Since we all arrived on different days, most of us met in the lobby of a hotel in Tokyo. Which was more or less on the other side of town. Underestimating the Japanese inability to speak English and overestimating my own sense of direction, I wandered around more or less in circles on my search for Tokyo Station. It was easier the day before when I arrived and just took the most direct route to the hostel. 45 minutes later (I did even then see interesting parts of Tokyo‘s banking quarter which were not supposed to be on my direct route) I arrived there and that was it. But the next day I felt adventurous and thought I could just walk to Shinjuku Station next to which we were supposed to meet. And it would have been possible only I lost my way so many times on the way to Tokyo Station that what took me 45 minutes the day before took me more than 1.5 hours the next day. And yes, I have Google maps and I had a physical map as well. Google maps shows only Kanji (the Chinese-Japanese characters) and doesn‘t seem to be quite sure about directions either when it comes to navigation and my physical map only showed Romanji (our letter system). Yes, Tokyo has his main streets labeled with both writing systems. But I got lost in the maze of small backstreets with no Romanji street signs. A very, very nice policeman (with less than basic English) put me back on my track and then I just took a taxi (whose driver didn’t speak English either) to Shinjuku Station and arrived just in time after an odyssey of almost 3 hours.
wikipedia commons pic of shinjuku station yamamoto line - I was too confused to take any pictures
Like with so many big cities it seems almost unbelievable how rural it can become only a few kilometers outside the wider city boundaries. And Fujino is rural.
this is how bamboo sprouts - I was constantly amazed at this wonder
Wonderfully so with those lush green steep hills, bamboo forests, tea terraces and the scattered farm houses.Walking up the steep hill to Bryan’s house you are greeted by two large indigo vats in ceramic pots that are standing right and left to his main entrance. We would use these vats every day over the course of the next 10 days.
The first thing Bryan did was to get us introduced into the chemistry of the indigo vats, how to judge the vat’s health, feed it with what it might need and how to use it.
Since not all of us had experience in dyeing with indigo out first exercise was over dyeing several skeins of cotton yarn. Indigo has the wonderful property of making everything look much nicer. Even weird beige colours and ghastly turquoises. Bryan owns an old industrial knitting machine with which he produces long tubes of knitted fabric. And those over dyed yarns were meant for this knitting machine. At the end of the workshop each of us got her piece of knitted fabric. It might just be enough to a sleeveless t-shirt, I’m still pondering. (Which will take me a while like always.)
knitted fabric from our first cotton skeins. Slightly striped with darker, lighter and mottled indigo skeins
With the over dyeing of the skeins, Bryan established a kind of base line for his students. From where he could move on. With out next task we moved to the large and wide field of shibori.I had some experience with basic shibori stitching in the past. During Glennis’ workshops I folded those mandalas and stitched the dragon fly. More or less successful.
folded triangles stitched and dyed
At Bryan’s I was introduced to the high ART of Shibori. The many variations, the time and effort one can invest in one piece and the nice little tricks in dyeing it. I didn’t put that much time into Shibori though because of all the many other textile techniques I was offered.
96 year old Ogata san visitig us, making Udon noodles and dyeing shibori in between
Ogata san in front of her shibori pieces
one of Mini's shibori pieces which took her the better part of two weeks to prepare
Especially Katazome.Katazome is the Japanese craft of stencelling a resist on fabric. Something I really wanted to learn now for quite a while. We have a similar technique in Germany called Blaudruck. But unlike Katazome this is done by printing the resist with wood block prints onto the fabric before dyeing it with indigo (in our case it was mostly done with woad and naturally we wouldn’t use rice paste but some wheat flour paste but that’s just local flavour). Because of the wood blocks local patterns usually are much smaller and live mostly from the repeat.
one of my katazome pieces
a vintage stencil
Katagami are larger and the patterns can be much more elaborate depending on the provenance. Kaki Shibugami, the special stencil paper is made from paper glued together by fermented unripe persimmon juice high in tannin content and then smoked over a wood fire for several days. It is almost impossible to get outside of Japan (and if only to exhorbitant prices) and since unripe not sweet kaki are not available at my place (or anywhere near) I will have to find another method to produce something similar useful.
my little shifuku pouch
you can see the silk netting that is glued to one side to protect the stencils from falling apart
Right now I’m thinking of walnut or oak tannin or simply boiled lineseed oil as it is used as base coat in paintings. If all fails I will have to resort to plastic stencil paper. Not my favourite but better than buying the original stuff from Japan (or someplace else). Again, something I have to ponder about.After shibori we got out our homework. He had send us some shibugami to cut our own stencils at home.
And now he showed us how to make the resist paste (although we ended up using ready to use resist paste everything else would have ended in very complicated logistics with 9 people), how to prepare the stencils and the fabric and how to apply the paste onto the stencil and the fabric. And he brought us to a katazome master whose workshop we could visit and use for some smaller stencil experiments. Especially his fermentation indigo vats were very interesting.
Mini's katazome. Resisted, dried, dyed, resisted again, dried, dyed and I lost count if there werde more stages involved
a katazome piece consisting only of tiny dots
the above after dyeing
From Katazome we moved on to Kumihimo and Weaving. (Not that we didn't still do all the other things as well. Bryan's workshop is more like a textile bootcamp with little sleep and more craft possibilities than you can imagine. At one point I was so overwhelmed by all the possibilities I just stood a little dazed in the hall doing nothing until my head cleared. At least food and entertainment is really nice.)
Right from the start I was hooked on kumihimo. So much that I ordered my own Marudai (the stand you use for braiding) over the internet at home. Luckily for me I already have the bobbins. A craft shop closed several years ago and sold them for a bargain. And I like them for fixing broken warp threads. The Marudai, made by a local wood turner from local wood, arrived on wednesday and it is so beautiful. And in use already.
Our little bits of weaving (about half a yard each) were done on a very old traditional Japanese loom. She was called – very endearingly – The Beast by all of us outsized gaijin women. And she had tended to bitch around a bit eating warp threads by the dozen if you were not careful. But we succeeded in weaving our piece without any long term damages.
And I was introduced to another bit of weaving. One of us was so nice to show Bryan how to warp and thread his 4 shaft loom. As I understood it the loom was a rather new acquisition and he and her were not quite on good terms yet. Luckily I had the chance to take more than a peek and learn so much for my own 4 shaft darling. Thank you for the opportunity.
And all the while we dyed on, learned to sew little pouches called shifiku, visited the Folkart Museum in Tokyo, learned how to behave in an Onsen (my first time) and learned how much all parts of Japanese culture are interlaced into each other.
Japan was a rather isolated country for more than a millenium. Just imagine a country whose basic garment design didn’t change for 1300 years. (Look at how people clothed themselves in the 6th century Europe and then in the 10th or the 11th, the 12th or during rokkoko, baroque, regency ….?) And now imagine those 1300 years only wearing one kind of clothing. A more or less practical one and one on whose fabric amount taxes were paid. A basic piece of clothing that had only the chance to subtle changes. Much like the whole society. Imagine a country with a continuing line of crafts and craftspeople, without the suppression of the church, without cultural setbacks and lost inventions, lost knowledge and without permanent waves of mass migration from one end of the continent to the other, without constant invading forces that brought their own culture with them and without next to none external influences. And you get a culture which had so much time to get so intricately interlaced that from subtle non-verbal communication to flower arrangements to tea ceremonies from pottery to fabrics everything is connected. This realisation hit me at one point. How close knit the Japanese culture (at least up to WW2) was. How little was left to accident and choice. And how different it was to ours. European culture is basically the antithesis to Japanese culture.
Even in early days celtic rulers (I’m talking about him, 500 BC) in what today is Southern Germany were buried with Greek pottery and amber from the Baltic Sea. Trade later reached as far as China (Silk Road) and all over the world. There were so many different oppressing, suppressing and encouraging influences over the millennia. And how impossible it is to compare both cultures. (And I am talking only about Japanese and the European hotpot, ignoring the fact that there are so many other cultures out there either almost or actually extinct or still existing, ignoring whole continents of culture and societies just for the sake of literary flow.)
I am completely fascinated and feel like I am on the first steps of a new road. Embarking on a journey, one that might lead me nowhere or to a lot of interesting places. Who knows.
momo (back) and geiger (front) in the entrance hall
still a bit dizzy from travelling back in time. Left Tokyo on Friday at noon, reached Moskow at 5 pm - after 10 hours flight, a short break of barely 3 hours while in transit. And finally reached my destination Frankfurt at 9 pm after another 3.5 hours flight. Travelling westward is confusing and though my body doesn't seem to suffer from jet lag, my mind is still not in synch with local time - or place.
Japan was fascinating and Tokyo was confusing. I am not a big city person. I've been to London, Rome and Paris but all those cities are simply big and old and populated but not a really BIG city like Tokyo (or as I suspect New York).
There are typical big city glas buildings
confusing street scenes (remember, I'm a small town girl)
btw this cute little suitcase and the bag were my whole luggage for the travel. I was so proud of me and it worked: 8.7 kg carry-on for 2 weeks - yeah. On my way home it was 11.7 kg and I went for check-in (instead of distributing the overweight in my shoulder bag)
gingko trees lining the streets
and along the sidewalk as well
manhole covers look different
and cute cats warn you in front of railway crossings (which was in Fujino not in Tokyo)
The workshop was a real experience, I gained so much new knowledge, learned so many new things, I still have to let it sit in my mind and mull it over.
Bryan is a wonderful teacher. With a magpie mind not unlike my own I was able to dive into a huge pool of knowledge. We dyed at the indigo vat, stitched and folded shibori pieces, braided kumihimo cords, wove on a Japanese loom, stencilled katazome, visited a katazome master in his workshop and were able to use his vats, learned a practical lesson about Ikebana, partook in a tea ceremony, walked through the Folkart Museum in Tokyo, warmed up in an onsen (hot bath), ate so many wonderful meals at Bryan's house and about, worked voluntarily through the night and went quiet at the campfire in Bryan's yard. We learned about silk worm raising, how to reel silk and how to make silk threads interesting and we dyed with madder and gardenia. I met wild monkeys and learned how bamboo grows. And we bought some things from local artesans and vintage.
a typical feast at Bryan's house
I was lucky that the group consisted of so many wonderful textile enthusiasts from all over the world. We helped each other and we all learned a lot from each other.
the countryside around Bryan's house
And I found the most beautiful kimono/coat in a vintage textile shop
a vintage travel kimono - how fitting
I had to make it my own with my one of my shibori pieces and some sashiko stitching. Every coat needs at least one pocket. Kimono or not ;o)
barefoot traveller - as always
I just came home in time for my mother's 88th birthday, so a more detailed text will have to wait but I will tell you more, rest assured. And I have to try a new vat. Since I was hooked on Kumihimo at once, I ordered a Marudai while still in Japan. I hope it will arrive within the next days. This kind of braiding is so relaxing and I want to make some braids from linen yarn.
The Japanese loom was endearingly called The Beast.
She is a wonderful little old loom and warms up to people only tentatively. But she still works.
See you later friends with more pictures and stories. Still overwhelmed and confused ....
The last month was more or less completely devoted to sorting through stuff.
Usually I'm doing this one piece at a time, in a slow pace but I need our attic rooms to be empty by end of the month (which would be on friday this week) because a friend of ours is in dire need of living space and wants to move in.
We live in one of the areas in Germany where the leases are on the higher end of the scale and he hit the economy on the low end a few years back and is now at the end of his financial possibilities. He can't afford the rent on his old place anymore (a wonderful flat he renovated into a small treasure himself), doesn't earn enough money to afford something near his family and his work and so after a futile search for an affordable place, he asked us if he could move in. We've got the space. But it meant moving my textile stuff from the attic into the basement which still was still filled with all the stuff my parents brought with them when they moved in with us.
So I had to sort through a lot of things. Most pleasantly was the sorting through the crafts stuff in my flat. Which at least resulted in a tidy crafts cabinet
(almost) all my crafty stuff in one place now what a joy - and yes, the drawers are labelled
and well organized weaving yarn
the other portion of the yarn is in a dresser
And then there was the basement.
Imagine two people moving out of a more than 5000 square feet (that's 500 square metres for the metric people) house into a 1000 square feet flat (90 qm). They arrived with 2 moving vans (3200 cubic feet = 90 cubic meters) full from the bottom to the roof. Everything that didn't fit into the flat (which was quite a lot) went into the basement. And stayed there. For now almost 11 years. And wasn't touched or moved.
When my father died I began the feeble attempt to sort through but my mother was still physically active back then and swarted most of my attempts. (You know the comic routine when one person carries something into a van and the other carries it back into the house again - only it didn't feel comical at the time.) So I quit and didn't touch it. But now my mom is bound to the wheel chair and everything outside of her direct view is out of sight and quite literally out of mind.
Which meant, I was free to delve into it and clear the basement.
And it was a roller coaster down memory lane. After four days of sorting through I was emotionally exhausted.
I don't like to throw out still useful and functional things but true to the motto keep only that which is useful and/or beautiful (to you) this angel, a few photos and some tableware was all I kept. I brought my mom her very personal stuff for her to sort through and the rest went to the recycling yard. And oh joy most of it was kept by the workers there for their little second hand shop. I was very pleased. (German waste management is a whole story for itself.)
Why the angel? I am an atheist, I don't celebrate christmas but this angel was hand made by my father and decorated the nativity scene in our house during my childhood christmasses.
After the war when my dad had no work, he and a friend made nativity figurines out of plaster, painted them and sold them. Unfortunately, only one of the kings and this angel are left of ours. I don't know what happened to the rest and mum can't remember. And so this angel will find a place in my atheistic household. Because it is beautiful to me. And reminds me of my dad.
But I did find time to knit a bit.
As promised I began the Fana inspired sweater with the rest of the yarn.
The needle size is one size smaller than the one I used for the lusekofte which makes for a much denser fabric (and a much slower knitting) But I don't think I will need it for this winter (which didn't arrive yet and is most probably not showing this year) so I will have almost a year to finish. One stitch after another ;o) I think, it will need some Norwegian stars too.
interestingly enough, I already had condemned the peach tree in front of our house because it had leaf curl for the past few years. But the cold but dry spring was actually a soothing component for the poor thing. The fungi (leaf curl is caused by fungi which on their part just love wet springs) didn't survive the cold so that I am now blessed with a rich harvest of small but sweet peaches. Not beauties and definitely not up to EU standards but nice and sweet and - well - just like life should be: not perfect but good ;o)
A few months ago it hit
the German natural dyers: no more Brazilwood. For those who are not
acquainted with this dye: Brazilwood (the heartwood from Casealpina echinata) dyes bright red, very fast on wool and silk, medium
fast on cotton and absolutely not fast on linen. It is the only dye
that gives wool this particular shocking red and much sought after by
dyers. And now this. The storage of dealers slowly emptied and there
were no more supplies.
As I said, brazilwood
comes from the heartwood (which is the innermost core of a grown up
tree) of certain trees in Brazil. The red dye was a luxury and sought
after ever since the dawn of book inscribing. Certain red dye for
book illuminations was made from this dye and it was used as a
luxurious addition in fabrics. Brazilwood, back then known as its Asian counterpart sappan
wood, came over the silk road from East Asia as early as the 6th
century. In the 16th century demand was high and it still
was a luxury to get ones hands on it. Bright red always was rare.
And then the Portuguese
found what now is known as Brazil (the word brazil means ember and
refers to the bright red of the dye) and to their endless joy a whole
forest full of Caesalpina trees. The trees were so prominent that
they even named the whole country after them. Though the best trees
only grew in one specific region, the supply seemed endless and they
felled tons of trees and shipped them in huge cargo boats to Europe
for their dye houses. Finally they found gold in the form of an
(seemingly) endless supply of this stuff.
But by the mid-19th
century, everyone was glad that some schmuck developed synthetic dyes
from (another seemingly endless resource) because the supply of trees
was not as endless as it had seemed.
80 to 100 years to get
It takes a Caesalpina
echinata tree about 80 to 100 years to grow enough heartwood in a
quality that is needed for dyeing (and to make violin bows from it),
and the tree needs a specific environment to grow at all and in the
necessary quality. And in the 19th century, lumberjacks
had to go deeper and deeper into the forest to find the right trees.
So with the advent of synthetic dyes, brazilwood nearly was
forgotten. Only violin bow makers still demanded the wood because it
seems only this special kind of pernambucco (named after the forest
region) is the right kind of wood for the best violin bows.
pau brasil source: wikipedia
And then it happened that
in the 1970s a revival in natural dyeing arose and all of a sudden a
few people wanted to dye their wool with brazilwood again. Those few
hippies and early greens were easily supplied with the dust from
turning violin bows and other woodworking stuff and it even was cheap
material. Even 10 years ago, I only paid about 15 to 20 EUR for a
kilogram. And it lasts for ever. You can dye tons of wool with it in
shocking red hues. So it became more and more popular. And then CITES
proposed to list Caesalpina braisiliensis as an endangered species
and was about to prohibit every kind of trade with the wood. It would
even have been illegal to cross a border with a 200 year of
pernambucco violin bow. So the violinists and bow makers were the
first to notice the listing proposal and lobbied against it. In 2007
brazilwood was listed in CITES Appendix II, and is on the IUCN Red
List. It is listed as endangered due to a population reduction of
over 50% in the past three generations, caused by a decline in its
natural range, and exploitation. It took until 2013 to hit the hobby
dyers but now they plunged into it head on. And haven't stopped
wailing since. What should they use now for shocking red on wool? Is
there some surrogate? And when I had a inquiry if I would part with
my small stock in brazilwood and the person offered to pay a certain,
much lower price than I had paid several years before, it hit me.
The natural dye situation
is yet another symptom of the greater problem of too much
It is all very well that
we now demand organic food, organic cotton (very important) and best
naturally dyed clothes. But what we don't demand is: buying less.
There is a whole new level
of supposedly green consumers growing. Change the world for the
better through consuming. But it has to be the correct stuff.
I used to sell dye
extracts and there we were the first to notice the rising demand. For
example, chlorophyll (a natural dye made from alfalfa dyeing true
green) already a very expensive dye, had a price increase of over
150% in one year. At first I thought they had a bad harvest but when
I asked the supplier they told me it was due to the increased demand
by fashion industry and food industry.
Where does this lead (leave) us?
some yarn in brazilwood bath
Brazilwood and Chlorophyll
are only the beginning. The more people are getting aware of natural
dyes and the wholesomeness of natural living the more the demand will
increase. Basically it is not a bad thing. I still advocate dyeing with natural dyes and I still believe it is healthier for us and all
the other living beings on this little planet. But I do also believe
in reducing consumption. We have to become aware that we live in a world of finiteness. As every beings life is finite so are our resources.
There is no way we can supply naturally
dyed organic cotton for all the jeans people want. To grow enough
indigo to dye every jeans that is made and sold only in one year
would mean that the whole subcontinent of India would consist of
nothing else but indigo fields. (And the farmer had to live somewhere
else.) This is basically impossible. And to be honest, it makes
no sense that only a few wealthy people should be able to afford
naturally dyed organic cotton (to stick with the jeans) and the rest
may as well use conventionally grown cotton dyed with synthetics.
if we truly want that dyers in all the poor nations that we use as
our workshops and dumps should be able to live on and by their land again,
should be able to drink their water and still be able to get their
income from dyeing fabrics, and if we truly want that cotton does not
pollute the land it grows on any longer, we need to learn to rethink
how to use clothes, rethink how fashion should work and we need to
learn to see differently.
Like all social beings
living by daylight we love bright colours. It is something atavistic
in us. Bright colours signal willingness to mate, warn us of
dangerous and or toxic situations and beings, they attract insects
and so on. But the advent of synthetic dyes brought us an oversupply
in bright colours and like synthetic aromas our eyes and taste buds
(and sometimes I think even our ears) are blunted by all the shocking
pinks and reds and neon greens and yellows and bright blues. Bright
primary colours predominate fashion and everything else. So all
people can think of is demanding the same colour range in natural
dyes. Turning to natural colours in all their subtlety, in all their
variety and in all the ranges they exist would be like having eaten
hot Mexican food for your whole life and now turning to rural basic
Japanese kitchen. You might want tons of wasabi to taste anything at
Those of us who propose,
teach and use natural dyes maybe should be teachers in a old but new
way of seeing as well. And maybe we could learn and teach to savour
special colours as well.
How about colours of one
continent?India Flint shows us the colours of Australia but what are the colours of Europe? Or North America?
One country? How does Germany look in colours? Or Britain? France? Georgia? Washington State?
Or even local colours?
Beginning in your own
backyard and moving outward, meandering, in circles or at random?
Learning to get to know the colours we have at our hands. Learning
that some colours really are something special. That bright red is a
I will honour and savour
what little brazilwood I have left and dye some silk embroidery
thread with it. Maybe some wool thread as well and use it sparsely
being aware of the luxury it is. And later today I will have a look at the
railway line, I think I've seen some sumac growing. (After I made some apricot jam from apricots in my MIL's garden.)
ALmost a year ago, I jumped back into the saddle of the teaching horse and haven't left it since. And last weekend I was back at my friend's studio teaching the cellulose fibre class.
this is what a teacher's fingers looked like at the end
Plant dyes and plant fibres are my fascination. I know, it's not fair towards wool (silk is something totally different though) but this reluctance with which cellulose fibres take on (or not) natural dyes is absolutely fascinating.
madder, logwood, onion skin
We dyed with several different plants on different mordants whatever cellulose fibre we got our hands on. There was cotton, of course, linen, but hemp as well and ramie and some nettle yarn.
We dyed conventional and with a more modern approach. And I tried to teach a well founded chemical basis.
one student carefully wrapped single flowers into a t-shirt shibori style
overdyed it with onoin skin, eucalyptus leaves and madder with astonishing effects
The students were interested and I hope they had as much fun as I did.
At our last day, I showed them Michel Garcia's organic vat and we added greens and purples to our dye palette.
madder on fine linen
logwood on linen
onion skin like crackled egg shells
and some bundles with flowers
dyeing like in a chinese street kitchen
my favourite part, living camping style for the time
a whole dye kitchen in one mini van
I'll be visiting my friend's studio again next year. In the meantime I have ample opportunities to work on my teaching, learn new things and make tiny little baby steps in getting better at natural dyeing.
Email subscription is now possible. Or at least, I hope so. And the Feed button should work as well.
Concerning the washing boiler:
The transport was rather simple. Simpler than we imagined. Unfortunately on our way back, the exhaust began to sound ominously loud. More like a sports car, less like a mini van ;o) We managed to get back home, unload the boiler and bring the car to the garage. I suppose, we'll be getting it back toll end of the week. At least soon enough for my dyeing class in the Harz next week.
The boiler is now at its place. And since the temperatures dropped again, it will see some action soon.
As I wrote before, due to some really mindless planning on my side, I'm a bit swamped this month by workshops.
supported spindles work a bit different from suspended spindles and I am absolutely intrigued by them. The whole concept is slow. And still they can be quite productive.Well, not productive in the 'I spin 1 pound of wool in a day'-sense but that is not their goal. With a supported spindle I spin thin yarn, very deliberately, purposfully and slow. It is a much more complex spinning process than suspended spindles and still ... I don't know how to say it otherwise, it is quite calm. There is not this sense of urgency in it that I have when I spin with my suspended spindles. Maybe because your spindle hand is continuously touching the spindle, twiddling it and in a freindly way fondling the fibres and yarn.
And as always with such a basic tool like a spindle, it can be as intricately made as humanly possible and as simple as a twig.