Monthly Archives: August 2018

Shibori in Kyoto

Needless to say, while I was in Japan I was seeking interesting textiles and I discovered the Kyoto Shibori Museum.

It was not a large public institution. It seemed more like the passion of a group of public spirited individuals and practitioners. On arrival I was offered a damp hand towel (which was a relief in the heat and made me a safer person if I touched anything!) I was shown a video about shibori in Japan, its history and techniques. Then I was allocated a guide who accompanied me around the exhibits and into the shop where items made by the people who run the museum are for sale, including bolts of indigo dyed shibori fabrics. My guid came from a family of shibori dyers and there were photos of his family, and some of his grandparents’ tools on display in the museum. I wish I could show you photos but–it was not clear that photographs were allowed and this was one of the early places I went in Kyoto. I was just too shy to ask, and too uncertain of whether communication had been achieved because, let it be said–my Japanese is extremely limited, and politeness Japanese style is very different to the customs I have grown up with. Sometimes I had an impression of agreement that just wasn’t borne out in action. I struggled to understand. I did not wish to offend.  But I was informed and amazed and there were many beautiful and interesting things to be seen. Also, having a guide all to my non-Japanese speaking self was deeply embarrassing to me! The museum offers shibori experiences for a fee (where you dye a small item) and with pre-booking.


I also came across a high fashion shibori shop: Katayama Bunzaburo.


My friend and I bought scraps of their fabrics which were for sale crushed into cellophane bags, and I bought some traditional cotton fabric woven in Japan that was inexplicably (and quite cheaply) for sale here too. But the shibori was the main feature and it was extraordinary.  Some of it was more sculptural than a dyeing effect, and there were quite a few lamps showing off the shaping that shibori can create.

There were some very beautiful, elegant garments for sale but I’m afraid between the partial English of our hosts and our scraps of Japanese; their enthusiasm for having me try things on and my efforts to mime how beautiful the garments were but honestly, not made for a  heffalump of my proportions–I quite forgot to take any photos!

Here was shibori as scarves, wraps, jewellery. In silks and in synthetic fibres. And the people running the shop were able to show how to wear these pieces in numerous different gorgeous ways.  They were so kind and generous. Finally my friend’s 60th birthday present was found and purchased!  And, the final triumph of the shop: a display piece in their little courtyard which I think I understood was called “Jellyfish”–as tall as I am and quite awesome to behold.



Filed under Natural dyeing

Boomerang Bags–a few more!

Well, I’ve had some weeks of illness in which knitting seemed too much. I know, I know!! But I managed to slowly make more Boomerang bags some days.  I finally cut up a pair of ramie jeans I must have kept for at least 15 years since they  wore right out, in case I’d learn how to make another pair… or something.  I can see why I loved these from the time I bought them second hand in, oh, the late 1980s or early 1990s– but I’ve finally let my longing to reproduce them go and taken the scissors to them.


They made some nice bags…


I found yet more bits and pieces to create linings from, including jeans pockets and other leftovers from the last round of bags.

This series of bags all came from a striking border print I had in stash.  Origins lost in the mists of time, but I guarantee I never imagined myself in a square dancing circle skirt made of this!

Then there was this shirt I made many years ago and had years of happy times wearing.  Now that fabulous print gets a new lease on life.

The last of one of Joyce’s fabrics, teamed with jeans that have passed the point of no return for a nice strong base.

Finally, I had quite a score of big prints on cotton canvas one day at the op shop. A black and white panel seemingly designed to hang on a wall and then these red and green prints.

And that is a wrap! But not a single use plastic wrap, haha….






Filed under Sewing

Tuffsock Spinning: Ryeland

This post is part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion on this blog or on the blog of the fabulous Rebecca at Needle and Spindle or on Instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally. It is from Rebecca that this rather beautiful fleece came to me. She gave it to me washed, with its lock formation intact in a way that I almost never manage. I am deeply grateful for this wonderful gift!


There was a day I was so keen to get spinning, I pulled this fleece from its calico bag next to the drum carder and visualised carding it.  And put it back in its bag!  The care and work represented by its beautiful cleansing was just too precious. In the end I decided to flick card each lock individually and spin directly from the lock, and what a lovely experience that was.


It shouldn’t be a surprise, but I think I am getting better at spinning sock yarn through practising–and with such a lovely, beautifully prepared fibre and a longer, softer lock than the Suffolk, this felt a real breeze to spin. I’m really happy with this result.


Ultimately I decided to dye it in cochineal with some vinegar in hopes of heightening the red tones. And now, my friends, it has wandered off to be exhibited in the Royal Show!






Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Waste and strategies to avoid it in Japan 1

I sometimes think that travel is at least as much an encounter with your own ignorance and arrogance as it is with another country and its cultures. In Australia, I have heard various things about waste and thrift in Japan from Japanese people as well as from Australians who have travelled to Japan (but weren’t born there).  I’ve heard both about minimalism and about a culture of everything needing to be new and old things being always thrown away.  I’ve read about boro and also about extravagant, amazing silken fabrics. And, as with the culture/s I live in, surely there would be diversity and contradiction? I was interested to see what I could learn about avoiding waste from being in Japan, and to see how recycling was managed there.


One place where I noticed a very striking difference between Japan and Australia was public bathrooms/toilets. I am not referring to the differences in toilets between these two places, though those are considerable. For those who do not wish to hear anything more on this subject–skip the next two paragraphs!


In an upscale public toilet (airports, big cultural institutions, department stores) Australia has toilets that while clean and even occasionally stylish, are metaphorically like an old fashioned phone. Though water saving, they often offer half or full flush, and that is all they do, like a phone that merely allows you to make or receive a phone call.  Japan has these too, but they also have the toilet equivalents of the SmartPhone. They play music, may come with a motion sensor and light up, mist water and/or play music as you approach (which made me giggle a lot). Some offer a heated seat with different heats, multiple washing/bidet options and self cleaning.  It’s also routine for Japanese public toilets to have an emergency call button (not so in Australia). Half and full flush, of course. Designed so the lid must be down to flush (which would be capable of ending gender wars on several continents if adopted worldwide–or maybe that’s an Australian thing). And that’s what I figured out without being able to decode all the options (because I couldn’t read the buttons and even our hotel had decided English speakers only needed translation of about 4-6 of about 20 options).


On the other hand, in less flash places where tourists were less likely (some shrines, supermarkets, smaller or older public institutions) what my place of work calls a “natural posture” toilet, often translated in Japan as “traditional” and called by English speakers a “squat toilet” was the only option, and flush and emergency call were the only options. Much easier to figure out which to choose for the clueless such as myself. I could see from wordless queue exchanges where I was the only foreigner that I was not expected to use the traditional model (whether or not there were choices in the matter). In one museum I saw why Japanese people have reached this view when I saw a European looking woman open the door of a cubicle, startle visibly and hurry out. Also interesting, at a shrine sale where I had to watch the flow of people to even find a toilet, was a small bathroom being used by people of all genders, with gentlemen clearly expecting to use the urinal in mixed company with no evidence of embarrassment, and only the usual polite averting of eyes from people doing private things.  There was no evidence this was embarrassing to women or children, even with a fair sized queue standing by.

Well. How was that for a digression?


When I go to a public toilet, I hope for a toilet and a place to wash my hands. And this was on offer everywhere we went. What I almost never saw outside of a major airport was a place to dry your hands nor anything to dry them with.  Contrast Australia where there will usually be a paper towel dispenser, electric hand dryer, or both–and in more traditional establishments, eco conscious businesses or people’s homes, a hand towel.  In Japan, none of these was common, no matter how upscale the building or how thick the traffic of tourists. I watched closely hoping to understand what was happening instead. I saw no clues at all, and clearly it was at least as impolite to stare in Japan as in any bathroom at home. Just imagine how much paper and power is being saved in this way, I thought!


I did wonder if I had seen a clue out in plain view (hot as it was)–many people carried, wore or used a neck towel, at least in the heat wave we experienced.   I believe this might be the tenugui, often made of thin woven material or perhaps terry clothing on one side and plain weave on the other, narrower than an Australian hand towel and longer. People working or playing in the heat might have it draped over or wound around their heads (men and children), hanging dampened around their necks (anyone) or held in their hands. In the picture below, the men are participating in one of the major parades of the Gion festival in 39C heat and you can see these cloths in use. Sometimes I would see a woman pull one out of her handbag or bike basket and dab her face or neck at traffic lights or apply it to a sweaty child. Was this a sign that no one needed anything to dry their hands with because they had something suitable with them? I couldn’t figure it out but I never saw anyone shake their hands or dry them on their clothing either.


After return to Australia, a Japanese zero waste instagram account I am following linked to some interesting sounding content, so I wandered off to their blog to find all manner of interesting applications of Japanese traditional knowledge and traditions to resolving the question of how to create less waste and use less plastic and there it was, another clue, perhaps.  The post is headed “homemade reusable wet wipes”. I am not sure this is the answer to my personal state of ignorance either, but the wet cloth in a container with a lid in this blog post, carried with you, seems to me an application of the Japanese custom of providing a wet hand towel with a meal. These tiny towels varied from room temperature to chilled, from clean individual white towels in nice restaurants to a shared, coloured cloth like a damp face washer made available to you at a food market stall where you might have been given a tasting of something that you could only eat with your hands, down to a non woven, disposable wet wipe in an individual plastic package in a downmarket eatery. It was usually available in place of the now-ubiquitous paper napkin I would find in a similar context at home. In some contexts–the reusable rather than single use item seems to me less wasteful as well as much nicer and more effective. On the other hand, the single use plastic wrapped kind may be even worse waste-wise than a compostable paper napkin, while both are offered in such a way they cannot really be refused.





Filed under Sewing

Japan: String and yarn

Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Japan with my beloved, who had a fortnight long work commitment in Kyoto.  I took annual leave and went for the ride.


If I’d had the chance to choose where to go, I might have chosen Kyoto. It is a historical wonder even in Japan.  It was not bombed and has retained ancient sites of global significance.  It is one of the textile centres of Japan from historical times into the present.  And it is beautiful.  I had less opportunity to prepare than I would have liked because of my own work commitments.  But I did what I could and since I have not been much of a traveler, I expected to wander about with my mouth open in awe.  Only my attempts to be polite prevented this, and I’m hoping to write a series of posts about this experience, in which some topics will be bigger and some will be smaller, because I was fascinated by small things no less than big ones.


On our last day in Japan, we went the shrine sale at To-Ji Temple, which is a famous flea market and antiques market. There is a lot to say about this amazing event! But I’m going to begin with the string seller.  There is a link at the end of the post to the very interesting www site for Aoni Textiles given to me by the man in this picture.


Just quietly, Kyoto was sweltering through record heat the entire time we were there.  Australians know what 39C feels like, and it was at least 39C every day we were there. We had the sad experience of sharing the hottest day Kyoto has ever had.  I hope their media is not like ours and that it was saying CLIMATE CHANGE.  Being in Kyoto did make me think that the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in Kyoto surely at least in part because in Kyoto there is much to be lost and therefore much to be gained by concerted international climate action.  Anyway–the man in this picture is hot! And he is selling “string”.


By the time we found this stall, I’d been to the Museum of Traditional Arts and Crafts with our friend (who shared one of the weeks we were there), in which string is an entirely different category to thread that would be used, for example, for weaving garments.  It seemed to encompass things I would think of as rope (for industrial use) as well as things I would think of as strapping or narrow weaving.  But of a quality unknown in most contexts where any of these things are used where I live.  This was (mostly) not string in any sense I have known it. Some of what was on sale here was extremely fine and came with example knitted lace garments. Some was robust and quite thick. Some was plied, quite a bit was singles (not plied). While I don’t doubt the complexity of translation is part of it, and so is my ignorance, I think string is treated with more respect in Japan. I have not seen such quantities of rope made from natural fibres since I was a child, and perhaps not then.


Some of the fibres on sale seemed to me to be one of the lesser known silks. The cocoons (if indeed I have understood what I was looking at) in the bowl at bottom left in the image above were huge by comparison with those for regular old silkworms, and the yarns made from them were relatively thick and coarse.


This might be hemp or ramie fibre (and just look at the way it comes wound, with a waist on the “ball”–something I’ve never seen before). After some time with the three of us muddling our way through conversation and speculation, the stall owner put down his fan and pulled out a guide to the fibres he was selling that confirmed some were ramie, some hemp, some banana fibre (but not as I have previously known it), some pineapple leaf fibre–and there was more I was unable to understand, and the pressure of time and heat and the enormity of the flea market. The bunches of strappy materials visible hanging from the canopy in the first image were mostly hemp which I assume was being sold for other people to spin or use for basketry and other crafts/purposes.  But perhaps this is all my imagination!

Should you wish to see more, the www site can be found here. As I write it is in Japanese, and Google translate helps a little but in a poetic rather than an entirely informative way. It is richly illustrated and there are some amazing videos.  There is also an inactive button/link that makes me think they intend to translate into English but haven’t quite got there yet.  So if, like me, you speak English but not Japanese–maybe more will be revealed in the future!



Filed under Fibre preparation

Tuffsock knitting: BFL/Texel/Silk

Dearest readers, there I was full of good intentions for more regular posting when I was struck down by illness!  Fret not–I am recovering, but all too slowly for a restless individual such as myself.  In the meantime, I am going to try finishing off outstanding posts and sharing them with you, now that I have a little more brain and a little less cotton wool between the ears…

This post is part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion on this blog or on the blog of the fabulous Rebecca at Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally (which you can now follow on instagram, a rather sweet feature).


Here is a post at a mystery location (undoubtedly somewhere where waiting was leavened by knitting and idly thinking of the friend for whom these socks are destined).


This looks more like travelling to or from a work engagement by public transport…


I reached the final toe just as we were about to leave for Japan so I made a tactical decision to leave these at home and start another pair to maximise knitting relative to weight carried.


Here is grafting going on, on the train. Out of focus.


The whimsical cables have not lost their charm (for me at least).


The subtle bands of colour created by the spinning are rather sweet I think–when I bought the roving I did not imagine it being so homogenised by the spinning, a sign that I was a naive spinner at the time!


And for a clearer sense of the actual colour:




Filed under Knitting

Tuffsock Knitting: Indigo dyed Suffolk

This post is part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion on this blog or on the blog of the fabulous Rebecca at Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.


You may remember this yarn.  The fibre is Suffolk, one of the traditional sock knitting Downs breeds, in this case from Kangaroo Island, off the coast of  South Australia. I dyed it in a fructose based indigo vat as flicked locks, then carded and spun it three ply with a tight twist.  


I am not sure that this yarn will work for everyone.  It is not silky soft, and the factors that make wool comfortable for one person and prickly to the next person are very individual. On the other hand it is robust, springy and feels resilient–I love that kind of springiness in  a sock personally.  So I had a conversation with a couple of friends about this issue and settled on one who was delighted at the prospect when she had the chance to hold it in her hands.  It was midwinter here so she received these socks gleefully!


I have had trouble capturing the blue in photos.  It’s truest in the top picture of the wound ball.  I think these will be very robust and very warm socks and I’ll have to wait to see how the reviews from the recipient pan out!


Filed under Knitting

Guerilla Gardening Winter Edition 2: propagating

Autumn is the season for cuttings. So as the weather cooled I started out with ‘old man’ saltbush. Here it is getting dipped in honey prior to planting.


I’ve planted a lot of creeping boobialla of two different kinds and it is thriving around the neighbourhood.

So now I can take cuttings from these plants to make more!

I’ve been trying out correas and rock roses and had success with last year’s trials.

I have also dug out root divisions from the dianellas around our way to grow more, and cuttings from pigface too. So I now have a couple of hundred pots which are looking promising so far… and now I need to get myself into condition to be able to plant them when spring arrives.




Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures