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Kasuri preservation

Cotton plants

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.

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The Human Touch – Down Under Textiles 25

Down Under Textiles 25Down Under Textiles 25 is now on sale with lots of ideas and inspiration on textiles. My column is about the Human Touch and how textiles connect us and are for everyone.

Errata: The photo caption of Marie is incorrect. The photo is of Maria, a Saori weaver.

Textile artists in Japan – make my heart sing


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.

Mr Shindo

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

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

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

The special cloth

Dave at Saori Osaka

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.

weaving the cloth

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 designed by dave

Cloth is designed and woven by Dave M, stitched by me

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Studio time

Ellen weaving on the Saori loom

Ellen on the loom

I’ve had lots of studio visitors over the last couple of months. Aside from planned weekend workshops I’m experimenting with the viability of day sessions now and again. Individual tuition is always available as many people want to know more about how to warp and use the loom for their own work. But it’s always nice to have a buzzing studio with everyone sharing their ‘discoveries’ and weaving together.

You’ll see lots of work ‘on loom’ but there is a feeling of elation and surprise when the cloth is cut down.  But this is only the first in a set of steps to make the cloth and the finishing process really gets it all together.

Nikita weaving cloth

Nikita translucent cloth design

Handwoven cloth

Megan’s rich color cloth

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What are the chances?

wave weave

Weaving waves

Chance. How we doubt its authority. It really is about how to choose.  This Aeon essay portrays choosing as a way of moving forward and as humans do, we crave validation that we are going in the right direction. The Kantu’ of Borneo use a bird to determine the new season’s optimum planting ground in poor soils but as the anthropologist Michael Dove discovered, the authority given to the bird made more sense than his determination to scientifically determine the bird’s methods.

The essayist Michael Schulston points out that a method of choosing using a trusted tailsman has the bonus of taking away blame and giving reasons for the choice. The bird chose – the decision is made.

I think we can learn alot from this approach as we are more inclined to mistrust our intuition or tailsmans. We need solid proven, logical,  scientific and mob approved reasoning for everything. And if we get it wrong we FAIL, FAil, FaiL, fail. Read more

Creating cloth and filming cloth making

Filming cloth making

Filming cloth making

I know all of my posts are about cloth and this one won’t be any different. I’ve written before about my luck in the humans coming to my studio, and what I learn from them. Here Mark is filming the weaving process and I’m grateful to him for sharing his expertise and skills.

Here you’ll see two videos which show how a weaver works when they come to the studio. Although it is a time lapse it shows the very organic nature of how we work with the warp threads and how we just ‘paint’ or way to the creation of cloth.


Sometimes photographing textiles is more fun than weaving them! In the second video you’ll also see some white paper sitting underneath the reed within the beater. This helps if the black warp threads are playing tricks on the eyes and makes some types of weaving difficult. I also put white paper on the floor which helps sometimes too.

Okinawa – Japan – still room for you to come along


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. Read more