Sunday, November 16, 2008

Takayama and Shibori

We spent two days in the mountain town of Takayama. It is a charming place, touristy of course, but authentic. I suppose it has about 50,000 people, the size of Corvallis, but they have spring and fall planting and harvest festivals with huge ancient floats and 300,000 people show up. Fall color was just magnificent. I discovered to my delight that the wood block printed, stuffed fabric folk toys I have been looking for all over Japan are made there. This is the garden of the ryokan where we stayed, seen from our second floor room.

Today we took the train back down the mountain to Nagoya. We managed to get ourselves to Arimatsu, the home of the finest shibori in Japan. It is located along the Tokaido, the old road from Tokyo to Kyoto. The old merchants buildings still line the streets.

How about this elegant noren!

Business is down these days I suppose, and they outsource some work to China, as in all the kimono industry, but you could shop till you drop easily enough in the shops there. I did not want to buy a whole bolt of anything, and the space left in my suitcase is really tiny after five weeks of travel and shopping and all the gifts people give you. My quilts took up a lot of our luggage allotment too, so I restrained myself (pretty much).

There is a nice small museum. There were 50's era posters with kimonos like the antique ones I buy to take apart and resell, and a delightful old lady demonstrating hemp leaf pattern wrapping.

They were moderately impressed with the old nui (embroidered) shibori kimono I remade as a jacket.

Two more days of train travel and we leave for home. Thanks for following along with me. I will keep you up to date with new posts on current projects and Japanese textiles in general.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Big Day

Well the big day for this katazome artist has come and it exceeded even my wildest dreams. I had arranged for a Japanese interpreter to accompany me to the workshop (Kobo) of a kimono dyer who uses traditional Okinawan type katazome designs (bingata), although he uses acid dyes and direct dyes rather than the natural dyes and pigments used by the Okinawans and also by John Marshall, who was trained in bingata.

My husband took movies of the processes and when we get home we will figure out how to put them up on You Tube. For now stills will have to do.

This is the big workroom where the dyes are applied.They roll the 12 meter lengths over a set of rollers so the dyer can stay in one place, seated (and not, to my relief, kneeling). They sometimes use a cold steam vaporizer to keep the paste from drying out. Some of what they were working on were obis, some kimonos.

The next room was where they cut stencils and did their designs. From there we went into a long warm room where fabric treated with sizing was stretched to dry. There was fabric with fresh paste covered with fine sawdust to make it more durable, something I have not done, for lack of a source for the fine sawdust. They color their paste blue with aobana, a blue colorant that does not dye the fabric, so it makes it easier to see. At the other end of the room a man was applying paste with a tube to cover designs that had been dyed, so black background dye could be applied. This is exactly what I did with my trout pieces.

Then we went outside to a covered patio area where two guys in waders were in shallow pools with flowing water washing the paste off the fabric, which had been professionally steamed elsewhere. The water was blue from the aobana.

The final room was where the long boards were for applying the paste. They have ceiling racks to store the boards, which are half the length of the kimono. The fabric is attached down one side and back up the other. The dyer remarked that he knows it is time to retire when he can no longer lift the heavy boards. He was applying a second layer of paste to protect the fabric from the penetration by the acid dyes. He says for black they use three layers of paste. This is not something I need to do with pigments.

We finished with a visit with the owner of the kobo. Here he is demonstrating a kind of board clamping used to make fabric for underwear kimono (jyuban).

He is a nice man, the successor to the founder of the business, and an avid amateur Noh actor with 30 years experience! He showed us pictures of himself playing the role of a servant in a costume he made himself. I asked some more questions and told him my background. He was impressed with my work and gave me a copy of a very beautiful book showing the work of his predecessor. He says if I want to return to Japan and study there for a time, I am welcome. So there it is, that is what I hoped to accomplish. It remains to be seen when I can gather the resources to actually do it, but the door is open.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

An unexpected adventure

This afternoon my friend Mici, who has helped so much with the show, took me to an old town, Sasayama. This is a place almost completely off the American tourist path. It has a long main street with Edo period shops. Some have been remodeled to look modern from the street but they are the typical deep narrow buildings with a street-side shop, often open air, that characterize buildings from before the opening of Japan in 1867.

Two of these shops, evidently owned by the same family, sell antique textiles and Mici says they are much less expensive than what I will find in Kyoto. Once the woman who owns the shop realized what I did and how much I knew about these fabrics she invited us up a set of incredibly steep narrow stairs to view the treasured kimonos there. She pulled out kimono after kimono to show us. We were breathless. Mici says she is "a very particular lady", but she was very happy to talk to people, especially an American who really appreciated what she had.

This is a very expensive shibori kimono depicting the Grand Canyon.

In the second shop, which sold kimono pieces, I discovered a really spectacular piece of jishiro cotton. This is a white background katazome fabric dyed with indigo. It requires incredible skill applying resist paste using two stencils to leave delicate lines and dots free to take the dye. Nobody is doing this now and the piece was Edo era. It had been dyed with the same pattern on both sides to use for a summer kimono. Of course it was incredibly expensive, but by this time we had built up enough goodwill to persuade her to sell me a small piece from the end. Wow!

Mici says happily, next time you come we will go there and spend more time (yipes, and money).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Big Exhibit opens

The purpose of this trip was from the beginning my exhibit in Japan. Takarazuka City is a place where I now have friends. The nearest big cities are Kobe or Osaka. It is a pretty, scenic place, located in a steep river valley, famous for a women's musical theater, and with about 150,000 population, small by Japanese standards.

The procedure here for private exhibits is to rent a gallery space, pay the owner a set fee and take your chances that sales will cover expenses and give you a profit. I am happy to report that we have paid the gallery after the first two days of the four day show. I define profit rather loosely of course as I doubt the poor economic situation will permit actually selling enough to completely pay for the trip. Still, I am pleased at how people are receiving my work.

Images of all the new work for this show is now uploaded to my web site gallery in the new work category. It is still minus a few particulars like price and size. We have also added quite a few new indigo patterns.

Here are some pictures of the gallery space. They carefully put lovely autumn flowers in a large apparently unstudied arrangement in the corner.

The gallery looks out on a lovely garden.

Here is everybody's favorite new quilt on the wall, along with two panels dyed with kakishibu, a new dye for me, made from the same persimmon juice used to make the stencil paper I use. Look up to find out more about it.

Here we all are after setting up. One day I am going to do a quilt with a row of dainty Japanese dolls and one big American doll, all smiling broadly for the camera. The center of the gallery has a table typically, so potential customers can sit and talk and be offered cups of green tea and little sweets. The quilters group that is helping me quietly takes care of that and keeping track of sales.

This young woman will be my interpreter for a visit next Wednesday to a Kyoto dyers workshop that specializes in Okinawan style katazome, called Bingata, something I am looking forward to very much.