On the Japan textile tour we met many weavers of different cloth. This particular business in Kyoto was well established and were famed for their ‘cloth of light’. This cloth was filled with light which could be clearly seen when a flash light was directed at the cloth. Very beautiful indeed and the photos I have below don’t do them justice at all. Their weavers also wove with metal which was adhered to paper somehow.
Several generations of weavers have established the company products and Koho Tatsumura is well known for his work. His son Amane Tatsumura guided us through the studio and we were able to see many of the manual jacquard looms which are still used. These are used with specific punchcards to lift sheds for the patterning. You can closely see the initial development of computers with the punchcards being a foundation for binary code. I am old enough to remember the computer rooms housing punch cards and their operators, so punchcards are always a thing of great fascination for me, especially in weaving.
In the video you can see the weaver’s skill and watch his very delicate hand actions when preparing the metal threads for the weaving. Our touch and hold of objects in our craft is so mesmerizing to watch. Just slight actions make alot of difference in weaving and all other manual skills.
Seems silly but this is what yarn people do. We travel around to see this! Yarn in all its forms, even just lying around huddled in a simple basket (yet another form of enticing interlacing in itself). This was part of the magic at one of our workshops. Looks rather like my bunch of left over threads near my looms, but still – I photographed it with enthusiasm.
My brother once said that if he had knew about the wonders of volcanos he would have been the smartest kid at his school. Meaning… school didn’t trigger that stirring of passion about something. He had to wait until volcanos and their fascination came to him. It’s the same with weaving for me. It’s been a way of seeing the world and learning about the world around me. And as we are all involved in cloth in some from birth to death, it’s a good one for learning about culture and societies.
Ferry hopping to Naoshima Art Island
Along the way the thirst for cloth reveals other delights especially the natural world and this is what I like about Australia and anywhere I go. On our Japan tour we included all of the art projects at Naoshima Art Island in the Seto Inland Sea. Just getting there is a lovely adventure into a vastly different world to mine. As an Australian I am continually challenged by the people factor in other countries. The inland sea and ferry looked a little like the ferry to Bruny Island in Tasmania in some ways. There you have a feeling of being in a very natural and unpopulated environment. You don’t expect to see any industry, cities or infrastructure. The idea is just out of my understanding! In contrast, Naoshima Island has a small population of 3500 and although there are plenty of natural areas in the inland sea there’s also a lot of activity, industry, ships and towns. On the tour we travelled by ferry, plane, bus, train and foot but I think ferry hopping to islands is the most exhilarating. Islands have a mystique. Next I’d really like to discover more about the whole beautiful area in Seto, the inland sea. Read more
Cotton planted by local school children
How exciting is this. Cotton plants welcoming visitors to a cotton Kasuri weaving studio. This studio is in Okayama prefecture which seemed to reveal more cultural and textile riches as we journeyed into it.
Reaching it after a short walk through the narrow streets of the town we come to a place which signals ‘textile’ with the cotton plants. This small studio was abuzz with inspiration and the obvious heartfelt devotion and enthusiasm of the lead weaver Mrs Hinagawa. With the support and encouragement of their local area government, this craft centre also teaches the area’s revived Kasuri weaving. The mission of the group is to continue the revival of this type of Kasuri cotton weaving, teaching it and passing it on, creating local specialty products from the workshop and to enhance activity and vibrance in the town.
As we enter there is a manual cotton ginning process shown to us as the basis for the cloth production. The studio is full of looms in action with various styles and levels of complexity of Kasuri in progress. Some of the travellers got to weave on the looms which are also produced in the Perfecture. In this way we encountered much localism and pride in local traditions in Japan. A sense of meaning in retaining skills and processes and support for it. This is something that is difficult in Australia and although there are pockets of it, such as in Tasmania and some industries, it is generally weaker possibly connected to our particular social and political history which values different things. Even so, it is very encouraging to see anywhere and if it’s in my line of interest, even better.
I am crazy about the Australian bush landscape. And when I go to another country I’m also crazy about their rural and ‘bush’ landscape. Of course they don’t call it bush, it is forest. In Japan this forest is mountainous and beautiful. We came across cypress pines and bamboo and ancient places where temples were. Japan chooses to have up to 70% of its land forested, and although much would be difficult to build on it is largely a choice.
Master Indigo dyer Hiroyuki Shindo
It is into and within this landscape that we visited two incredible and internationally acclaimed textile masters.The first was at Miyama. A more picturesque village I have never seen. Here the atelier and Indigo Museum of Hiroyuki Shindo is nestled in houses made from tall, textured and moss covered thatch. Some have described Mr Shindo as one of the most seminal textile artists of today. He is utterly dedicated to his craft and bridges and unifies the past and present with his work. We were very fortunate indeed to have the artist himself explain his processes. He continues to invent new ways of creating shibori cloth in indigo and his inventions are creative tools for preparing long lengths of cloth for the indigo dyebath vats.The floor of the indigo studio was once a farmhouse kitchen now devoted to the ceramic vats. To introduce fermentation he mixes composted leaves with lye, wheat bran, slaked lime and sake.It is a unpredictable process which he manages through long experience.
A mangle stained with indigo
The end product left over from the bath is always natural and can be returned to the earth with no residue or issue at all. This is an important aim of his work as this type of dyeing requires patience and skill and isn’t focused on big production. It treads lightly, requiring work and sensitivity, but delivers great beauty.
The next artist was Jun Tomita. Co-author of Japanese Ikat Weaving and a master of contemporary kasuri. Very much a favourite artist of mine! He also lived in an amazing landscape with a studio converted from a glasshouse to provide good light nestled in a bamboo and Cypress forest.
Jun Tomita’s studio
Nature propels the imagination and energy for creative work, in my humble option. And this studio was filled with that ideal. Commission work and kasuri/ikat work in progress was everywhere. Tomita’s wife Mayo Horinouchi, is also a weaver and artist and was weaving double cloth on a loom when we got there.
Jun Tomita spent some time at the Jam Factory in Adelaide early in his career (1976-78) and also studied at West Surrey College of Art and Design in the UK and worked with Peter Collingwood. Today he continues to weave commissioned wool rugs and I see his work in wool with an influence of that period.
These were important visits for me and the guests on the tour. Japanese textile artist studios like these are set up in ways that are much closer to how we work in Australia. The looms can be similar and the set up reflects our tools but importantly, build on that to show us how to work well with finer yarns and dye processes. They also hold traditions for storing and transferring warps which isn’t as well known in the general British and European traditions. Read more
“What did you see, what did you do?” Where to start…
Probably the best way of describing Japan is the feeling of culture shock when you arrive back in your own country! After about an hour the feeling subsides as you start to slot into the semi disorganisation, and the lack of many things here. Many more people are employed in Japan so service and assistance is deemed important. Unemployment is very low. As an example, here we prioritise machines and the productivity (less humans in work) that they provide regardless of its implications society wise, for example the Sydney Opal transport card. In Japan you can still buy bus tickets on a bus with actual money, even in the large cities. So people can travel around quite easily. Even visitors!
Kenzo Jo working his magic on the loom
Mesmerized by weaving
The first day of the Textile tour was a day workshop at Saori no Mori. We had a small crew from Australia and New Zealand and not all were weavers previously. What a great start to the many things we would see and people we would meet. Kenzo Jo introduced the workshop by showing everyone how to wind a bobbin and get weaving in his energetic and creative, inventive style. Each time I meet Kenzo the more I am moved to recognise his incredibly inventive and inspiring nature. He is always thinking of improvements and inventions which help make us more daring and inventive too. You can see he won’t really let you just sit there without prompting some challenge in what you are doing. Like taking the whole warp of the back beam while weaving and inserting an intermediary clipping rod to make the tension
messed up uneven. It is all quite remarkable really.
The somen slider
Lunch was deliciously challenging too. We had to catch the somen noodles going down a bamboo slider. A great meal for the hotter weather we were having. We are proposing to run the tour again in 2017 in mid November. If you would like to register your interest please contact me or the tour agent Intentionally Different.
At Saori no Mori Osaka
Back to it! Being away with the textile tour group in Japan was fantastic. I always feel like another person when I’m away. Briefly stepping away from worries and the stresses of life, and into another world where I am largely a spectator. However there are many nice things about being home, nearer family and with my looms again. At one point in Japan I was so inspired I thought I would have to leave the group to come home to my looms right away!
Before the tour began I spent some time catching up with the Jo family and on new Saori developments at Saori no Mori in Osaka. As Dave, my husband, was with me he decided to weave cloth too. Although he briefly wove at the Bendigo show some years ago, he has never really sat down and woven cloth in the almost 40 years that I have been doing it around the place.
The cloth in motion
The cloth he wove was just lovely. Being a new weaver helps with all of that freedom. Some sections were woven with a technique that requires two people that get along and we managed that quite well!
When I got home I really wanted to make it into a garment immediately, before the magic wore off. I chose, as the basis for the design, the new bias technique that I learnt at Saori and it worked really well. There is a new book being developed for this technique and I look forward to its publication. Bias style garments fall nicely on the human body and are a good way for using for our narrower woven cloths.
Cloth is designed and woven by Dave M, stitched by me