Monday, 30 July 2012

Late Autumn Indigo Focus Workshop in Japan is Full

I have not repositioned the Autumn tour brochure up the blog so far. I suppose I am rebelling against those years of marketing study at college. I don't know...

The original Indigo Sisters are going to be a hard act to follow! But it seems I have a wonderful enthusiastic eight member team ready to hit the indigo vats. (It would be great to have the original Indigo Sisters here to show them though the ropes. ) (There will be a third new washroom on the second floor next the stairs where the sink is for those middle of the night voyages) I will manage though! There is plenty of room left on the first workshop for anyone interested. I am afraid that next springs workshops will be filled quickly as I have had a lot of interest in the autumn workshops but hadn't given enough lead time. I will put up that brochure in mid-August.   Thank you for all the inquiries and thank you to those who have signed up.

So here is a semi-updated version of the brochure. Thank you Judi for the use of some photos. Click and they get bigger. If you would like a pdf or jpeg copy sent to you please e-mail me.


Kaki Shibu / Persimmon Tannin Dyeing Season Begins

The Monsoon is officially over and the temperature is soaring. The sky is a dark blue. It thunders every afternoon. It is time for dyeing with persimmon tannin. It is impossible to sleep past 5:00 am as the sun hits my room directly. 

It is time to get up and start dyeing to take advantage of the ultra-violet rays. I am dyeing some stencil dye material and silk thread right now.

I dilute the persimmon  juice fifty/fifty and brush it on over the already paste resisted stencil. I'll repeat this procedure for ten full hot days before removing the paste with water. 

Spread the threads out for maximum sunshine contact. (Look at the out of control pumpkins growing out of the compost box. Another summer friend who visits.)

I dilute the persimmon juice one third to two thirds water and put in the pre-wetted thread and gently squeeze. Leave enough juice to actually dye with! For this, it takes time and experience to know how crunchy you want the thread and how dark. You have to turn and flip the thread outside  in and vice versa through out the day for a semi even dye.  After several days it is a good idea to re-skein the thread a different diameter to break the alinement of the protective threads. You don't want a randomly weird ikat appearing as you weave.The crisp sun soaked warn silk thread feels so good on your arms as you bring it in to sleep until the next morning.

Lotus Green White Weave

The day in late July when the lotus' are blooming in the pots outside the front door is the peak of summer. Cicadas are buzzing, Snoopy is panting. It is sweltering hot at 6:00 am. Fruit goes bad in days and the mixer is busy all day making fresh fruit ice slushies.

The thread was dyed last autumn with Harlequin Hornblower berries with Gardenia pod under-dyeing with an aluminum mordant.  The silk is from cocoons from last spring. Ten cocoons reeled together and six of those threads thrown at 150 spin per meter. Slightly de-gummed in boiling water. The warp was intended to catch the coolness of these green shades against a background of white un-dyed silk like the partially opened petals of this white lotus. (In bloom this morning!)

Not a bad match! This is a narrow three meter long test weave to see how the balance of stripes and checks between the warp and weft work. The real one will be wider material for more shifuku cloth. Fedora san and I work on this project together. I don't have time to wind thread frames, thread heddles and reeds and she needs the practice. I have a more than a life time's worth of silk that needs to be used up. Win/win for us both. We weave half the warp each. 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

From The Top of Mt Fuji

You can see my tea field. It is just below the middle background mountain.

I've turned down any television work the past few years. I don't enjoy it. I stumble over the polite verb forms in Japanese. I look like a dork.

 I've been in Japan 24 years and the thought of climbing Mt Fuji never even crossed my mind. The climbing season is only two months long and on weekends thousands climb each day. Who wants to get stuck in a traffic jam of hikers on the slopes of a volcano? But since they were willing to pay me to do it, I accepted. (Since I am now addicted to house renovations why not?)  I dragged myself out of bed dreading the whole thing. Cursing myself for caving in to Yoshi and Kazuko and friends who told me to do it.

Sunrise from the top of Mt Fuji...the beginning of a new day....and was it going to be a bad hair day? Yes.

Except for having a camera pointed at me as I panted, stumbled, sweat and cursed my way up and down the volcano, it turned out to be very interesting in many ways not anticipated. Three very good days.

Japan tried to have Mt Fuji registered as a World Heritage Site but failed several times. Easy to see why. Too many scratches and scuffs from humans over the centuries. And now too many military bases, golf courses and pitiful attempts at tourist traps blight the land around it's skirt and unique Eco-system. Now the local governments and central government are trying a new angle to get it put in the World Cultural Heritage category.

I just couldn't grasp what the director was trying to get me to spit out as a narrative. He thought I was being a stubborn jerk. I just couldn't gush over Mt Fuji and make the connection with Japanese culture in a sound bite in a natural believable way.

The connection is there, through paintings and poetry and religious pilgrimages over thousands of years. It is a sacred mountain and in the pantheon of Japanese Gods there are several connected to the mountain. Gods to keep it pacified so it doesn't erupt again. Gods to keep the water coming off and up from the mountain pure. Gods for the fresh air that will add years to your life. But something didn't resonate deeply at first with their concept presentation to UNESCO. At the time old Mt Fuji seemed to me more of a worn out tourist trap with a crowded, unpleasant climb up and down gravel and sharp lava. (Several visible planets, a brilliant milky way and breathtaking cloud formations quickly doused my skepticism.)

The day after the descent something dawned on me when a politician from one prefecture joined us several times in several places. I was the duped interviewer in a TV program to drill in the idea to the public that Mt Fuji was in fact an important and integral part of Japanese culture. Yikes. Media manipulation of the masses.

I was brutally honest to the politician. He was in on it to get money from UNESCO for his constituency. There was little if any good will towards preserving culture. I had a free for all with him. He is a politician...he could roll with the punches.

There were seven ancient pilgrimage entrances for ascending Mt Fuji. (Indigo sisters alert. We visited the north one together.) They existed before Shinto was actually recognizable as a religion in the 7th century. Mountain hermits and spiritual pilgrims prayed and purified themselves before and after the climb. We visited several of these mountain climbing entrances to film as they are important places in the concept of Mt Fuji being a cultural entity. These places now have Shinto shrines and gates. One was particularly representative of a pent up rant I had been storing.

Recently the soul of these places seems to have been completely ignored. The Shinto shrines are simply interested in selling protective votive papers and wooden tablets and silk bags (polyester) that guarantee a pass on your driver's license test. The sterile stone lanterns on the sides of the approach are carved from computer driven chisels, made from stone imported from another country. The stair railings are an abysmal rusting aluminum...... and check out this alter. The sign on the plastic donation box says, 'Let's always keep this place clean!' The politician had a genuine good laugh of defeat when he realized what I was up to taking this picture. You could see the 'Oh oh...damn.' look on his face while I chuckled and took pictures.

There are many old shrines around the country that maintain a deep sense of mystery and awe of nature. The trees, stones and buildings are manifests of a natural power that takes you out of your regular life and reset your being. Like walking into a Gothic church or visiting a chaotic Hindu temple in India or a sitting by a silent stone Zen Buddhist garden the Shinto shrines of old were physical manifestations of the power of their maker's conception of God and the universe. The magnificent ancient trees, ancient worn stone walkways, hand carved stone lanterns, ancient wooden shrines etc. You walk through the gates and approach the shrines and are taken to another dimension.  I am all for these places being preserved and respected for future generations. Maybe if Fuji san is registered it will be for the good. But I hope they do a better job on the man made made part of the shrines. I hope care is taken to preserve the mystery and other worldliness by avoiding mass produced aluminum staircase railings.

I had been explaining to polititan that current Japanese culture was only about making money and had lost any connection with it's origins. Cheap ugly representations of the past and worse yet, discount home center DIY accents.  He was doing his best to get UNESCO to eventually cough up the certification and cash and to have the Japanese central government open it's coffers to his town to promote tourism. The comedy/tragedy and a deep sense of hope in the situation was invigorating.

I met and interviewed this great guy. He climbs mount Fuji twice a day. Wednesday was his 1279th trip up the mountain. The only question that popped into my head was, "Are you crazy?"  He answered with a great hardy laugh and the interview went smoothly.

Another Shinto shrine was gorgeous. It is an important shrine as it houses the God that will stop Mt Fuji from erupting. The Shinto priest was so intelligent, informative and helpful. The interview went smoothly.
Check out the trout swimming in the freshly melted snow water at the base of the mountain. Here is gorgeous Japan.

The trip gave me food for thought. What small role can I play to preserve a piece of textile culture? How can I avoid the computer generated chisel stuff and keep closer to the origins of the silk and weaving culture and get people excited about that precious culturally important world of Japanese textiles?

One final shot of the sound/camera man, Yonegawa san and me in the Mt Fuji caldera.  A brother. A fellow long time traveller to India and Tibet. The world feels comfortable to be in when you meet someone and become instant friends although you may never see each other again.

(Lis brought this to my attention. Cracked me up.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Ogata san's Shibori

 It wasn't exactly what we were shooting for. We started the second few meters and will adjust the balance of the white and blue. Adjust the heaviness of the lines. Adjust the rhythm of the spacing. Adjust the roundness of the patterns. We will get it right. Although Ogata san loved the results the first time around.

The wild mountain lilies are out around the house. Outside the new second bathroom window (Is it a still considered a window if I chose not to put in glass?) the hydrangeas of June are still in bloom with the lilies of July. Strange weather.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Preparing to Breed Silk Moths

Now that is real eye-catcher of a blog title. Yuck.

Working in the villages in Laos I was shocked to see the mess of silkworm eggs laid haphazardly on cloth with dead moths stuck to the edges of a basket . The powder on the moth wings is said to be the source of most sicknesses in silkworms. It gets on the eggs and then the following batch of silkworms gets sick.

I've also seen friends in Japan show up with a bunch of silk moth eggs stuck to a cocoon. It sends shivers up my spine. It is so not hygienic. Here is some advice for would-be silk moth breeders.

Let's go back a few days...

First, get the silkworms that are making cocoons away from the silkworms that are still eating. The traditional silk farmhouses (like mine) were designed that there was an upstairs floor (often a half height floor) that the spinning silkworms were brought to be away from the late spinners. There was the practical purpose for this as well. The huge amount of leaf waste had to be disposed of, but the focus of several days work was to get the silkworms to a clean, warm place where they can make good quality cocoons.

If the weather is humid the waste can get moldy in a matter of hours. The silkworms get rid of excess liquid from their bodied only once. This high ammonia waste can kill other silkworms as well as create a generally bad condition for all worms. I've raised 20 000 worms at a time and the days they start to spin is a crucial time to keep things very clean and organized and prioritized.

A week or so later, it is more important to keep silk moths away from the area where silkworms will be raised. When breeding a lot of silkworms I have a morning shower wear fresh clothes. I wash my hands and arms and all equipment with a disinfectant.  A face mask doesn't hurt. I choose the best shaped cocoons. The ones with the finest patterns on their surface. After cutting open the cocoons I choose the best formed and colored chrysalis and separate the males and females. When the moths emerge I choose the best formed ones with no bent wings and discolored abdomens etc. (Fairly evil-eugenic-minded stuff here.)

These three were rejects this time.
One was made in a mulberry leaf so it has a flat side and therefore can't be judged properly. The middle guy was a shrimparoo. The third one had a poorly spun end. This one can't be reeled easily. There is a good chance that this moth's offspring would have the same kink in their spinning skills and make 500 cocoons with the same characteristic.
Thin ended cocoons like this were made by a silkworm who didn't like the contorted position necessary to spin the ends well. When boiled the air escapes through the end and the cocoon sinks and unravels unevenly. Not conducive to easy and even reeling. 

Here is a hint. Although the silkworms are out of their protective cocoons, when it comes time, they break out of the thin paper-like chrysalis cover and emerge as moths and then excrete a really horrible the-Joker-in-Batman-would-use-as-a-weapon-liquid to melt the cocoon (that isn't even there) so they can break out. This liquid is so strong it can eat away at the nearby chrysalis. So the trick is to make this paper folding thing to cut down on nasty alkali cocoon melting spray and get the moth above the mess as quickly as possible. Males and females separated I arrange the whole event like this for each: 

Looking at these pictures and considering the topic.... I must have some Buckminster Fuller/2001 Space Odyssey Silk Farming Fetish.

It just isn't so.

OK..... When the moths emerge in a few days, I will continue with the process description.  I wonder if anyone out there will actually use this information?

And on a lighter note...the radiation reading was below normal on Geiger's geiger counter! I hope Japan moves away from nuclear power but I doubt they will. Too much vested interest. The Japanese are not comfortable to confront authority and power directly.  I fear the backlash on those who are doing that now.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Beautiful White Cocoons

These silkworms are the koishimaru ancient breed. There are hundreds of varieties but this one is the most famous. Famous because  Michiko sama raises the same variety at the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo as her duty as the Empress. The silk thread itself has a specific white luster and it is said to be a waste to dye all the thread but leave the base white with light colored accents. Precious stuff this Imperially connected silk.

(The photos are extra large today so click on them to see the full size.)

You can see that the worms are no longer white but translucent when they start to spin. They are smaller than they were the previous day as the silk liquid inside them has changed. When they start to spit thread they arch upwards. After having raised hundreds of thousands of silkworms over many years you absorb so much information about  the very subtle behavior of the worms and the process as itself and ones own reaction to it all. Impossible to put it into words.

The images of silkworms spinning are otherworldly and spooky. I remember the first time I had 10 000 spinning upstairs with naked light bulbs hanging from the ceiling it was so surreal. The scale is small this time as these are just for breeding. The silkworms finished spinning a week ago and the chrysalis is now hard enough to move onto the next step. Removing the outside fuzz on the cocoons and then cutting open the cocoons and separating the females and males.

Inside each cocoon there is a chrysalis and the discarded skin of the silkworm itself. You check the behind of each chrysalis and separate the females and males. Depending on the weather you have a week to ten days before the moths emerge and you start the next step in getting eggs.  The facial features are not yet clear on the chrysalis so I have at least five days before these ones are moths.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Ghosts of Shibori Past

Ogata san needed some extra attention yesterday. Last week she sat quietly doing some stitching and the silent wheel gets no grease. She mumbled something about being left out as I drove her home. My heart broke. So I dug out plenty of things to make her happy and keep her busy. Challenged just enough to make her complain a little...
I dug out this old tied 14 meter long cotton kimono cloth from 18 years ago. It sat upstairs in a box all this time never dyed.

I used to spend a lot of time in Yogyakarta on Java in Indonesia many years back. Friday night flights to Bali.... good old days. I studied batik and had some local village girls do shibori for me. I designed the pattern and they would stitch and tie it up for me. I tried a lot of techniques and patterns and still have a dozen of these types that never made it into the indigo vat. The stitching was terrible. The tying was sloppy. And the design was pretty dumb. But it was a start into the world of shibori.
Ogata san dyed it up and will enjoy having a few tenugui towels to wipe away the sweat from these sweltering days. We looked through the old Shibori book to find inspiration for a pattern and technique. We found this one. 
I drew it out on some crisp linen with aobana disappearing ink and she started to stitch it up. It will be ready to dye next Tuesday.