As I was researching indigo and boro fabrics in Japan, I came across a showroom located in Greenpoint Brooklyn, just blocks from my apartment. I’m finally back in NY now, after several months of traveling, and I have an appointment to visit Sri today. I arrive at the building and I’m surprised to see a lovely courtyard as I enter.
It’s quite a contrast from the industrial exterior.
Stephen greets me at the door and I’m immediately transported back to Japan. He has a lot of good boro fabric pieces and sashiko stitched items. I ask him several questions about the history of boro. It’s difficult to find information about it, especially outside of Japan.
He has a great little library and suggests several books related to boro and other Japanese textiles. He sparks my interest when he speaks about boro as an improvisation. His says it’s structure is “out there” like the music of John Cage, and advises me that I will have to rethink how to approach my creative process if I want to combine elements of boro into my paintings. These fabrics were not planned pieces. He says that boro is like a mirror, it can reflect many things and I must use my personal narrative to expand on its properties. It’s at once something and nothing.
Stephen is a great resource and I hope to go back and chat with him more. I buy an out of print book titled “Riches From Rags” and a small piece of boro fabric.
I’ve returned to Fujino for two days, trying to get as much indigo dyeing done as I can. I’m leaving Japan on Saturday, so this is the last chance that I’ll have to do it. I’ve prepared a stencil using the traditional persimmon paper and brought it with me. Bryan’s home and workshop is a cozy place to work (above left). He shows us some yarn that he has recently dyed (below left).
I begin by boiling the fabrics that I’ve brought (below right). There is a lot of glue in the heavy canvas that I chose, so it must be boiled with soap and lye. The indigo will adhere to the cloth better if the glue is removed.
After the fabric is clean, I stencil the pattern onto the canvas using rice paste (above). The paste will resist the dye and remain the color of the cloth. The paste must be completely dry before I start dyeing.
The view outside Bryan’s kitchen window looks out onto his vegetable garden (above left). A few students practice Shibori techniques by folding fabric and stitching it together. The stitched fabric dries in the sun (below right). After the dyeing is finished, it’s cut open, revealing the pattern (below left).
I spend several hours dyeing my fabric pieces. Here are a few examples of the final result. My original intention was to have text in the middle of the wreath reading “No Nukes”. I couldn’t get the text to look right, so I must try again, but I’m happy with the wreath image results. I’ve realized that there are a lot of limitations when dyeing fabric. It’s a much different process than painting. I’ll have to build on what I’ve learned in order to develop my motifs.
I spent another two days in Fujino with Bryan Whitehead. He’s an inspiring teacher and indigo dyer. I’ll post more about my experience tomorrow, but for now, here’s a self-portrait reflecting in the indigo vat before it’s been stirred. The surface looks oily and still.
After the vat has been mixed, it starts to bubble and look more healthy.
I love a girl who can wear these shoes and ride a bicycle at the same time!
This is a great market that happens every first and third Sunday of the month in the heart of Tokyo. There are a lot of high quality antiques and things are expensive, but it’s fun to walk through and see what’s here.
There is some good stuff, from a variety of Kokeshi , traditional Japanese wooden dolls (above left), to antique textiles and woven baskets (above right). I find a great book with samples of woven fabrics pasted into it (below left).
Some of the vendors carefully place their items like museum objects.
There are a lot of figurines, handcrafted toys and masks.
Bake-danuki (above right) have many special powers that bring good fortune. These racoon dogs have eight important traits. The big tail provides strength and stability in the attainment of success, large eyes give the vision to make sound judgments, a sake bottle represents virtue, a large hat protects against the elements, a promissory note represents confidence and trustworthiness, the big belly shows sage decisions with a calm mind, a friendly smile is for good nature in all things, and large testicles represent good financial fortune for the future.
I find a boro blanket in a pile of stuff (below left) and vintage tea cups (above left).
Yesterday, I posted about my visit to the Geidai craft-dyeing and weaving studios, but I also had a chance to peek into the painting department. Painting is my first love, so I was excited to see what the students were working on.
Some of the second year painters had recently visited a forest in Northern Japan and are now making paintings inspired by the trip (above).
Another painting inspired by the forest. It’s always interesting to see the range of images that result in looking at a similar thing.
The students are trained in traditional Japanese painting methods and I was surprised to see that the techniques were much different than what I learned in art school. Most of the students were painting with dried pigments that are mixed with glue made from cows. The glue is heated up (above left) and mixed with the dry pigments in small bowls. The pigments don’t react well when mixed together. Some can cause cracking or other problems. As a result the students don’t mix their own colors. The pigments are used straight out of the bags (below left), but there is a wide range of hues to choose from.
This student sits in front of his very large painting. He laughs when he realizes I’m taking a photo.
Tokyo University of the Arts, or Geidai, is one of the oldest art schools in Tokyo. I have the opportunity to visit and tour the facilities today. Toru Ishii is my guide. He’s an artist working with textiles and dyeing fabrics. He’s been studying textiles for ten years and is now working towards his PhD. He shows me the dyeing and weaving studio (below right). A student draws on fabric with rice paste (below left). Bottles of pigment are organized on the shelf according to what type of fabric they are used for (above right). Different pigments are better for silk, cotton or hemp.
Another student paints dye onto the fabric. Rice paste is painted on the pattern which resists the dye. This way the colors don’t bleed into one another. After all the colors are added, the fabric will be rinsed and the paste removed, revealing the completed design.
Toru takes me into the rinsing room where the fabric is washed with water (below left) and steamed to set the dye. He shows me the bowl that he uses to make the rice paste (below right). He explains that it takes many hours to mix the paste. A nice example of a katazome stencil (above right) and more pigment (above left).
Toru shows me the complicated dye pattern that he’s making for an exhibition in London next year. This is the back of the image before it’s been rinsed with water. I think it’s beautiful already.
We take our shoes off before entering the weaving room. Yarn is being dyed in large pots of pigment (left). Toru remarks that the process of dyeing is a lot like cooking. I have to agree. Details in the weaving room (right).
Even though I left Kyoto a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to post about the wonderful covered market that I visited. Nishiki is a traditional Japanese market in Kyoto that has been in operation as early as 1311. It originally started as a fish market, but now sells many traditional Japanese food items that are locally produced.
Japanese pickles are a favorite of mine (above right). At first, being a picky eater, I assumed I wouldn’t like them. I avoided the small pile that comes with certain meals. Now, I’ve learned that chopped pickles and rice are a perfect combination. Pickled plums are my favorite. Small octopi are cooked and served (above left) and I’m not exactly sure what this is (below left). I think it might be eggplant covered in miso. A basket of cranberries (below right) is very tempting.
There are also small cafes that line the narrow street (above).
Krill (above left) is a common addition to salads and other dishes. It can also be eaten as a dried snack. There are a few souvenir shops in between the food stalls and I pause at the frog purses (above right). They would certainly make unique gifts! Rice (below left) and smoked fish (below right) are on display.
Expensive pieces of grilled fish (left) and more krill (right).
Kita-in is a Buddhist temple in Kawagoe that is famous for the 540 statues of Rakan, disciples of Buddha. Each statue is unique and they include a wide range of personalities. Two Rakan chat with each other (above). One plays music, another holds a rabbit, and yet another drinks sake. This crowd of statues seem to speak to each other, almost as if they were alive.