An Indigo Day!
Today we visited two farms whose crops are indigo. Here a young farmer, Kent Watanabe, and his young farm hands are working on the fermenting process that began this week and will go on for some weeks. Their hands and fingernails caught my attention immediately after we arrived on the farm. [click photos to enlarge]
Indigo dye is made from indigo plants. Various plants grow all over the world. These are cultivated on Shikoku island outside of Tokushima. The plants are harvested and processed before the indigo can be used for dyeing. Blue jeans traditionally are dyed with indigo. Chemical dyes are often used instead however.
Young Mr Watanabe’s dye vats are unique in that they are made of stainless steel. Usually they are huge ceramic pots sunk in the ground and about waist deep. The advantage is his vats are wider so larger things can be dyed easier. His are chest deep. One still has to bend over and reach into the vats while dyeing. I suggested he make his next vats do one could stand up while dyeing. That would be a first!
After harvesting the plants the leaves are chopped up and thoroughly dried and kept in large bags until October when the fermentation process begins.
The fermenting process begins with the dry leaves sprayed with water and mixed together to distribute the moisture evenly throughout the dry material.
Turning the plant material to distribute the moisture for fermentation is strenuous work and takes place over a period of weeks.
A day of turning the plant material to moisten it just right for fermentation is left piled up just so until the next time it is all turned over again.
Back in Mr Watanabe’s studio he shows us his little shrine for his indigo dyeing. I asked if he had one because most Japanese indigo dyers I’ve visited have some type of shrine—usually much bigger than his. He knew what I was asking for but he had to search around a bit before he could find his cute little good luck shrine.
We also visited the very large indigo farm of the well known master, Mr. Osamu Nii. The pictures of the fermentation process are from his operation.
Bunraku!! An amateur performance was fantastic. Local groups of people are active in the city of Tokushima—even children. This city is famous for Ningyo Joruri another name for bunrako. The more emotional the story is, the better. Many women play the puppets and they get emotional too, according to a video telling about the players. It take three people to work one puppet. At this point in the performance all were on stage at once. It was just before the tear jerker ending. [click photos to enlarge]
Here the mother is sewing. They even had her cut off the thread with her teeth with a nice jerk of her head! All along was music from a samisen and voices doing the dialogue of the mother and her daughter.
At the end of the show the puppeteers came out on stage. Many women are doing this now in the amateur world but the professionals are always men still. The group performs twice a day every day with different groups giving the performances. The company is Awa Jutobe Yashiki that we saw today. I understand there is a lot done in Tokushima now days.
There is a small museum attached to the theater and we were given a private tour along with the video before the performance began. Here you can see levers that operate the head and face. Notice above the eyebrows where they would go up and down.
The person who controls the head and one arm must stand on these platforms to be tall enough. I think we were told that would be the major puppeteer.
I even got a chance to work the head and eyes of one of the dolls. Cathy made the video.
At the end of the show the audience was invited to have our pictures taken with the puppets that were in the performance. What a treat the whole experience was.
Today was a travel day to Tokushima on the island of Shikoku. This was one of the looms we saw yesterday at the Fukuyama City Museum of History and Folklore in Onomichi. This type of double ikat pattern is called Bingokasuri. I’ve never heard that term but Cathy knew it. Ikat means that the threads are tied and dyed before they are woven on the loom. Double ikat means that both the warp threads and the weft threads are dyed separately and they must line up correctly to make the pattern work out. At the front of the loom is the cloth that has been woven so far and the vertical threads (the warp threads) are lined up with the weft threads (horizontals). If you look at the back of the loom you see the unwoven warp threads that are just the vertical lines of the pattern. The museum has many looms being worked on by local women who are teaching themselves the traditional weaving techniques used in their area. [click photos to enlarge]
We visited a old but working canvas weaving factory yesterday. It used to be a huge operation because there was a huge amount of old industrial looms and equipment. These are the threads ready to be measured for one section of warp threads currently in use today. The mill made cotton canvas cloth for the welders’ work clothes for the ship building industry to protect them from the sparks while welding.
This is the gigantic warping reel used in industry long ago (but way after the Industrial Revolution). The first section of warp threads would be put on the left end of the reel where the wedges are. The first section leans against the wedges and subsequent sections lean to the left so the threads don’t slip off the reel. A giant warp beam is placed beside the reel and the warp is transferred from the reel to the beam while being very tightly wound onto the beam.
This is a magazine to hold the shuttles at the ready so they can be quickly changed whenever one is empty. The invention of the machine gun was based on this idea long in use in the weaving industry.
The train stations where the Shinkansen trains (bullet trains) stop have to be very long. This is looking out to the right from our hotel window. The longest trains are 16 cars long and the cars are mostly 82 feet long. The end cars are a few feet longer.
Here is the rest of the train station looking to the left from our hotel window. 82 x 16 comes to over 1300 feet long for those trains. Some are only 8 cars long. We always find the cars with unreserved seats because they are significantly cheaper. Today I pushed into a car crowding in front of a bunch of petty hefty guys. Cathy said they were rugby players. I couldn’t figure out how they got in front of us since we were first in line on the train platform for that car door. Come to find out they had been standing because they couldn’t find seats when they got on at a previous stop. In the end enough people got off so we all found seats.
A mountain village where persimmons are grown for dye and for eating. We were interested in the type grown for dyeing. The Blue Persimmon tree is the variety used for dye. You can see the blown cloths hanging In the sun to deepen the color. In the foreground are some persimmon trees. This tiny picturesque village is nestled in the mountains near Onomichi which is in the Hiroshima prefecture. [click photos to enlarge]
Dyed cloth in the sun to darken. The ones in the foreground had iron added to the dye process to change the color from the common reddish brown. I’ve done some dyeing with persimmons so was eager to see the real process.
This is a 200 year old persimmon tree which we were shown proudly. The persimmons were just harvested in September when they were hard and green with the peak amount of tannin for dyeing. If you ever tasted an unripe persimmon when it should have been soft and ripe you know what tannin tastes like.
This tree is grown for vinegar. It won’t be harvested until December. The vinegar was delicious mixed with some water.
A museum we stopped by had maybe 30 floor looms that local women were using to teach themselves various weaving techniques since there were no masters left to learn from. There was so much energy in the room even if the weavers weren’t there. It was thrilling to see. We asked several people how to find the museum and no one knew about it so it was good to see it alive and flourishing. The museum is the Fukuyama City Shinichi Mueum of History and Folklore. There were many old power looms on display and an exhibition on indigo textiles. Also archeological sites were shown from the area.
This is a machine for tying threads for ikat. That means that the threads are tied in patterns before dyeing so the tied areas will resist the dye. Then the threads are put on the loom to be woven and the patterns are then in the cloth. Many blue and white fabrics are patterned this way.
We happened upon this little group of women weaving at the Saga City Cultural Museum today. They were weaving on tiny box looms with gilded paper strips for warps and colored silk wefts. The effect looked a bit like gold brocade. You could imagine it used for a fine evening purse. [click photos to enlarge]
This shows a bit of the weaving and the warps made of paper coated with gold. In the traditional way it would be gold leaf but I’m not sure if these are. One year Cathy and I visited a gold leaf artist. Traditionally the gold leaf paper would then be cut into fine strips for wefts for obi.
One beautiful pattern had 12 pattern heddles. It’s a shame I couldn’t get a good enough photo.
Here is the 12-shed pattern. It is much more beautiful but you can see it is a complicated design.
One of the warps was made of paper coated with lacquer. The women said the paper warp strips came from Kyoto when I asked if they cut them themselves.
The weavers. They were so gracious even though we crashed their afternoon.
We took 5 trains today. The sake in our hotel bar was heavenly along with pizza (the best) and French fries. We are now close to Hiroshima. Back on the main island of Japan.
Tiny and unusual shape silk cocoons at the studio of the known artist Masakazu Akiyama outside of Miyazaki on Kyushu Island. Mr. Akiyama is famous for raising silk worms that make fine delicate silk threads. After seeing the silk worms we were shown an outdoor freezer under lock and key full of these precious cocoons. Very fine silk threads are unwound from the cocoons in their studio. Then dyed in natural dyed and woven into gossamer cloth. [click photos to enlarge]
Watch this short video to see the silk worms feeding on mulberry leaves. They were hatched a week ago. I forget how long it takes them to be full grown and begin spinning cocoons—maybe about a month. The air conditioning fans made too much noise so we couldn’t hear the sound of the munching that people say can be heard.
When it’s time to make their cocoons each silk worm is put into a small confined space so each individual cocoon is separate. This is an old style contraption. There were hundreds of frames in the cocoon barn with grids for the cocoons. The worms get to be the size of the tomato worms we had in our garden as a kid. That’s BIG.
Here Mr Akiyama is giving his babies more mulberry leaves to eat. It’s interesting that’s the only thing that silk worms eat all over the world.
I’ve never seen so many indigo dye vats in one place before. This shows about half of the indigo dye house. The vats are of different ages. Ones that are fresh are the ones used for dying. Other rest until ready. This way they can dye practically whenever they want I assume.
a woman is dyeing cloth in one of the indigo vats. The open vat shows the characteristic foam when a vat is “ happy”. The vats are in the ground with steam heat to keep the warm. Usually vats are in the ground for temperature control.
A gossamer scarf woven with the fine silk threads.
At the loom weaving the final silk cloth. I think more time is spent hunched over an area of the woven cloth to align the tiny dots than throwing the shuttle. This young woman is being trained to weave the Oshima Tsumugi silk. There were 15 or 20 people learning at the Cooperative. [click photos to enlarge]
All the weavers spent time aligning individual warp threads to get the warp and weft threads to line up perfectly together!
At the back of the loom you can see both the plain and patterned warps. The plain warp is wound on the warp beam. The patterned one is attached in bundles and let up as needed.
On the right is the woven cloth. On the left is the warp threads alone before the wefts are put in. Both the warp and weft are patterned and must line up exactly with each other.
Here is a white cloth with black pattern. Notice the black dots on the edge of the cloth. They were woven in the binding mat for help in alignment of the wefts. Black or brown fabrics are more common and they have white dots along one edge for registering. These dots on one edge tell you it is authentic Oshima Tsumugi. NOTE that for a WHITE background fabric like this the threads are dyed solid BLACK and THEN starched. This is so the binding will be where the black areas are wanted in the cloth in the end result. Then the mat will go into a pot with color REMOVER to make it white. The bound areas will resist the remover and remain BLACK!!!
Weaving the mats for the ikat binding of the weft threads. Since the wefts are continuous in the final weaving, all the pattern mats for the wefts need to be connected and continuous. That means all the mats for each and every change in the pattern wefts need to be woven in the binding warp so they are connected! I was thrilled to see this young woman training to do this highly skilled operation. I think the loom had a pneumatic assist so the beat was hard enough. [click photos to enlarge]
Here are the woven mats to bind the weft threads for one repeat of a design.
Here are the starched threads which will be woven into the binding mats. 16 silk threads are wound as one and stick together when starched. The result will be white dots or dashes remaining after the binding is done and the dyeing and finally the woven silk fabric which is called Amami Oshima Tsumugi.
I became curious how the mats were unwoven to access the warp and weft threads. The demo in the video was dramatic.
This piece of equipment has 16 hooks and is used to wind the individual 16 threads taken from the starched “thread” that was woven in the mats.
Here the 16 individual threads are being separated from within the starched “thread”. You can see where the dye hit the threads and where the dye was resisted by the binding to produce the white areas. This is a mat made of warp threads. These mats are woven separately as opposed to the continuous mats for the wefts.
The patterned threads for the warp are wound on this cardboard then put on the loom. The little bags are the pattern wefts that go with this warp. Here is the patterned threads for 2 kimonos. The final cloth is woven with solid color and patterned threads in both the warp and weft.
Here is exactly what I have hoped to see for years. For ikat in Oshima the threads are tightly WOVEN in a pattern so that they RESIST the color in the dye process. Then that mat-like cloth is UNWOVEN and the unwoven threads are then WOVEN into intricately patterned silk cloth mainly for exquisite kimonos. To see the process actually being done today was fantastic. Here is the first step: the weaving that is binding the threads to resist the dye. The loom is extraordinarily strong and so is the weaver as he beats in small bundles of threads. [click photos to enlarge]
Here is the woven “mat” that is ready for dyeing. It is laying across a big bundle of unwoven threads for comparison. The lines seen in the mat are the woven threads that are tightly binding so no dye can seep into those places which are arranged to make a pattern when put on a loom to be woven into silk cloth called Oshima tsmugi.
Dyeing a skein of silk threads in the special mud which is unique to Oshima. There is a small pond at each dyer’s studio where the bound cloth as well as threads are dyed in the famous mud. This is what makes the brown and black color of the cloth known to be from Oshima.
Here is one of the mats that has been dyed and partially unwoven. The white areas were not dyed because they were woven tightly in order to resist the dye. Think of tie-dye! The mats aren’t big because each one is made to weave a single part of a pattern. A new mat must be woven for every time there is even the tiniest change in the design. I hope you can see where the binding threads were woven and the spaces between in the mat. The spaces between were free to accept the dye. Some “mats” were 1/4 inch strips. All are as wide as a kimono width which is about 14”.
A traditional Oshima tsumugi design at last!!
Coming in for landing on Amami Orishima an island close to Okinawa way south of the japan mainland. It’s known for beaches and tourism. Cathy and I are there for the Oshima silks. Tomorrow we’ll see how they are made.[click photos to enlarge]
I’m feeling a tad green ?
Our sunset looked promising but we’d been warned that a typhoon was going to hit us in the morning and last for the whole two days we have here with a guide to take us to see the special textiles. When we got back to check our iPhones we found it was going to miss Oshima and our plans were still on. Hooray!
Here are all the places we plan to visit together. I am going again with my friend Cathy Cerny. She has done all the planning just like in many previous trips. I counted 9 hotels in 21 days so we’ll be moving right along. I hope I can do a post every day! – Click photos to enlarge –
Our first trip is a flight to Amami Island to the town of Oshima. (it is way south and off my map.) We want to see a particular type of ikat called orijimi. The resist is done on a loom forming a mat with the ikat warps or wefts to be woven in. Then the mat is unwoven to reveal the resisted places (dots) where the warps on the original weaving resisted the dye. The dye is also a special mud dye from the area. Oshima fabrics are expensive and have been imitated. We will look at the selvedges to see the tiny white dots to be sure we are getting the true orijimi technique. A friend and expert sent me this precious fragment so we would know what to look for.
A friend asked me how this big rug she bought in Morocco was made. I noticed right away that away away that where there were white areas on the front, the back was black and vise versa. That told me probably the technique was weft twining.
Another sign was the edges. Each “weft” yarn was cut and stuck out at the edges where the black and white patterning existed.
There were some areas that were not twined but woven. The orange area in the bottom border is a good example. Also where there were totally white or black narrow stripes and no “pattern. I could see at the edges there were regular selvedges showing that the wefts were woven in with a shuttle.
Here is the size of this beautiful rug.
Here are a few photos about another loom built by Jim Ahrens: his 40-shaft dobby loom which he built during the second world war in the 40’s. These are just to whet your appetite for the information you’ll find on ahrenslooms.com. My apprentice, Vera Totos and I made the site because it was important to show how Jim’s looms worked.
This is part of a chain I used to weave the music notes for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star several years ago. Over time some pegs have been removed.
Here is the backside of the dobby chain and some of the dobby mechanism. You can see it took a lot of bars for the first phrase of the tune.
Part of the mechanism has a cord with a knot for each of the 40 shafts. When a peg hits the mechanism it pushes the corresponding cord so it can’t go throought the hole, thus moving that shaft.
Here is a photo near the beginning of our restoration of the loom. Lots and lots of cords and knots!!
This was forwarded to me by Yoshiko Wada–my textile guru who I adore. I’ve been on several of her trips to Japan and taken wonderful workshops at her studio in Berkeley. Slow Fibers Studio is her website. Her trips anywhere are fabulous and she is enormously knowledgeable about so many things and people where ever she goes. She gives classes on many of the techniques you see on the video. I took one by this master in Japan in the town of Arimatsu where the video is located. The town is a lovely town with traditional Japanese architecture everywhere. It is south of Nagoya. Nagoya itself has a fantastic museum: the Toyota Museum–Toyota first was a loom manufacturing company and there are wonderful old and modern looms working on display. There also is a huge and wonderful automobile section.
Getting the 40-shaft mechanical dobby going. Jim Ahrens built this loom in the 40’s. Beside the dobby shafts are 4 more made for a ground weave. You can see a small practice warp ready to see that the dobby mechanism works after replacing all the cords. A big project.
Here are the dobby bars I pegged for a design some years ago next to the mechanism. There is a single wide treadle to activate the dobby which is what makes the sheds. Next week we should see if all the adjustments and knots work like they should.
Here is a close up of the bars and pegs. Each bar represents one shed or row of weaving. The pegs tell the dooby which shafts to lift and lower to make the sheds.
The big pedal operates the dobby. The 4 regular pedals are meant to operate a ground weave which we aren’t using for our trial. Each press of the big pedal changes the shed (dobby bar with pegs).
For the trial only 4 shafts will be used.
Here are the completed 4 shafts with their individual weights at the bottom of each shaft. The cords for the remainder of the shafts are bunched up out of the way.
I found this in a boutique in Shanghai. I loved it for the fine silk that just seemed to float—especially in the back. The boutique is called Heyan’er and there is also one in Beijing. We met the designer/owner: He Haiyan. I discovered the wonderful moire patterns in the fabric after I got home!
Here is what it looks like in normal life. I discovered the moire patterns while I was ironing it. What a shock it was and I knew it had to be two layers of cloth but I couldn’t separate them. I said to myself, “You really get to know something when you are ironing it.” Then I spritzed it with a bit of water to iron out some of the folds from the suitcase. Then I saw the tiny dots regularly spaced all over the cloth—tying TWO layers together to work as a single fabric. They don’t show unless you know to look for them.
The blouse requires something underneath so I took home this innocent looking tank top. (It was $70 – a shock when I figured the exchange rate but it was needed and was just right). Guess what?? When Ironed it I discovered it was a bit heavier but still double cloth with tiny tie downs! Another luxurious fabric indeed. I wore it all day yesterday and I felt wonderful—and it barely had any wrinkles!
A special restaurant out of the town of Kunming. Can you guess what it is like?
This guy was chosen from the tank four our lunch.
Into the pot on the table it went.
The fish cooked under the cone. The cover came off when the fish was done.
The last to get eaten was th head which our local friend relished. The tail was eagerly taken by another of our Chinese friends. This type of restaurant is called a “fish stone pot”.
After all the fish was eaten vegetables, tofu, and local mushrooms went into the broth to finish off a tasty meal. I was stuffed.
A back strap loom with the finest hand spun warp. The threads are single not doubled as usual for strength during weaving. Very fine thread. We saw the woman spinning it from wool fleece. [click photos to enlarge]
Isn’t this a wonderful bamboo stick for holding the heddles? I wanted to buy one but the weavers husband said I could make it myself.
This little group was spinning along the road as we drove by. What they were doing was putting extra twist in synthetic yarn which had become popular. We are in Butuo County in the mountains for a few days. Interesting to see some ethnic dress especially hats and head gear along with Western clothes. This was our first sight of weaving stuff being done. [click photos to enlarge]
In the little spinning group was this grandma stitching two layers of wool fabric together. It was beautiful. She also had a toddler under her eye. I discovered that most of the young spinners had babies on their backs.
The stitching the grandma was doing. Later we saw someone in a shop stitching the cloth together with a sewing machine.
My favorite spinner had a baby under the shawl on her back I discovered when we were about to leave.
This little guy was hanging around the spinners. He and his sister were playing at weaving with two sticks holding a few “warp” threads. It was clear they were learning by being around their mothers from the beginning.
Grandpa modeling his pants.
We are In the town of Xichang pronounced something like she Chang in SW China in the Yi Minority Autonomous Prefecture to see the Yi textiles and culture. Today we went to the market and saw lots of unusual food displayed beautifully. I thought the squashes with a few blossoms were handsome.
Furry tofu caught my attention.
This man was unwrapping individual cherries. They were wrapped separately before ripe to keep the birds from destroying the crop.
These were said to be the juiciest and best tomatoes. They looked great. I hope we get to eat some.
It looked like French fries catching the drippings under these ducks. Look carefully to see the cleaver at the ready.
My treasure. from the Yi people of China. This is a case for needles. One uses a safety pin to attach it to the clothes. [click photos to enlarge]
Close up of the needle case part.
Two needle cases opened so you can put I. The needle. Closed you pull it down to enclose the needle.
Detail of decoration the needle case is attached to Off quickly for another day of shopping.
Last day in Hangzhou. I went to sit with my piece in the show for the last time before a busy day. I’m going to go through the day briefly. Each place could be its own post.
We took a mini bus for the day’s events. First stop was to a Chinese medicine facility. People brought in their prescriptions to be filled. Odd looking things were in cases for sale as well. It was in an old building with old character.
Nearby was a Chinese medicine museum with lots of history and old exhibits. This guy was impressive.
Then we drove to the art academy where we were treated to box lunches by the art professor who was in charge of the exhibition. He said nice things about my piece.
We were taken on a walking tour of the fantastic campus. The architect is a famous Japanese man and the campus won the top award for architecture. I hope to do a whole post on different different buildings.
The arts and craft building was stupendous. This outer wall is covered in roof tiles that are wired together.
Here is the roof tile wall looking out from the inside.
On the bus passing tea plantations on the way to an enormous temple.
Quite a special place this is.
There were huge carvings in the cliffs on path to the temple.
There are 5 huge temples each with giant statues. I was pretty exhausted and probably didn’t give them the attention they deserved.
Our last stop was at a luxurious tea shop in a tourist inn within walking distance from the temple. There might have been 20 dishes on the menu. After that we rode back to the hotel to pack up for our last night. We got up at 3:45 am to get our bus to the airport. Whew!!
Our finished projects in the “ash resist workshop “. We didn’t use any ash. “Ash” is the English translation for the word for the type a paste we used on our stencils. The paste was made of soybean powder and quick lime mixed with water. Here we are with our translator. At first I thought she was saying rust but finally we figured out she was saying rice. She did a fine job though. [click photos to enlarge]
Here I am cutting my stencil. I chose a simple one that I thought I could do.
The teacher is beginning to put the paste on my stencil.
My cloth is soaking in water before dying in the indigo dye.
The cloth comes out green right out of the indigo vat. In the air it turns blue.
Here I am with the teachers. When the cloth was dry after dying we scratched off the paste.