches. Leather armour scraps. Shoes. Drum bags. Hats. Horse saddles.

So beautiful... all this pre-industrial  Japanese hand work.

These are deer leather stencilled patches from samurai armour.

Fine stitching on archery gloves.

Regular Ise katagami stencils are used for the resist process.