Monday, 25 March 2013

Mulberry Cultivation for Silkworms Hint

Three years back I needed some mulberry saplings for a new mulberry field nearer to the house. It was June and slightly too late to take cuttings and start from there. I did, but only 10% took. I planted a dozen mulberry berries and had a bumper crop of sprouts. 150 healthy saplings. Great. But no. The original mulberry berry was from a hybrid.  A very good hybrid. Thick juicy dark leaves. Plenty of nourishment for the silkworms. The from-seed-saplings had reverted to a wild variety. Thin leaves and pale colouring. Not much nourishment happening there. The original cut saplings were stronger and kept the original hybrid genes. The saplings from seed have strong roots and it seems a shame to throw them away.

The old guy next door saw my weasel-like mulberry and advised me to graft quickly before they started to draw the ground water in spring. After talking to him for a while I came to understand that in the old days the mulberry saplings were in fact started from seed and then had a hybrid sprig grafted on after two years because saplings from cuttings would have a weak root system.  Hmmmmm.

I grafted on some twigs from my favorite monster mulberry tree near the river. I later paraffin waxed the graft to keep the graft point moist.

This is a pretty specific post but someone out there might just find this information handy.

Saplings from seed. Most were a tad on the weedy side. They had reverted to a wild variety. Soy beans and indigo in the background.

Strong roots from seed-started mulberry but the leaves are not up to par.

I later waxed the graft. This was a few days ago and it seems the graft has taken!

Snoopy Bonemeal Lotus Food.

Snoopy was cremated at the local Zen temple and her urn has been in the house with fresh flowers the past four months. At first you could feel her hanging around. She caused a little mischief now and then. She has gone far away now and it is time to take the goodbye to another level.

There is an ever expanding group of lotus lovers in the town. The pot gets turned upside down every spring and re-potted. The extra lotus roots and shoots are divided up and another lotus fan is born.

We were re-potting the two pots outside the front floor and while mixing bonemeal with the clay-dirt I had an idea. Snoopy can visit us in the lotus this summer. Although sad, everyone thought it a good idea. I took a few bones from her urn and crushed them and mixed them in.

The lotus in summer.

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! 

The cherry blossoms are blooming, the indigo was in perfect condition. There were so many projects of growth and life at the house on the weekend. But somehow it wasn't sad to meet Snoopy on such a beautiful day. She was a sublime piece of art ol' Snooperoo. She was. Like Hamlet.

 The stage is littered with bodies in the last scene but we feel uplifted not depressed. The presence of great art uplifts. 

And Geiger came to pay his last respects and smell the incense in tribute to his predecessor and friend. 
(Click on the photo.)

Two Month Live in Apprentice: Mini chan

I get requests for long-term live-in apprentices. I want to teach young designers about indigo and silk and Japanese textiles in depth. It occurred to me that it would take at least several years of full time working with a student to impart a decent amount of knowledge. What am I going to do with it? Take it with me at the end of my life? I've refused quite a few eager beavers but finally accepted Mini-chan from Singapore. Just by the tone of her emails I felt she really wanted to study. She wanted a longer apprenticeship but I felt that two months was enough for me to see if we get along. The farmhouse is in the mountains and there is no alternative place to stay except in the guest rooms on the third floor.  So I have  stranger living in the house with me for several months....
I took the chance and it looks like no problem with Mini.
I have a second young designer coming from Finland soon. I might just enjoy this. The farmhouse is ramshackle but cool. I have interesting people coming through from all over the world. Life is pretty good. Those five guest rooms upstairs were a good idea.

Mini is starting off with how to make and maintain a hydro sulphate indigo vat. She indigo dyes something every day. Shibori and katazome and thread. I try to give her a reasonable idea of how a design studio based around indigo might work in her future. Her original design sensibilities are very different from my own. Her portfolio is full of gauzy ultra-feminine draped designs in contrast to my chunky rough indigo and persimmon dyed work. She follows me to the knit studio and I put her to work doing something new every day. She had a full on course on silk cocoon reeling. A complete overload of information but she takes it all in. I'll keep posting on her progress over the next few months.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Katazome Technique Number Five: Hikibori

The final technique is Hikibori. This is the technique most commonly used for Yukata, (cotton summer kimono) and Yuzen dyeing. The blade is drawn towards the carver. The technique is difficult to diffentiate with the push blade technique. The blade for hikibori is shorter than the one used in Tsukibori. Very fine curves are more easily cut with the push technique, tsukibori than the hikibori pull technique.

I use this hikibori technique the most. I will move onto tsukibori in the near future. I'll go back to Ise this summer and find the specific cutters and boards and determine the appropriate paper and figure out the essentials of this designs that fit the tsukibori  technique. Here are two dyed pieces from stencils I have cut with the hikibori technique.

I have a lot to write about on the subject of these five katazome techniques. With the spring workshops fast approaching it is not the time.  I will get back to the subject when things have settled down. The techniques them selves are fascinating but there is much more to the subject. 

Monday, 18 March 2013

Katazome Technique Number Four: Tsukibori

The knife for tsukibori is essentially the same as the knife for shimabori except it is sharpened to a more slender point and the handle is longer. The sharp side of the knife is pointed away from the cutter thus the name 'push cutting' as opposed to 'pull cutting'. The blade is pushed through the several layers of paper with a sawing motion over a hole in a wood cutting board beneath. This technique is used to cut delicate patterns. (I have been using the pull technique for the past 15 years and now have to change my wicked ways.) Just look at what he is carving. He said it will take him a week to finish this particular stencil.

Hiro won't let me sleep until I post this on the blog. I was grumpy as a wrinkled mandarin orange because I had repeatedly refused this director. He was a nice guy, but showing up at the door without an appointment and a camera crew.... I hate speaking Japanese on camera. Who translated this? The subtitles are way off. Or is my Japanese that bad?

Monday, 4 March 2013

Katazome Technique Part Three: Shimabori

This third technique seems easy enough to categorize. Shimabori, stripe-carving, is about cutting the stencil paper in stripes to create a striped surface pattern on kimono material. (The obvious question is why stencil on stripes when they could be warped on in real-time colours in the first place?) I found that designs that are somewhat stripy were categorized as shimabori at one studio and categorized as tsukibori at a museum.This needs to be clarified. I'll do that next time I travel to Ise.

We saw many striped shimabori examples but didn't take many pictures. Here is an example. There is a person standing behind the stencil and she is not part of the design!

The technique looks simple because the cutter simply draws the blade along a straight edge. A minute inconsistency in the width of the stripe would be obvious to the eye. One centimeter can have 11 hairline stripes (22 cuts).

Here are a few stencils from a book. There are some variations on the stripes.

What makes these striped stencils so unique is the netting that is attached to hold the structure together so it can have paste scraped across it without ripping to pieces while leaving behind an orderly pattern of rice paste on the cloth. Usually a silk net is lacquered in place on the surface of the stencil.

This is impossible with a striped stencil as the stripes will not behave well enough to be set in place. They will twist and bunch together. The ingenious technique is to sandwich a layer of silk net between two identical stencils and re-align the stripes so they sit on top of each other.

I thought I had read that this technique had died out. The last thread insertion craftswoman had passed away 30 years ago. But no. When visiting the kakishibu paper making studio I pulled back a curtain as I was snooping around the factory to reveal a woman working on inserting a silk thread mesh into a stripe stencil. I literally shouted with excitement. I climbed into the room and enthusiastically gushed at the respect I had for the ingenuity of the technique and my overflowing respect for the woman who had mastered this insanely beautiful and practical art form. 

You can see the master craftswoman herself behind her work. You can see the silk cross threads holding the stripes in place in more or less their proper position on the top half of the stencil. They are sandwiched in place between the two identical stencils with a brushed-on coating of persimmon tannin. The lower bands of paper are temporarily added while the stripes are manipulated to match up and then gently pulled off as she works down the stencil.

Here you can see the temporarily places bands that hold the stripes in place while the thread is applied on one side of the paper.

The paper is stretched on a frame to keep it from wrinkling and making the work of threading a net possible. The cross sandwiched support threads are visible.

Bamboo pegs are used instead of metal nails that would react with persimmon tannin. The silk thread is woven back and forth across the top of the bottom stencil. The tannin is coated on. The second stencil is placed on top sandwiching the thread between. The two layers of the stencils are meticulously aligned with a thin bamboo knife-like tool.  The silk thread looks to be ten cocoons reeled and left unspun and not de-gummed. this exciting stuff or what? I want to go back and study this technique from her for a few weeks. Perhaps this summer!