Thursday, 25 May 2017

Amy Katoh Japan, Country Living, Spirit, Tradition, Style

I met Amy Katoh at the opening of her newly re-opened landmark store, "Blue and White" in Tokyo a few weeks back.  I had wanted to meet her for 25 years.

I shyly, slightly red-faced walked up to her.

"My name is Bryan, nice to meet you."

"Bryan the indigo-silk farmer...I've wanted to meet you for years.", she replied.

Big smile.

The first time I saw and went into a Japanese farmhouse it was love. It hurt even. Like a broken heart.  It hurt.

It took a few years to get one and it would be hard to leave.

Amy wrote eloquently in her book,  'Japan. Country Living, Spirit, Tradition, Style':

..... I almost feel them before I see them, and when I look up, I see a friend. Even if no one is living in them, those straw and earth walls are alive. They are unspeakably beautiful and uncannily human, being of the same organic material we are. What will be the legacy of the plastic replacements that now plague the land? What will a child think of his or her heritage, never having seen the eloquent predecessors.

I read her books when I left Tokyo to go set up a life in the countryside. She had walked the same path that I was eager to walk almost 30 years ago.

A wonderful group of women just left the house today. I tried my best to show them some of that countryside Japanese spirit that Amy wrote about.

Ten days of hard work at the indigo vats, stitching and stitching, laughs and good food and good will. Thank you, Laura, Jessica, Ronnie, Kim, Anna, Thurid and Midori.

Momo went for a walkabout for a few days... perhaps looking for Geiger. We worried and worried but she arrived back at the house as if nothing had happened.

Back in her chair.

No time to rest. Tea harvesting starts right away.

Amy san....I took my guests to a local potter a few days back and kept a little of that old spirit of Japan alive.

*Picture credits to Laura and other otters.

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.