A Treasure from Japan

When I saw this applique wall hanging in a show last fall, I fell in love with the sewing cabinet. It was made by Hiroko Watanabe.

On the second day in Okinawa I found “my” sewing cabinet in a tiny, crowded antique shop. I figured I’d have to carry it all around for three weeks but discovered it fit into my suitcase. (Taking up space I needed for other things.)

I knew it needed some kind of clip because of the way it was shown in the hanging. It took some searching, but I found it in the sewing notions area in a department store. Sewing shops didn’t carry them because “no one uses them or sews anymore.” All the kimonos I’ve seen are hand sewn using the clip to tension the cloth while sewing. It really works and I love it. I made the pin cushion as soon as I got home.

Japan Tour 2017 – (Final) Day 23

Day 23. Some thoughts about traveling in Japan. Go while you are physically fit. Don’t wait until you can’t get around. All the bathtubs in our hotels were very deep– at least up to my knees so lifting your legs into the tub just for a shower could be challenging. Lots and lots of steps on the subways too.

Take paper tape for sore spots on your feet and toes. This is the best thing. Hikers told me about it. Wrap any tender spots before they get really sore. Be sure to get “paper tape “.

Every hotel had plenty of outlets for charging electronic devices and batteries. All had WiFi as well.

Hotels had electric tea kettles and instant coffee. Very few coffee shops had decaf coffee. I brought instant decaf from Starbucks at home.

You will need to take off your shoes very often when visiting artisans. Shoehorns are usually available. Also take business cards. I made some with Japanese on one side and English on the other.

Department stores have great food courts in the basement levels and bakeries. We often took food home to our hotel for dinners. Breakfast could be with take out or Starbucks.

Take a tour this fall with my tour leader, Yoshiko Wada. It will be wonderful. She knows so many places and interesting artisans. There is a trip coming up in the fall. Go to: slowfiberstudios.com/tours/Japan-2017.

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 22

Day 22. A cosmopolitan day in Tokyo. In the morning we went to the Shibuya district to look for interesting contemporary shops and up-to-date people watching. I was shocked at the crowds we saw when we got out of the subway. All these people were waiting for the light to change so they could cross the street. We ducked into the Seibu department store to get away from the hordes of people and to cool off. There were nice contemporary and designer clothes to look at. I got a nice linen blouse.

We left these Shibuya crowds and headed for our favorite tea shop for lunch. It was too crowded so we headed for our favorite lunch place and the wait was worse so we went across the alley to another place and had a great lunch in the Omonte-Santo district.

Then we spent the afternoon in the Nihombashi district in the Takashimaya department store. On an upper floor were maybe a dozen craftsmen (and their wives) demonstrating their craft and selling their goods. This weaver was weaving weft ikat fabric and had lovely things. I treated myself to a tote bag with a crane on it done in weft ikat. In another area was a weaver of fabric for contemporary clothing. I bought a simple jacket for myself. My friend at home asked me to buy her something that I would like. We were lucky there was another jacket just like it so I got one for my friend who lives across the hall from me.

Then home to our hotel in the Shiba district for a “last night” sake. It was sad to think of leaving a country we love so much. Then to our room to eat a lovely take-out dinner complete with a delicious bing cherry tart. Then the job of packing began. We leave Tuesday morning and will get into San Francisco Tuesday afternoon.

This is gold leaf on paper cut into strips for wefts for obi weaving. For the paper warp loom in my previous post I think the paper was cut in a similar way and put on the loom before the strips were detached from the paper at the margins. The gold leaf can be patterned or plain.

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 21

Day 21. A walk after dinner in our neighborhood. After a tiring and hot day at a flea market a two hour train outside of Tokyo we took a stroll and marveled at the architecture.

This building offers a free smoking place.

The building in the middle will soon be over shadowed by the one behind it under construction.

The building under construction has drapes pulled back. I assume that they were closed in the winter and now are pulled back for the summer. It is a huge project.

This one is covered with plants. The truck going by hides that there is a lowly Family Mart on the street level (like a Seven Eleven).

Tokyo Tower and the moon.

Tokyo Tower and its reflection. What a nice way to end another fine day. Tonight is “get serious packing night”. It’s our next to the last night. We are hoping to come back next spring.

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 20

Day 20. Asakusa gate was where we began our day in Tokyo–to say it was crowded is a huge understatement. We headed for the Amuse Museum near the big temple to see the new Boro Exhibit.

Here is an example of Boro–patching with scraps of fabric done in the cold-winter area of Hokkaido. There were quotes I liked from the labels. “The beauty of practically”. “Lovingly mended with diverse cotton fabrics”. “Only property owners had a control over even small fabric scraps. Possession of those scraps proved one’s social status and wealth”. There were cloths used when giving birth that had been around for generations. They were boiled before the birth to kill any lice!

Next we went to the big Mitsukoshi department store and spent the entire afternoon there. First we encountered a flower arranging exhibit as we were heading to the kimono department. There were many arrangements to be seen but tickets were required to see the masters’ arrangements.

It was a mob scene around the flower exhibition and a long line of women waiting to pay for accessories that were for sale.

Finally we got through the crowd to the kimono department where spent probably well over an hour at the special exhibit and demonstrations.

There was this fascinating smallish table loom set up to make fancy brocade fabric for small purses.

The warp was made of paper strip!

Here was the intricate pattern being woven. All done by picking up threads row by row.

Here was a small bag on display and for sake using the paper warp brocade fabric. Beautiful.

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 19

Day 19. TOKYO!!

On our first day we went to one of our most favorite areas. There are several Issey Miyaki shops each featuring a different theme. Pleats Please is one another features bags another the folded fashions plus a mens and a women’s shop. A walk up and down the street is always on our list along with great places for lunch and “tea” which means dessert.

The subway stop for this favorite area of ours.

There is a whole lot of crazy architecture along the street with the Issey Miyaki shops.

Our absolute favorite lunch place. Get there early to avoid a wait.

Our absolute favorite dessert place. Notice the line of people waiting to get in. The half hour wait was worth it.

Our absolute favorite dessert.

Gorgeous peonys were everywhere in the flower shop in front of the tea shop. We noticed that they also served food besides lovely teas and desserts.

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 18

Day 18. One the same day that we went to Arimatsu we came back to our hotel in Nagoya and napped for an hour then took s train to the town of Gifu to see the amazing cormorant fishing. I saw it 50 years ago but a distance away from a bridge. I’ve never forgotten the experience.

This time we took a boat to see the fishing and the boats came right up beside us.

These photos I took from post cards and pamphlets. I don’t know if I got any good pictures or not. I tried videos, too but I’ll have to see when I get home if anything turned out. It was exciting to see all of this up close from our boat.

There were quite a few of these boats that went out to watch the fishermen with the cormorants. It was really lovely and quiet after it got dark. You could hear the whistle or clicking of the fishermen and that’s all.

The inside of our boat. We didn’t have very many in our boat so it was easy to move around in our places to take pictures. We sat on tatami mats which made it special. Plastic bags were provided for our shoes.

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 17

Day 17. We went to Nagoya for two nights so that we could take a train to the town if Arimatsu which is known for its many shibori (tie dye) artisans. Almost every place was closed on Wednesday the day we went but we did see a little evidence that shibori was important. This sign was in many places that were closed. A few (enough) shops were open and were found lots of shibori things.

A woman in a shop was tying designs on a T shirt. She was too fast to catch. I should have taken a video.

A lovely scene in Arimatsu.

A woman was filling the spaces in a dried plant seed pod with tiny tiny scraps of shibori fabric. They were charming but unbelievable. I admired them and she gave them to me as a present. So nice.

There were several photographers shooting the traditional old buildings which are really old and beautifully preserved here.

A view along the Main Street where all the preserved houses are.

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 16

Day 16. A day trip to Osaka to see two wonderful museums.

This ethnographic museum was spectacular. The building was too big to get in one photo. The previous photo was of the special exhibits building. The exhibit was about beads of the world. It was huge an fascinating and beautifully presented.

Across a huge rose garden in full bloom was this Mingei museum ( Japanese folk art). This is the aesthetic I really love. It was a hot day and many people had their umbrellas up.

Back in Kyoto we’ve seen lots of beautiful flowers. This pot of tall amaryllis in a tiny restaurant took my breath away.

A cute little shop in Kyoto.

Sign outside the handkerchief bakery. It’s so much fun walking around Kyoto.

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 15

Day 15. Another wonderful day in Kyoto and we relaxed after a tiring day with a free drink at the hotel.

Cathy after 3 hours at the flea market on Sunday.

The flea market was really crowded on a hot day.

This booth of textiles was a mess but most were more organized. We had to check out every one–probably 100 or so.

Rolls and rolls of fabrics. Most booths had a specialty. I bought mostly small one-meter fragments of old silk fabrics taken from old kimonos. Everything fit in my suitcase up to the brim. What I will do after the flea market in Tokyo I don’t know.

This is a Starbucks where we thought we’d rest up. It was jammed but it felt good to sit down and watch the people.

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 14

Day 14. Leaving Okinawa for Kyoto. The architecture in all of Okinawa was so ugly to my eye. This was outside the front door of our hotel. We realized that everything had been bombed during the war and this is what has been built since. The people and the textiles more than made up however.

Beautiful beautiful Kyoto. We walked along some residential streets on our first day in Kyoto and I loved seeing the beauty here. This is what I seek out in Japan. This is an old style building with the second floor being very low. It would have been where the servants lived. The slits for windows upstairs were for collecting crickets we were told. They they would have been kept in small cages. I remember seeing the cages at Cost Plus when we came to San Francisco in the 60s.

A more modern style with a taller second floor next door to the old style house.

Outside a doorway on our walk. The natural rock made a nice bench.

Many doorways had pretty flowers. Never mind the red box.

Another doorway.

Another doorway.

Our goal was to visit a famous gold leaf artist, Mr. Yasushi Noguchi. It will take a whole other post to tell about our wonderful visit.

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 13

Day 13 – Ikat weft thread in a shuttle in Ishigaki. The weft thread has the dark and white areas that an ikat thread would have after dyeing and removing the ties. The special thing here is how the weft is in the shuttle. The weft “bundle” is made similar to winding a kite stick. The tool it is wound on looks a bit like a mechanical pencil or pen but there is a split at one end so you can anchor and start to wind the beginning of the weft thread around that end. (The weft thread will come out of the center of the bundle when inside the shuttle). The thread is just wound around the pencil-like tool a few times then it is wound like a kite stick around the tool. In my books you can see that I wind my warps on a stick that I call a kite stick in the way a kite stick is wound instead of chaining the warp. A bamboo stick holds the weft bundle in place and the thread comes off like any bobbin.

She was winding the weft thread on the tool too fast for me to get a good photo of the end where the weft was anchored and started. Here the weaver is winding the thread around a few times before beginning the “kite stick” technique. (Winding a kite stick is very much like winding on a nitty noddy.)

To keep the pattern exact the cloth is stretched to the width in the reed with the bamboo stick here. Also notice that the edge of the cloth isn’t perfectly straight. That’s because when the ikat weft thread is being woven it has to be slid either to the left or right so it lines up perfectly. The weft loops at the edge shows where the thread had been moved so it will line up. I bought a hanging with just a small amount of weft ikat and I love seeing the straight edges except where there are small weft loops sticking out where the weft ikat pattern is woven.

This shows where the ikat warp threads are joined with the white foundation warp behind the heddles on the loom shown in yesterday’s post.

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 12

Day 12 Ishigaki Island, Okinawa. We took a taxi to the Minsa Textile Institute & Minsa Craft Center and were met with lovely yarns drying outside the entrance. It is a large shop with a little museum upstairs. We spent quite a long time there. The weavers were winding huge warps onto beams to be put into looms when an order was placed for that color and design. There were tens of warp beams on the shelves to be woven as needed. We weren’t allowed to show photos of the process or the things in the shop. The shop was very attractive with contemporary colors and designs using traditional techniques woven on this island. Too bad I can’t show photos. Minsa technique means narrow weaving for obi for men and women. This shop used the warp faced technique with wider warps for lovely products to sell. Some examples were placemats, pillow covers, small coasters and lots of bags of all sizes. Everything was beautifully made.

Skeins drying after being dyed. The ones with the white plastic sticking out were ones that had been tied before dying. The area with the ties resisted the dye and will remain undyed. The cloth woven with these specially dyed threads in patterns is what is called “ikat”. Ikat is pronounced “e-cot”. See the next photo for a closer look.

A close look at the threads tied for ikat cloth. When they are put on the loom the tied will be removed and the yarns will be beige and white.

In the afternoon we visited a small weaving studio where the patterned “ikat” cloth was woven on looms with the pattern warp on a reel device that fit onto the back of the loom. This I had never seen before. Instead of tying the pattern threads they were painted on the warp threads while the warp was on tension on this reel device. This meant that the patterns lined up perfectly and didn’t need adjusting like we had been seeing before on the other islands. The next photos will show closer looks.

Here is the warp with the pattern painted on it.

There are two warps on the loom. The patterned one and a white one which is the main part of the cloth. The two are integrated in the heddles and woven together.

This is what the woven cloth looks like. Besides the warp threads being patterned the weft threads are patterned as well by tying the ikat threads and then dyeing them. We call it double ikat when both warps and wefts are dyed in these ways. The warps are the vertical threads and the wefts are the horizontal threads.

This is the tool used to “paint” the pattern on the warps.

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 11

Day 11. Ishigaki Island, Okinawa. The tradition in this area is of weaving narrow cloth called Mensa. The warps are very dense so the cloth is totally warp face. There is a stripe with two warp ikat patterns. The traditional textile has a”four-square” and a “5-square” pattern that stand for eternal love. This photo shows the 4-square design. The 5-square design is in the cloth,too, but not shown in this part of the cloth. This is s woman’s obi. A sash for the men is about 4″ wide; the women’s is bout 6″ wide. I love this piece because all the rest of the patterning comes from the arrangements of dark and light colors in the warp. They are woven on two shaft looms in plain weave; over one and under one.

Traditional Mensa narrow obi. I saw a picture with both men and women wearing this narrow “belt”. This is the traditional color but now many colors are available.

Traditionally the wefts were beaten in with a sword. Now the looms use a beater to do the job. With warp face cloth getting a clear shed and beating in the wefts are issues to consider.

At the end of a hot and humid day we tried the traditional Okinawan sweet treat: zenzai. It is made of red kidney beans sweetened with raw sugar and covered with shaved ice. We almost ordered one for each of the four of us but thankfully we were advised that one would be enough for all–and it definitely was. It was refreshing but I like soft ice cream better and that is found all over.


Japan Tour 2017 – Day 10

Day 10. Tiny Patterns Woven at Miyako Traditional Crafts Research Center. It was impossible to imagine these patterns were tied and dyed (ikat) until we saw how it was done.

Imagine whole kimonos woven with such fine patterns! It was thrilling to see how it was done.

This is what I hoped to see and it was hanging to dry after being dyed with indigo. This woven thick piece is how the tiny white patterns are made. In the photo all the places where there is weaving resisted the indigo blue dye and remain white when this thick mat is unwoven. The unwoven threads with the tiny white areas are then put on the loom and the real cloth is woven.

marmarweaves commented: This is pretty unbelievable, if you had not seen it and shown it, it would be more than one could imagine. Astonishing. Thanks Peggy for taking us along.

Here you can see the mat being unwoven and the threads have white areas where they were originally woven to resist the blue dye.

Here the threads are on the loom about to be woven into cloth for a kimono.

Here is a pattern piece ready for the dye pot. You can see the pattern that will eventually be woven into cloth.

On the loom if a thread isn’t exactly lined up it has to be tightened or loosen to be in the right place. The weaver watches carefully with every row.

Here is a close up of the edge of the piece woven and ready to dye. Bundles of threads are woven. Where the threads float is where the dye will sink in. Where they are woven will be too tight and won’t allow the dye to penetrate causing the small white patterns.


Japan Tour 2017 – Day 9.

Day 9. Miyako Island. We had time to drive around before the shops opened today, Mother’s Day. We saw many butterflies on a little sandy walk to the beach. This island is proud of its beaches. A butterfly museum we were seeking closed but it was thrilling to see so many out in nature–and photographable with my stop motion setting on my new camera.

Another butterfly. Only a few really were in focus.

Another butterfly.

I was thrilled to see that this photo turned out.

This was the walk down to the beach.

Cathy settling the bill with the shop owner at a really nice shop with lots of Miyako Island textiles. It was great that she sold pieces cut from old kimonos or lengths of fabrics. Tomorrow we will visit a workshop and we hope to see how they ikat such tiny patterns. I’m betting I can guess how it’s done in principle but we’ll have to see.

Outside the textile shop. It is near the airport and so close to our hotel that we walked “home”. I bought a lot of pieces of cloth that were irresistible.


Japan Tour 2017 – Day 8

Day 8. Chibana Village Okinawa. At the Chibana Hanaori Cooperative they also wove cloth with extra warp threads to create patterns with threads floating on the surface. This complicated but beautiful cloth also had some ikat designs where the tied and dyed threads are woven in the cloth along with areas where the threads ride on the surface of the cloth.

This is the back side if the previous cloth. The threads not on the “right side” float on the back of the cloth.

In this area the shafts on the loom are lifted to create the patterns on the top of the cloth with this hook. In the previous studio they pulled down the shafts with their toe or foot to make the patterns.

For this pattern extra threads were laid in as the weaving progressed. We call this inlay technique. The left side if the photo is the right dide of the cloth and the right side shows the back side. See the next photo.

Here the yellow thread is the starting point of an inlay design.

The warp beams on the looms were square.

A photo of Part of the weaving studio.

The warp beams are square but they are round with the warp wound on them. There is a square “sleeve” made of wood that goes on the beam before the warp is wound on. I don’t know why. The photo shows that one warp is the foundation thread and the other for the pattern.


Japan Tour 2017 – Day 7

Day 7 Public Market in Naha Okinawa. This seafood market is famous in Naha. You make tour selections then go upstairs where the food has been prepared and you sit down and eat it. This fish caught our eye among many odd looking products of the sea.

These guys were among the interesting things to choose from at the fish market.

This was our first selection. Upstairs half was first served as sashimi (raw fish). Later in the meal the second half was served cooked. All was divine.

Next was added this huge snail (?) with a huge round white shell covering the “foot”. It was served raw. It didn’t have a lot of flavor but a concoction was served to go with it to make it delicious.

The fish and big snail sashimi was beautifully presented in a boat.

The half of the fished was cooked and presented.

Before the sashimi we had these enormous shrimps. All in all this fine meal cost $65 for four of us. It was a great experience in the dining area which was crowded with families.

The empty shell and the shell that covered the “foot”.

The shell was beautiful. I wanted to take it home but it was heavy and almost as big as a soccer ball.


Japan Tour 2017 – Day 6

Day 6 we drove 2 hours out of Naha to the Kijoka Bashofu Cooperative where precious cloth is made out of banana plant fibers. The cloth is called bashofu.

We saw the special banana plants cultivated for the fibers in the stalks. These plants aren’t grown for their fruit and the plants must be cultivated–wild ones can’t be used.

Double ikat patterns are typical of basho cloth that I am familiar with.

We visited a famous weaver Kyoto Shukumine who has exhibited a lot and is known for her distinctive colorful cloth.

There are special pattern shafts in addition to two shafts that are for the ground cloth.

The pattern shafts are operated with the weaver’s toes or in this case her foot to pull down the required pattern shafts while the other foot operates the treadle for the ground plain weave.


Japan Tour 2017 – Day 5

Day 5 Naha Okinawa. This is glorious cloth woven by Michiko Uehara an artist/weaver who has exhibited in New York as well as in Japan. She reels the silk threads off the cocoons herself and weaves the most sheer cloth I’ve ever seen. This piece is double woven as a tube.

Another silk woven by Michiko Uehara. She dropped it from the sir and it simply floated down. She showed us maybe 20 large pieces–each one more thrilling than the last.

One piece was woven both warp and weft with threads that came from single cocoons. Always several if not 10 or so are reeled off at once to form fine threads. I held the cloth and was amazed that is was light as a feather. What you see here are the warp threads. If you look closely you can glimpse the cloth.

One of Michiko’s daughters is a potter and made these tiny containers for the tea in the tea ceremony. These are what I’ve been so interested in. Michiko herself wove her fine silks for the bags for the containers made by a contemporary potter in a joint exhibition.

We also went to Haebaru Village to see kasuri cloth being tied, dyed, and woven. Here a man is painting the lines on the threads instead of tying and then dyeing them.

Here two sets of fine warp threads are being put into the reed.

These are warp threads that have been starched before weaving. The warp looked like straw.


Japan Tour 2017 – Day 4

Day 4. We flew to Kume Island for the day and visited a spectacular place where they make traditional cloth from raising the silk worms, reeling the silk off the cocoons, tying and dyeing the warp and weft threads and weaving. It is the Kumejoma Tsumugi Museum.

Here are baby silk worms being taken care of I can’t remember why the women were taking off the worms and putting them in the boxes. I think they were in the process of feeding them. They eat a lot of fresh mulberry leaves and will grow to the size of a thumb.

Here the women are unwinding the silk thread from the cocoons. You can see how many cocoons are making a single silk thread.

Here the tied and dyed warp threads are being adjusted so the pattern will be exactly lined up for each and every thread. The little bobbin is putting a bit of extra tension on a warp to keep the thread lined up.

This is a small area showing how the dyed threads come together in the woven cloth. This tiny motif is precise and woven by one of the experts.


Japan Tour 2017 – Day 3

Day 3. These were in a lovely gallery in the city of Naha on the island of Okinawa where we are staying. I meant to focus on the little pots in front because they are the little tea containers for the tea ceremony that have interested me. In the back is the container for the water I think. You can see that they go together. I hope to find a little container that I can afford before going home.

Two gorgeous vases in the coffee gallery next door. I have seen so many beautiful things.

We were led to a tiny antique shop where we could buy scraps of cloth made from banana fiber. I put my business card in the photo for scale. The cloth is made for kimonos and hugely expensive so we were thrilled to be able to by these little fragments.

This is a class room where people can pay to weave a piece of cloth to take home. It’s a great way to introduce crafts to the public. There were also similar classrooms to make items in glass, pottery, painting on fabric. There was a fantastic DVD and gallery of kimonos. This was at the Naha Traditional Craft Center. There is a good shop too.


Japan Tour 2017 – Day 2 – I’m Off to Japan Again!

This trip with my friend Cathy Cerny will cover a lot of new territory for us. We are going to Okinawa for the first time–to see textiles as usual. We will take 4 flights and a ferry and visit several islands. After Okinawa we fly to Kyoto where we are hiring guides to take us to places new to us. We planned the time to be there for a large flea market. We’ll end up for a few days in Tokyo for more of our favorite friends and places. Today was our third day in Okinawa and we were on our own. We’ll have guides for the next two days and then two friends from Tokyo are joining us. I really love the people, aesthetics, and textiles in Japan. It’s very safe, you don’t have to count your change, there’s no tipping and you can always sit down on the toilet seats!

Day two Naha, Okinawa. We found a Starbucks at last for breakfast. None of the other coffee shops were open before 10. We walked about 40 minutes to find this haven.

A big tourist street.

Lots of strange soft ice cream flavors on the big tourist street.
curiousweaver commented – “I think the purple ones are the special sweet potato grown there – longevity.”

Blue Seal is a brand of ice cream named after a dairy after the war. See photo with its history. Now crepes are added.

Another crepe at Blue Seal ice cream shop on the big tourist street: Kokusai-dori.

Interesting toilet paper(?) That’s all we could figure it out to be. Every restroom we’ve ever seen in Japan is clean with elaborate toilets. They often have heated seats.

Japan Weaving Tour 2017 – Day 1

Day one. The scarves the flight attendants wore intrigued me so I asked one to show me how to tie it. This was on the flight to Okinawa.

Step one is spreading out the silk scarf. It was much larger than I thought it would be.

Step two is to fold on all 4 corners.

Step three is to fold in half.

Step four. I can’t remember if she kept folding in half until this narrow or rolled it.

Next is putting it on.

Tie a squat knot now.

After the square knot fluff out the ends.

She was quickly fluffing the ends so I couldn’t focus. The final step is the finished photo with the pretty part off on the shoulder.