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Okinawa – Japan – still room for you to come along

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Photo by Chris Lewis

Meet Taira Toshiko san. A national treasure of Japan in Okinawa.  She is responsible for reviving the bashofu processing and weaving in Okinawa after the war. Now 98 years old she continues to manage the processing and weaving workshop which produces bashofu. This is a rare textile indeed. Bashofu fibre is from a plantain banana like tree and produces cloth which is light and almost transparent.

Okinawa comprises 150 islands in the East China Sea. In is a prefecture of Japan and the largest island, Okinawa, is where we will visit on our Japan Textile Tour in September. Also historically known as the Ryukyu Islands it is well known today for the healthy longevity of its citizens.

Bashofu cloth is special but so are the many unique kasuri designs from the islands. Kasuri is the tying of warp yarns in preparation for dyeing then weaving patterns. You can see more about the weaving workshop below with an unexpected Australian connection.

There is a real connection to the earth when you plant, grow, process then weave cloth or cook food. I think that this is more how we are meant to live seeking harmony and fulfillment in our work and relationships. But it is very difficult for many of us, and although I don’t pretend that anything is perfect and may still have negatives it certainly feels like the right ideal.  In the same village as the bashofu cloth weaving there is a cafe – Em’s Longevity food. Also called Emi no Mise or tastes of laughter. Laughter is another little promoted healthy option in life so eating and laughter has to be good.

We still have a couple of vacancies on our tour and it’s not too late to join us. See the brochure here.  I welcome any inquires and can send further information on request. Contact Kaz.

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Getting beyond at Sturt Winter School 2016

weaving with handspun

Ciara’s handspuns into Saori inspired cloth

Off and away again at Sturt Winter School just keeps getting better. This year we were in a larger room within the Frensham Girls school rather than the traditional, once was a, weavers studio in the Craft centre. It seems a long time since I’ve posted up new pics but I seem to have been almost too busy getting around with the loom-mobile.

We had a lot of things going on at the same time mainly because it was my third year at Sturt and the thirst for more has arrived. A couple of participants wound their own warps in their own colourways and one then continued to warp the loom and weave off the 6 metres.  I had a handpainted warp that was in good hands and also woven off with another 6 metres.  We had an avid handspinner working her magic on the loom and a sakiori and boro lover who stitched a fantastic boro style vest with her cloth.  Another weaver wove and stitched a shrug style garment along with some tableware and several others delved into exquisite technique use and sensitive colour palettes to create remarkable cloth.   Read more

Saori in Tasmania – Hobart

vineyard

Nandroya Wines

The Hobart workshop was hosted Joy (and John) Rees of Nandroya Vineyard. They make Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc wines which really go well with weaving! Again I couldn’t have dreamed up the hospitality I received and can’t thank everyone enough. As the workshop was held in Joy’s weaving studio it enhanced our connection to the long tradition of handweaving, being in the space of a very skilled weaver. The warm room had nice light and a huge weavers bookshelf.  I could have been there for years. We had a mix of looms including a total of five Saori looms. Rigid heddle and other floor looms were also there. But mostly I encountered the beautiful Lotas looms which were made in Tasmania previously. They are Jack style 4-8 shaft looms and some are very compact and can fold up to some degree.

Hobart Workshop

Hobart Workshop

The Saori looms are certainly very productive as far as time to weave longer lengths and Mieke wove her hanspuns into a very long length which had to be caught to relieve the bulk build up on the cloth beam. So handy because you  can wear your cloth while you are weaving it!

The range of experience of the weavers were very beginners to very experienced. They all experimented with the opportunity to work freely and unfettered by constrictions. To create a cloth in their own way without a formulated pattern. Weaving is the greatest craft in the history of humans (not an overstatement I’m sure) and all styles and approaches are curious and absorbing paths to cloth.

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Saori in Tasmania – Poatina

Tasmania

Woven at the Hobart Workshop

Over the last few weeks I have been travelling and teaching workshops in Tasmania. Every single workshop I do, is a privilege. To be with others as they encounter weaving for the first time, or how participants share their skills and experience of weaving with me, thinking up ways of creating in amongst the warp. But Tasmania, its landscape and inhabitants, thankfully defies my usual overuse of cliche. My first photo speaks of the diversity of Tasmania’s landscape. A fairly new weaver wove this in Hobart. Handspun yarn was a feature in both Tasmanian workshops due to the high amount of spinners and fibre lovers there. This piece of cloth on the loom kept emerging with detailed work which I think reflected the sum of what I experienced.

View from Poatina

View from Poatina

The first workshop was at the old Hydro village of Poatina. You’ll see the views here one way across the valley from the high vantage point. The other direction was the high Great Western Tiers. What a perfect location to weave in. There were a large number of participants here, much more than I usually have. But it was so well organised and even with a variety of looms, it worked exceptionally well.

Up into the Central Highlands at Miena we were fortunate to receive a good cover of snow overnight.

Miena Tasmania in snow

Miena Tasmania

Snow is quite the occasion for us as it is rare for us to see.

The Hydro projects in Tasmania are fantastic and are a real tribute to the families who worked on them. These towns housed families and created communities which would be very rare today. The landscape is punctuated with transmission towers which I think influenced some of our weaving there. Warps and wefts can create the spidery lines of the electrical wires.  It would be an amazing place to do a project with and no doubt many have.  In the same way I always think that the highway construction teams, who don’t have communities to be housed in aside from temporary metal boxes, would be a rewarding place to be an artist in residence. Capturing the work being done and a snippet of the lives of the people doing it. Alas, I haven’t heard of the RMS suggesting such a thing. Thank you to the weavers in Poatina and to Di Kearney for organising and liaising with me to make this possible. Also thank you to the staff at Poatina Chalet.  The workshops were hosted and supported by the Handweavers, Spinners and Dyers Guild of Tasmania. See more Poatina Workshop photos here.

As a prompt for weaves based on transmission towers see here.

weaves based on transmission towers

Weaving transmission towers?

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The imagined and real – or East Timor and Brisbane

weft wrapped sotis

wrapping design

A couple of big ticks last week. I’ve actually and finally been to Brisbane. It’s shameful to admit that I’d never been there. Just skirting around it over my lifetime. But now it’s done! and I’ll be back.

I had the most glorious week weaving everyday under the extraordinary tutelage of Kay Faulkner in her weaving school. I learnt so much. Firstly, that I always know more than I think and being with another weaver helps my confidence…as a good teacher does. Secondly, Kay was supportive in my quest to free myself from the bondage of notation. In fact she expected it!

The five day block course was ‘East meets West‘. It was a good exploration of weaves from Asia, and particularly East Timor, within the context of  design on a western shaft loom rather than the backstrap.  This was great because as I’m supporting the East Timor Heart Fund in 2016 , getting some imaginary ‘travel’ to East Timor via their textiles was a more meaningful experience. Here is a lovely East Timorese dance by children dressed in traditional cloth posted by East Timor Heart Fund. The cloth is called Sotis.

 

KayFaulkner2016

Weaver – Kay Faulkner

This type of weaving is warp faced. You don’t really see the weft and it is a relatively small contributor to the colouring in the cloth. In a little miracle I didn’t make any threading errors in a cloth with 960 ends.  There is nothing like doing and learning and the pick up imagery in the Sotis work is the one that took me the longest to get the ‘feel’ for.

You can see some picture of the progress here. I am particularly fond of the type of weft wrapping you see here. Although I’ve done some of this before, it all seemed to come together. Then Kay showed me a Burmese cloth that just floored me. Such beauty and vitality. Such secrets it held. Yes cloth can hold many secrets and this is something that bonds weavers together. The pattern on the discontinuous weft patterning isn’t as easy to achieve on a western and limited shaft loom.  The looms with pattern storage systems used in Asia have far more versatility to create complex patterning and patterns that are more fluid. The cloth from Burma was truly beautiful. Kay’s vast technical knowledge and her generous teaching and personal style made every minute at the loom a joy. Read more

Pre wound weaving

Saori cloth in wool

Completed yardage

Somehow I’m not really a wool weaver. Never have been. I’ve always enjoyed cotton, silk and cellulose and bast fibres generally. Don’t get me wrong, I love wool and like to spin with it and am into the history of wool and its success in Australia. It’s just that I didn’t have early success with it in the beginning.

So I really need a BIG push to weave in wool, especially with a wool warp. What better push than an ignorant mistake on my part. I had two beautiful blue pre-wound warps from previous releases and I hurriedly started threading one on the loom in the dim light of my lounge room one night. “This yarn is a fuzzy, funny type of cotton” I thought to myself. Some cottons are a bit fuzzy so I just continued threading away until realising, in the light of day,  that I now had a lovely six metres of woollen warp on the loom – just in time for the hot summer!

Woven circles

Weaving circles in progress

Weaving in wool was a bit difficult in the heat but the gods had declared I must. As the blue warp was an indigo shade I knew I had to pop with hot pink, then bright mustard yellow.  I used inlay to weave in circles in silk and they worked out beautifully. The main reason to weave with wool, and especially a wool warp, is the felty magic that happens to the cloth on finishing. So snuggly and warp – now just in time for winter. So maybe weaving wool in summer does make some sense after all.

Saori woven coat

Saori woven coat

The main advantage of using pre-wound warps for me, aside from hurried unplanned mistakes, is the physiological effect it has on my perception of time.  With some experience a 200 thread pre-wound takes about one hour tops to thread and start weaving.  Winding a warp myself doesn’t take too much longer but it feels like it does. A pre-wound warp doesn’t limit creativity because every person weaves them differently and the cloths are different looking. There is something empowering about having a couple of pre-wounds in the wings waiting for the moment to be woven. When we just want to thread and go.

Fuku clothing book

Design 28

I stitched up the fabric into a coat from the Fuku no Katachi ni Suru clothing book. Design number 28. The great thing about these types of simple clothing patterns is they are all so different depending on the cloth created. To modify for size, measure your back between your where you would like your armholes to be cut. To make this larger than the given size make sure the central panel for the back is wide enough and if not you can always slice some fabric lengthwise to add another panel to make it right for you. You may need to add a corresponding panel for the front and back wrap too. If you wear the coat upside down, as I have here,  it looks more like a coat/tunic.  Either way it’s great to wear! I love the cloth so much that I might even purposely thread a wool warp onto the loom next summer. I especially like how you can leave chopped fringing here and there with wool because the light felting/finishing process locks it in and it looks good.

A sentient cloth?

chris2

by Christine Appleby

I know that handwoven cloth isn’t sentient but sometimes it seems ‘alive’. Vibrancy, texture and a sense of spontaneity in the yarn usually mix in such away that the cloth becomes far more than its collection of yarn. At least it seems like that when weavers take to my Saori looms. Pictured here is Christine’s cloth, but it  is one of many that I get to see as they are woven and released from the loom.

When I was in Bhutan, I was impressed with the quiet respect the people had for woven cloth. Even men who had never woven folded the cloth with a reverence, keeping the coloured pattern on the inside to protect it.  Cloth is like that. It can be folded or tossed depending on its use. You can be careful with it or use it for hard work. (if you are interested in Bhutanese textiles also see Kay Faulkners recent write up).  It suggests that something about the cloth is indeed ‘alive’.

Some yarns are better than others in achieving that ‘aliveness’ in cloth. And it also depends on the weaver and how they handle and work with the yarn.  Highly textured and almost ephemeral work is very appealing and on trend at the moment. Natural fibres and organic styling is also exciting most weavers and other textile artists.  Although it seems that this self-evident beauty will always be attractive and sought in our work, it won’t be. Not to be negative, but change will always come along in all its forms and we will be enjoying another beauty as we continue to weave cloth and new ideas and tools come along. But that beauty and allure, that great passion for cloth will always make it like a living creation.

Magazine cover

Down Under Textiles, issue 23

In the current issue of Down Under Textiles (Issue 23), on sale now, I write about the ‘State of our Art’ (p12/13). Changes in tools, fibre supply and technology contribute to changes in how and what we work with. Once handweaving wasn’t associated with art as we view it,  but only as functional work to produce cloth for use. Now we hang our textiles on walls as a form of creative expression and look at handweaving as recreation or creative artistic work.

Having said this I’m still into weaving very plain, everyday items that I will use.  Like baking bread there is something almost primeval about the whole thing. I know it sounds ridiculous to weave a linen towel which could be bought for a fraction of the cost of the yarn and not even counting the time to weave it…but there it is. There is nothing like the rhythm of plain weaving on the loom. Read more

57 – and the little snippet project

Saori cloth

Silk hand-dyed ikat warp, silk weft

Guess what! I’ve turned 57. In Saori weaving this is a bit significant. It is the age when Misao Jo, the founder of Saori in Japan, started weaving by herself. Her sons all married off, and now for time where she could focus on her journey in weave.

In a typical course of events, we all love being mothers of little people and we don’t regret any of that very hectic, worrying time, but there comes a time for a little snippet for ourselves, if we’re lucky enough. Most women today seem to have that snippet before they marry and have children so will be in a different position when they turn 57. But I married when I just turned 19 and devoted myself to what I thought was important in my family…today a perceived narrow option, yet what I enjoyed –  a very rich life.

If you are approaching or hoping to be 57 anytime in the future or you are past that number and well underway with the snippet project – what excitement awaits and beholds. Now for creative weave games utterly for the self.

An interesting thing about having a Saori studio is the constant challenge to how I view weaving as a craft and process.  I didn’t expect this. Even though I have always  puzzled with identification in Art vs Craft type, I didn’t expect challenges within the craft of handweaving itself.  But I should have.

Saori clothBecause I have woven most of my life, my love of all weaving techniques and styles has grown. I learn about people from this craft and how they live, what they value and why they do it.  Many weavers specialise in a type of weaving; after all we only have so much time. I’ve dabbled here and there and there and here because I am crazy for it all.  I’ve got a 24 shaft compu-dobby Toika especially to do the puzzle weaving and high tech and cupboards full of frame looms and sticks for the low tech, higher skill weaving. I’ve woven on the inkle loom ad nauseum, with styles from the Baltic, England and South America. I’ve dyed, wrapped, puzzled, been elated and been frustrated. And then, for the first time, the Saori loom has given me the perfect tool for showing others how to weave cloth. It’s all sorted and I can relax with it. There is nothing like a floor loom to produce yardage. Read more