Sunday 30 October 2011

Coming Home

I have been away from home for 8 days and this is the sight that greeted me at home this afternoon. The maples strutting their stuff. The whole garden is incandescent - and gorgeous. Why does yarn not come this colour?

From Monday to Thursday I was on a course 'Beyond Background' with Leslie Morgan of 'Committed to Cloth'. They have a wonderful purpose built studio formed from an old barn. Everything is perfect. A large table for each student which is easily height adjustable, an IKEA storage unit on castors for under the table. Masses of tools, paints, dyes, sinks. The only imperfection was me. The other eight students were all quilts/textile artists and had a much better grasp of shape, design and colour than I had. One of the next sessions was where every student in turn pinned up a work and everyone criticised it. I learnt a lot from the discussions on all the works. I managed five works but only one of them is finished.

The above shows two completed works on cotton. The piece on the left is dry-brushed and I will use the top part as covers for books. I don't like the tartany bit at the bottom.

These two need further work. The fifth and last piece is in an early stage and I might show it when I have decided what to do with it!.

On Thursday I moved to Reading and stayed over. On Friday a gang of us hung the Weaving Exhibition.  We had a good 'do' on Saturday evening and a fair few visitors during the day on Saturday and Sunday. I have a load of photos and will save these for a later blog.

I am not at all sure about the pieces I did at the course. I can't think what to do with them. Everyone else was a quilter and I shall not be making a quilt any time soon - certainly not the size these pieces are. The smallest is 1.5 yards long. The techniques were interesting and useful  and could be used elsewhere.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Exhibition(s) and What-not

I have spent the last week mending computers or, in one case, paying to have it mended. If that was not enough, the dishwasher is on strike and I haven't the time to chase a repair man so that will have to wait a week or two. In the meantime, I am washing up by hand. I know that does not sound logical but I am off on Sunday to a course at Committed to Cloth and then hanging the Guild Weaving Exhibition. The other job I have been doing is making lists of items which are going to exhibited, ringing people up to ask questions and running out of labels. The lists are now finished and I am hoping that not too many changes are needed next Friday.

I did manage to produce this T-shirt. When in Okinawa, Ruth saw a T-shirt tie dyed like this and fancied it but no, not in her size (she's a 14). So she turned to me and said,'You can do that. I would like one in pinkish-purple'. The only response possible is a nervous 'Ooh err'.

I have to take 2 yards of dyed cotton to next week's course and opted for dark purple. But I had lots of Procion MX dye solution left and it does not keep more than a few days. So I found an old M&S T-shirt in my wardrobe and tried out the method I think was used in the Okinawan T-shirt. The method clearly works  but I think it would look better if the lowest band was lower and the other three bands were higher. A useful exercise.

I must say I am looking forward to a time 10 days hence when all that is before me is Christmas which will be 2 months off and I can concentrate on getting a few projects finished. I have decided against entering for Convergence Yardage and Small Expressions. I am not inspired by the theme for the yardage and don't think I am good enough for Small Expressions. I have a lot of Diversified Plain Weave warp left and intend to weave something off-beat for the Midland Textile Forum's next Exhibition.

Thursday 20 October 2011


In addition to textiles, there is, of course, paper. Apart from buying some (too much), everything you buy is wrapped up in wonderful paper. I brought everything I could home including the paper shoppers which came with my carefully wrapped  up purchases inside.

I have just cut the bags apart and ironed them. On the left are shown a lfew of them. To give you an idea of scale, the piece on the top right is about 20 inches square and is quite heavy duty so could be used as a book cover without any card inside.

This photo is of tickets! You have to pay to get into shrines in Kyoto (not in Tokyo) and the red and black tickets with calligraphy are temple tickets. They are about 10 inches long. All ironed and ready to use.

There are many stationers selling beautiful paper. Here is some I bought. A stationer in Kyoto saw me opening all the drawers where they keep the best paper and arrived at my elbow with a Lever Arch file of samples. Not much hope of communication but he indicated the number on the sample and the number on the drawer and then ushered me to a desk and chair to examine the samples. Worth his while, I spent a lot of money.

This was the most expensive sheet of paper. The paper is not much more than tissue paper (the crosses are the floor tiles. The pattern of cranes in a landscape is in gold leaf. Goodness knows what I shall do with it. Gloat over it for few years, I expect.

The Kyoto stationers sold packs of 5 paper table mats with wonderful designs on them and they worked out at about £1.10 a sheet so I bought several packets. They are a little bigger than A4. It seems to me that the patterns are seasonal. They were doing a lot of autumn leaves. I went to the bookbinding class yesterday afternoon and bound four copies of Michael's Morning Glory book. But I also started on another book which will be bound in Coptic style. That has a lot of cartridge paper in it but I am using some of the paper mats in it as well.

I have had a lot of trouble with computers since returning home and the kitchen/scullery roof needs replacing. The builder has been to see it and says he will patch it up until spring. In his opinion, it is a waste of money doing a flat roof in wet weather. What this has shown is that I have decided to stay in this house for the foreseeable future. I am about to have some bookcases made and I am thinking about turning one large room into a studio and knocking more windows into the end wall. If I do that the peach tree will have to go. So I am not quite decided yet. But it would make a huge difference to the light in the room.

Monday 17 October 2011


These are four samples of patterned silk from Kyoto. The two left hand ones are Yuzen. The top right hand one is woven roses - and does not show up well. Not sure about the fourth one.

 Two examples of kasuri  (warp and weft ikat) from Kyoto. Both are silk.

Hana-ori from Okinawa. You can clearly see the flowers in this large sample which is cotton.

And this is hana ori too - on bashofu, the banana tree bark fibre. A tiny piece because it was so expensive!!! On the left is a small piece of the fibre. This is the thick stuff from the outer bark layers. The fine fibre of the weaving is from the inner bark.

This is a guard dog in bingata on hemp. Guard dogs are everywhere in Okinawa. If you are the Government, then they are four foot high and in bronze and very severe. If you are a shop keeper then they are likely to be in painted pottery 12 to 18 inches high and rather cheerful. They come in pairs which are slightly different. Needless to say I have a pair of terra cotta ones - rather small but very cheerful.

And this is my bingata stencil. I have written off to an American expert to see if he thinks I should put a protective layer on it before use.


On Saturday 15th we had to catch a plane back to Tokyo. But we realised that we had not been to the Praefectural Museum in Naha, the capital. So we left Emerald Beach smartly at 9 and got to the Museum at 1030 to find their was a special exhibition of Okinawan Arts and crafts on.  This was in honour  of the emigrants. Things were so bad in Okinawa in the late 1940s that huge numbers left. The main places were Hawaii, Brazil and South America. There was a huge conference on in Naha for them - clearly an annual event and this exhibition was part of the celebrations. It was mostly textiles but with some lacquer work and some paper - making. I didn't know that - missed a trick there. Ths exhibition was only on for the two weeks of the conference and they had not bothered with any English so it was a case of  'I think that's hemp'.  No photos allowed anywhere which is a pity.
The normal Textile Gallery did have English explanations and was very good. The Museum's website is not good - no pictures of textiles. Then back to the car and find the car rental place - which we did with Ruth's guidance.

Back to Tokyo, found hotel, ate spaghetti and tiramisu in Hotel restaurant and got ready for Sunday about which the less said the better. A 12 hour flight. I reached home at 7 and was in bed at 9.

So this morning has been spent on unpacking and loading the washing machine. Also worrying about the workhorse computer which will not switch on. I have done a lot of list making as the Weaving Exhibition at the National Needlework Archive is the priority for the next two weeks.

What am I left with? The Okinawan textiles really are something special. And I shall go back to ikat.

Friday 14 October 2011

OKINAWA (5) Shibori

This is a tablecloth done in shibori. Last night we ate in a local restaurant which had only five tables (Okinawan style - sit on the floor)  in an old Okinawan house. The food was delicious but the tablecloths were stunning.  Every table had a different pattern of cloth.

When I say local, I mean three minutes away, done an unlit muddy lane, using a flash-light to guide us. As we returned to our chalet, we heard music and walked past what is clearly the village hall where there was a class going on in Okinawan dance. We stood outside and watched through the windows.

During the day, we had been very unsuccessful in finding an indigo studio I had read about. Ruth set about the web to see what she could do and, by the end of the evening, she thought she could get us there. So we set off at 930 this morning and found it!! The notices for it are all in Japanese and it is called Ai Zome in a village called Izumi high in the hills.

Here we are dipping our shibori work into the Indigo Vat. They do it differently from everything I have been taught. You dip the fabric in and out slowly but continuously for three minutes. Then it is inspected and we repeated this three times.

This is Ruth's piece at the end. It is of cotton and about 18 inches square.

And this is mine - a piece of hemp. We were both rather pleased with our efforts.

This is my piece of completed bingata, ironed, soaked, washed and dried.

And these are Ruth's pieces. All very pleasing. We have been repacking this evening. Throwing away the paper and plastic bags we have collected and wondering if the airlines will let us on board. I have made a list of what I have bought for the Customs people although I don't think I am over the limit.
Tomorrow we drive South to Naha, return the car and fly to Tokyo, then to a hotel and up early on Sunday to get to  a different airport - Narita. Then home on Sunday afternoon. It has been great. We have both been very taken with the kindness and courtesy of the people in North Okinawa. No-one here speaks English at all. They don't speak a lot in Naha, the capital, whereas you can count of someone speaking English in Kyoto and Tokyo. At our hotel in Naha, noone spoke English!

Here our hotel used a computer translator - and they warned the restaurant we did not speak Japanes. As a result, when each course arrived, the girl also brought a piece of paper with the ingredients written out in English. Obviously they had spent some time on the web before we arrived!! 

Seen a lot, done a lot, more than I expected to. I'll be back - the question where?

Thursday 13 October 2011

Okinawa (4) Islands and Beaches

On Wednesday we took the 9 o'clock fast ferry to the island of Tomashiki. Then we caught a bus across the island to this beach (in foreground) and the small island as the view. The beaches are white sand (coral) and there are coral reefs starting about 10 yards from the water's edge. Ruth, who is an expert, says she has never seen good coral reefs. There ared lots of different sorts of fish including clown fish. There were maybe 30 people on a half-mile long beach. We rented an umbrella and chairs and snorkelling equipment and got on with enjoying ourselves. The only drawback  was that it was very out of season and there was no food to  be had. But we survived on water and coke.

We got back to the hotel about 6 and went out to get something to eat. We ended up in a place which cooked the main course on a metal plate set in our table. Here is my lobster and prawns being done. Very good. My son-in-law, Robin, is complaining that he thought this was a textile trip and it seems to have become a gourmet trip. Can he come with us next time?  I think Ruth is already planning a major family expedition to Japan.

This morning (Thursday) we left the capital, Naha, and travelled north to Emerald Beach where we are staying in a chalet (rather high class) about 5 minutes from the beach. And they have shells on the beach. The smallest ones are more than two inches long.  There were no shells at all at Tomashiki yesterday.

We took in a Bashofu factory on the way. Bashofu is fabric woven from Banana tree bark. You can see the whole process there but - no photos.  I have bought a sample, got given a write up in English and managed to acquire a sample of the fibre as it is spun (Don't ask). As a yarn, it is quite stiff and each weaver had a humidifier puffing out steam next to the warp. It feels like hemp when woven up. They weave tabby stripes and some hana-ori but also kasuri (warp and weft ikat) which was dreadfully expensive at about £80 for a table mat. Even the small piece I bought which is 4 or 5 inches square cost me £10.0 and it is just striped.

One leftover from Tomashiki is that I got badly sun burnt on my legs. We think it was caused by the umbrella not being wholly opaque. Ruth has some good stuff and the redness is beginning to disappear. 

Tuesday 11 October 2011

OKINAWA (3) Hana-Ori

Yesterday we drove north on the island to a theme park - not the roller-coaster sort but a place where they have moved old Okinawan houses to form a sort of village. This has lots of artisans working in it. The photo is of one of the terracotta guard  dogs at the entrance. He is about two foot high. Most Okinawan places have a pair at the door. Even our hotel which is very new has two! 

There was quite a lot going on in the way of dancing and music. The audience was expected to join in the dancing and it was quite fun to watch very old visitors suddenly leading the dance. A great deal of happiness all round.

. .
The attraction for me was the weaving and this is Hana-ori which I think means 'Flower weaving'. The piece of cardboard at the top is the weaver's shuttle.At the bottom centre you can see the treadles. in fact there were only two main shafts and most of the weaving was tabby.

The two main shafts are to the left but in the centre are two additional shafts, and some of the threads go through a heddle on two shafts, a main one and an additional one.

Sorry about the photo - the camera got fogged up

Here you see the weaver operating one of the additional shafts with her foot. Below the loops of cord for the additional shafts are the two treadles for the main shafts.

There is a great distance between the main shafts and the fell line. And there is a system of moving the reed. The reed is in a wooden support which slots into one of the grooves along the top edge of the loom. And when the fell line is getting close to the reed, the weaver picks up the reed support and slots it into a groove further back. The spacing between grooves is about 2 inches. One drawback of this type of weaving is that there are enormous floats on the back.

We then went off to Yomitan Village and tracked down a factory which still weaves Hana-ori commercially. The piece in the theme park was very narrow and not very complicated. In the factory, they were using much the same sort of loom but producing very complex kimono lengths. Very attractive. So I bought a decent sized piece there but, as usual, it was whipped away for wrapping before I could take a photograph. We could not take photos of the stuff on show or of the workers and their looms but there were about a dozen looms.

When I get back home, I will do a fabric analyisis of the piece I have bought. I reckon it could be done on the Megado. Today we are off to the islands on a ferry boat.


We visited a specialist bingata establishment yesterday. Bingata is a traditional stencilling method used in Okinawa. This studio, Ryusen, uses the original method (described below) but has also introduced stencilling with blocks of coral. They cut a block of coral in half and some blocks are shown on the left. Smallest one is about three inches across. One or two are 18 inches across.

Here you can see how they use the coral. A piece of fabric, in this case, silk, is stretched tightly over the coral block and fixed using an elastic band. The dye stuff (natural) is dabbed on to the top of the coral. You can see a large piece of fabric in blue below. The crucial thing about bingata is the use of shading across a stencil. I had not realised this before.  If you look at the section she is doing, there is a lot of yellow in it as well as red.

Jars of natural dye material. This studio was set up in the early 1950s by someone who wanted to revive bingata. The Okinawans had a bad time during the World War II. The Japanese and Americans had a last stand here and more than 1 in 8 of the population died. Everything was bombed to bits. The culture is not really Japanese, more Chinese with a strong mix of Indonesian. A man  who speaks Okinawan told me that he was very surprised when he went to Indonesian and could understand a lot of what was said.

These are kimono lengths on rollers for stencilling.

And a piece of a kimono length of true bingata. These colours are tradiitonal bingata colours. A kimono length (13 metres) cost a great deal of money - several thousand pounds but they were selling small pieces and I settled for a guard lion-dog on hemp. As usual they wrapped it up so well that I am not undoing it to take a photo!

This is a stencil. It is used by stencilling  onto the fabric a resist, traditionally this would be a rice resist. You then paint as you wish . Dry the whole thing, heat set it and then wash out the resist. The studios` stencils were of mulberry paper mounted on fine silk net.

So this is a negative. Now I have to admit that I found the studio was selling stencils and I couldn't walk away from them, could I? I have also to admit that it cost £120.00. However I reckon I know how to use it (see below). Again it is so beautifully wrapped up that no photo is possible. We were given Japanese tea and Okinawan cookies while the wrapping was being done. Okinawan cookies are like a high class Scottish shortbread. Very nice and very un-Japanese.

We went on to visit Shuri castle which was flattened in 1945 and has been totally rebuilt. In the courtyard there was a demonstration of Okinawan dancing going on. You can see that the clothes are different from mainland clothes. They wear something like a long gilet over a kimono.

Main door of the castle - all much more Chinese than Japanese. After that. it was pouring with rain. We made it to tehferry port and Ruth worked out how we could get to the islands which we will do on Wednesday. Today (Tuesday) we are going a bit North to hunt down weaving. Hana-ori and Hanakura-ori.

Yesterday afternoon we went to a different studio and did several hours on bingata!! This is a sample, wrapped in plastic) which I tried to copy. Ruth did fishes. In this case, the fabric had already been stencilled with resist and our job was paint it. Okinawans use set colours, red, yellow, green, blue, purple for the base. Everything has to be painted in one of these colours, then everything is painted over a second time, dried and then 'shadow' colours are used on top. These are darker and are scrubbed in with a circular motion rather than being painted on.

And here I am, concentrating hard on the shadow colours. We hope to finish it later this week and will photograph it then. Ruth took this and I did not even notice.

I managed to buy some brushes from the lady running the class. So I am all set up for using my own stencil at home!! 

Sunday 9 October 2011


I have not blogged for several days because we werer staying at a Kyoto Ryukan which is a traditional Japanese inn. Tatami mats on the floor, take your shoes off at the door - and no internet access!

The beds are made up on the floor with tiny pillows. We slept reasonably but I would not want to stay there for more than two nights. Sitting was very uncomfortable. The place is built for people who can sit cross-legged on the floor which I can't.

However we did have a Japanese bath which was great and a magnificent dinner - another kai seki but much, much better. Everything very elegant. I took pictures of every course- all ten of them.

One thing I have decided is that I am reasonably broad minded about food and even prepared to try chewing octopus but I draw the line at Japanese food for breakfast, particularly noodles. I have ended up with a serious hankering for bread and marmalade and a bacon butty. And a piece of black pudding would be good too.  

This photo was taken across the river at Kyoto and shows what Kyoto houses are like. It is a most attractive place. I could have done with another few days there.

Early this morning, we took the train from Kyoto to Osaka and then flew to Okinawa - and then, most exciting, I drove a hire car into the centre of the Naha city. The hotel has a strange car park system. You drive the car onto a set of rollers, get out , lock up and it ascends to the heavens.

We then went out for a walk in the city. Lots of nteresting textiles which surprised me. I have discovered several good places to visit tomorrow. We took in an exhibition in the City Museum of items from the Sho family - who were the kings of Okinawa until about 1890 when the Japanese invaded. There were three kimonos of bingata which are lovely - never seen anything like them before and they are all 18th century.

We walked through  a good market, vegetables, fish - and these snakes. Quite repulsive. Okinawans consider them a delicacy. Maybe but, for me, they have just joined noodles for breakfast as a no-no.

We have found several places where you can do a session on bingata and also hana-ori (weaving). Tomorrow we are going to set out to one of these places early and see what we can manage.

Thursday 6 October 2011


Thursday was a clear sunny day and we started at the Museum of Modern Art where there was a big exhibition of the weaving of Kitamura Takeshi - the 'ra' man. Rosie Price and I saw his work at the British Museum a few years ago. This exhibition was to celebrate 60 years of weaving - he is a Kyoto man and they are proud of him. They must have borrowed from everyone because there was a great deal to see. It had been very well hung with lighting behind so that the 'leno' pattern could be easily seen. I call it leno but it is a very complicated version. It was a great treat. No photos allowed so I bought an exhibition catalogue. We had coffee there which was rather a good site as you sat on a terrace with cherry trees and a canal in front of you.

After that we went next door to the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts. No photos again but first rate. A must for any visitor to Kyoto. There were workmen demostrating various techniques but also videos of crafts like making knives and stone carving. Lots of explanation and lots of examples and very quiet.

Then to the Nansen-ji Temple which is at the start of the Philospher's Walk. The above is a typical view.

This is  a view of the Silver Pavilion at the other end of the Philosopher's Walk. This was an extraordinary place. Everywhere Zen gardens. even in little 2 by 2 metre gaps between buildings. It is just at the edge of the hills and the sloping sections are planted with trees with moss underneath. I counted five gardeners weeding the moss!!! In other moss gardens we have seen here, the moss was  a bit ragged. Not here.

I had trouble with Google yesterday and did not show a photo I took in a restaurant. They had a small display of tea ceremony goods. This is a tea pot wrapped up in silk. The whole thing is three inches high.

This afternoon (Friday) we move to a Japanese Inn for two days. We are going to spend the day shopping!! Ruth wants a knife for her husband Robin and I have heard good things of a paper shop. I should say that we are always being handed beautifully printed pieces of paper which I have kept. I may have to iron them when I get home. We found   a lovely printer's shop on the Philosopher's Walk and indulged.


By lunchtime, it was pouring with rain so I borrowed an umbrella from the hotel and we went by bus to Nishijin Textile Center which was definietly disappointing. It is really a large shop with some demonstrations going on. There was no exhibition of textiles. No  The photo shows a very small display of fine silk (at least 100/2) which had been dyed with natural dyes.

Someone was tying up shibori, several people were doing Yuzen but on small pieces of fabric, not the kimono lengths we saw on Monday. There was a Jacquard loom and a drawloom all ready to go but nothing happening.

This a photo of an Ai-takedai. She was a bit taken aback when I ask if it was a takedai and she did a bit of special demo for us. It seems to produce much the same sort of braid (there  is a completed piece in the right hand lower corner) as a takedai. But Rosie Price will tell me what the difference is.


Yesterday we spent the morning having a lesson in Ikebana. We were collected by a lady in a kimono and driven to the outskirts of Kyoto, up in the hills. We werer a bit puzzled by her presence but, when we arrived, it became clear that Fumiko Morikawa, the teacher, did not speak any English. She (Fumiko) provided lots of diagrams and, at the end, several pages in English of explanation. It all seemed a lot less complicated than I have read in books. 

She demonstrated one first - the house was full of elegant arrangements - and then we had to do it!! The photo on the left is of my efforts.

We then did one each in a very peculiar shape of vase. This photo is of both arrangements.

It has to be said that Fumiko would clap her hands to show how clever we were, then tweak everything a bit, when it would look ten times better!

We put the two first arrangements into oasis wrapped in special coloured plastic which was tied up with gold ribbon and took them back to the hotel where we have a very wide window sill just suited to flower arrangements. One thing is clear. These arrangements are one-sided and need a background. She had several alcoves round her house each with a different background, sometimes a painted scroll, sometimes tatami matting.

Ruth is determined to have a go when she gets home. I might. I think that finding the right containers and backgrounds might be a problem.


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About Me

I am weaver and - -. I dye my yarns with acid dyes, I paint my warps, put fabric collages and stencils on my weaving. I have three looms, a 12 inch wide, 12 shaft Meyer for demos and courses, a 30 inch Louet Kombo which is nominally portable but has a stand, two extra beams and a home-made device containing a fan reed. And last a 32 shaft Louet Megado which is computer controlled, has a sectional warp and a second warp beam and I am the proud owner of an AVL warping wheel which I love to bits and started by drilling holes in. I inserted a device for putting a cross in. I have just acquired an inkle loom and had a lesson from an expert so I can watch TV and weave at the same time. I am interested in weaving with silk mostly 60/2 although I do quite a bit with 90/2 silk. I also count myself as a bookbinder with a special interest in Coptic binding.