Monthly Archives: September 2018

Misuyabari: the hidden needle shop of Kyoto

In my attempts to research where I should go in Kyoto, I found an intriguing blog post about visiting a needle shop.  A needle shop?  I was fascinated, sitting at my computer at home and reading about this place.

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There was more than one blog post about this place.  And how hard it was to find.  I attempted the search after a few days in Kyoto in which I had begun to understand the several pedestrian malls in the downtown area and had become, frankly, quite fascinated by the Nishiki Food Markets, which is set on a pedestrian mall.  I walked there every day for about five days in a row at one stage, progressively decoding what some of the things for sale were, trying more of them and always returning to a particular mochi stall. But I digress. In my first few days I discovered that Google Maps is quite helpful in Japan, where the conventions for explaining how to find a place or building are different to those I am familiar with. Google maps made light work of finding the secret needle shop of Kyoto. But it was still amazing to walk down a bustling pedestrian mall, find a walkway down the side of a very pink shop (like a dollar shop really), walk down it, through a doorway, and out into a courtyard.

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Surely there are prosaic, weedy courtyards somewhere in Kyoto.  This wasn’t one of them.

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Nestled into it was a small wooden building dwarfed by its bigger modern surroundings.

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Stepping stones led up to the door of the Misuyabari needle shop.

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It was tiny! Most of the room was taken up by this display of needles, snips, scissors, and all kinds of notions with miniature objects modelled onto them– tiny sculptures, literally on pinheads. (This is the reason for the magnifying glass you see on the counter).

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There was also a selection of sewing boxes and mending kits, all exquisitely crafted.

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In the end I bought one of these small mending kits… I feel sure it will be the perfect gift at some future moment. And a pack of needles, of course. They came with a brochure about the needle shop and the history of needles in Japan.  I spent a lot of time poring over it later with Google translate, which renders Japanese into English in a most poetic way but does allow some insight!

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I feel it isn’t every day that a tourist can have an experience that is part magical mystery tour, part practical implement acquisition, and part whimsical cuteness.  Highly recommended, and especially as you really must visit the food markets nearby!

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Waste and avoiding waste at home 1

I tend to think that people who read this blog are already doing whatever they can think of on this issue.  But I find that there are stages, not always in sequence, in the matter of waste.  I learn new things about what I am using and doing. I find out about strategies that had not occurred to me (like those learned in Japan).  I go back to things I used to do. I establish a different level of comfort or dislodge a piece of entitlement. And sometimes a new conversation opens up at home, at work, or more widely–in the case of Australia, The War on Waste has opened new conversations.

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So my best jeans went through in the knee and I decided to patch a bit more thoughtfully, as they are my best jeans, and I have so many fit for the garden already! Here is the patch on the inside.  I had kept my grandma’s pinking shears for well over a decade even though I couldn’t free them up.  I had one more attempt and shazam!  I have mended jeans and functional pinking shears (the new sewing machine oil did it)! So the patch has pinked edges.

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Here is my stitching grid (yes, an ordinary drawing pencil in pale pink).  Since visiting Japan, I’ve read more about sashiko (sometimes called Japanese folk embroidery–but to summarise, running stitch made into a higher art form) and realised the simpler thing would have been to just trace a grid of lines.  This worked though! Much more attractive than my previous utilitarian approach, in fact I had a confusing conversation with a gentleman who thought I’d done this just for decoration recently. I had to break the news it was actually mending, not distressed denim–but we shared some puzzlement bout distressed denim as we clearly both wear our jeans out.

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This morning, I went for a pre-work walk and took some years’ worth of our dead batteries (including rechargeables) to a recycling station at the Clarence Park Community Centre. They also accept electrical goods and mobile phones for recycling.  Community Centres are just SO GOOD. Our local Food Co-op at Clarence Park Community Centre has an excellent range of foods including eggs, honey, flours, seeds, grains, nuts, driend fruits, pulses. It is run by lovely volunteers, and has been running with a view to reducing waste and keeping food affordable for many, many years.  National list of bulk food co-ops here.

On the way back, a friend stopped on their bike and asked what I was doing in that spot–and they said Goodwood library also take batteries for recycling.  We went on our separate ways and I collected dye leaves on the way home, and they passed me again and stopped to say it had improved their day to see me and remember there are other people who also care for the earth. Aww! (That was the trigger for this post).  So there were hugs and there was love and then off they rode and off I walked.

Needless to say there has been more spring guerilla gardening, and I always pick up rubbish while I’m at it.

We already do lots of the simpler things like refusing straws (I started on that in the 1980s); taking our own bags to the shop, packing fruit and vegetables without extra bags, reusing plastic bags, recycling, composting, worm farming and such.  But we’ve stepped up to seeing if we can bring less plastic into the house, difficult as that is given the way industry and commerce are now arranged.  I’ve been stopping off at Drake’s Foodland Panorama which has a huge bulk section and is on my bus route home from work. I take pre-loved ziplock bags from earlier purchases with me and refill them. It’s not especially cheap  but it’s accessible and involves no new packaging. When coming home from my parents’ house, I’ve been doing the same thing with a Coles that has a smaller bulk section (each Coles I’ve seen a bulk section in has a different selection). But in Adelaide, the bulk place to go apart from your local co-op or Farmer’s Market is the Central Market.  Needless to say the Markets sell fruit, vegetables, pre-made foods and all manner of other foods. No one turns a hair when I buy bread with my own bags and this is expected by many stallholders. (Random picture of a rosella peeping out of a nesting box–look carefully!).

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The Honey Shop at the Market sells all kinds of unpackaged soaps, tea herbs, ingredients for making your own cosmetics and massage oils, plus bulk oils, cleansers (dishes, bathrooms, clothing, you), shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser–and of course honey. They’ve been doing it ever since I first went to the markets in about 1983. There is also the upmarket and relatively expensive Goodies and Grains which has a huge selection. (Random picture of home made sourdough with whole barley rising).

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Then there is the much cheaper Tardis of bulk shopping The House of Health (every time I go there I discover more things I thought were not available in Adelaide–like sourdough starter–as well as more things I don’t understand, like freeze dried vegetable powder).  You have to be prepared to dance in a very small space here but I can get virtually everything we use for breadmaking, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, FODMAP friendly granola making and more.

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Then there’s hankies.  I’m one of those who never went over to using paper tissues.  But now I make my own and share the love.  These were a small amount of double gauze I just could not resist, bought new and sized for smaller friends who have smaller pockets (and smaller noses!) And then there is this stack: an entire fitted cotton bedsheet worn through–soft and lovely for hankies–and gifted to me by a friend. Then I made some more from a vintage paisley green lawn from Joyce’s stash but I gifted them away before taking a photo.  And some others from fine lovely cotton from Beautiful Silks’ remnants section. What have you decided to do to reduce waste at your place lately?

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Nishijin Textile Centre and Aizenkobo Indigo Studio

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The Lonely Planet Guide did not make the Nishijin Textile Centre sound especially alluring, and nor did some of the promotional materials.  I decided to go anyway.

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There were some amazing fabrics and garments on display. The display itself was relatively small, though lovely–but the Centre was very popular–and clearly not because of the single room of displays upstairs which I had all to myself.  The main attraction seemed to be the souvenir shop, which was full of tourists from all round the world the day I was there. It had a wide range of items made with and decorated in beautiful Japanese fabrics.  There was also a working Jacquard loom, with a weaver demonstrating its operation on the main floor of the building, and with some explanatory signage about the long history of interaction between China and Japan in the matter of weaving.

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I took just two photos inside the building before seeing the signs banning photography and desisting.

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After the Nishijin Textile Centre I went to the Archaeological Museum, just a short walk away.  It was a small but impressive place, apparently run by a small group of enthusiasts.  Signs were mostly translated into English, which was a boon to me, so I spent a long time reading all I could.  I had already been to Nijojo Mae Castle at this point, and so had questions I was trying to answer.  The translations here were informative about the archaeology of Kyoto, but they did also suggest some of the ways Japanese and English differ.  I puzzled for quite a while over a ceramic object labelled as a “pillow”, wondering how something so small could be a pillow for anyone.  Eventually I realised this might be a literal translation of what in English would be a stopper or a lid for a jar or jug.

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Next I went to the Aizenkobo Indigo Studio, where master indigo dyer Kenichi Utsuki lives and works. It turned out that I had arrived at a time when he was not dyeing.  Rather, I arrived and was the only customer in the studio. Kenichi Utsuki showed me hos beautiful dyeing and the studio, complete with high end fashion garments and special orders hanging on racks. Friends, I was overcome with shyness at having the master dyer (and his wife) attending only to me, and deeply awkward about my lack of Japanese.  I tried to explain that I understood that he was an internationally famous dyer and that his work was complex, built on an extensive Japanese tradition (using only Japanese indigo and fermentation methods)–I am not sure that I succeeded in communicating this.  But I did spend quite some time with Kenichi Utsuki listening to him about his lifetime’s work and leafing though his photo albums, looking around in awe.  Even the house itself was rather amazing and had been in his family for generations. I could not bring myself to ask if I could take photos and so I have only the front door to show you and you will have to follow the link to see more.  I came home with a beautiful furoshiki and some sashiko thread dyed virtually black-blue.

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Afterward I walked for a long distance.  In Kyoto I was forever thinking that I wouldn’t walk as far as yesterday and would just catch a bus because of the heat.  but then I was constantly overcome by wanting to see something lying ahead, or wondering what was around the corner.  I was forever passing beautiful plants and unfamiliar styles of building. So I just had to keep walking and looking!

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Waste and avoiding waste in Japan 2

The Japanese wrapping cloth or Furoshiki is sold all over Kyoto as a souvenir and there are simply gorgeous prints available all over central Kyoto. Less often, indigo or other plant dyed furoshiki are available.  the furoshiki is the kind of multi purpose staple item surely basic in many cultures where once, having a piece of fabric to use would have been so significant it would have had many uses. The furoshiki is still in use and maybe even having a resurgence in Japan. See one tutorial about how to wrap your lunch box here. I did not see them in use a great deal while in Kyoto, but I did see them being used: most notably one evening when I saw a middle aged man riding his bicycle in a yukata, with two packages the size and shape of framed paintings wrapped in furoshiki in the back basket. I went to one shop several times where the charming and generous  woman who was serving in the shop had an extraordinary show and tell, demonstrating how to use furoshiki. She said she had made YouTube videos and I hope this one is her!

One day my friend was trying to explain something she wanted to buy in a chemist and I spent that time roaming around looking at all the things. Wondering over depictions of Japanese manly attractiveness and womanly attractiveness, for instance. Wondering what it is like to live in a place where cosmetics are advertised with pictures which include the good looking young woman whose appearance is being improved by the advertised product (I’m guessing) playing violin (top right image in the right hand photo below).

Imagine my surprise (because a lifetime living in Australia) to discover that in Japan, cleaning your ears doesn’t necessarily involve cotton buds (Q tips). Here are two different models of ear pick.  My eyes popped out!  But once I knew what they were I realised I was looking at bamboo ear picks as a low price point item in a knife shop. Then I saw them in the museum of traditional arts and crafts, complete with a silky tassel.

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Yes, I brought one home. Yes, I’ll be careful.

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Box pouch workshop

I had a lot of fun preparing for the box pouch workshop. I dyed lots of fabric and made some samples.

Susan’s beautiful home and relaxed generosity made for a wonderful atmosphere.

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The company was excellent and we were able to make use of the abundance of plants nearby. There were all kinds of dyeing discoveries.

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And there was wonderful dyeing…

And the main room looked as though a balloon full of stitchery had burst in it!  People’s work was beautiful and it was such a pleasure to be in a room of people so knowledgeable about sewing, dyeing, and the environment–each of us in different measures.

The participants made beautiful work and the conversation was fabulous!

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Spring Guerilla gardening 2

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Another early morning foray into the streets. More dianella revoluta to add to a massed planting where so many plants were stolen in three separate events the week they went in.

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Over several years I have planted saltbush into the gaps to keep the weeds down (now the saltbush is mounting a takeover bid!) and progressively propagated new plants to replace the ones that were stolen. This morning they went in like this, barey a spear shaped leaf above ground:

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Some of those planted in the last two years look good:

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And the original plantings are really successful.

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Here is the mound of saltbush removed (half to the chooks and half to composting):

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And at that point I decided it was prudent not to plant anything more and head home to  deal with that pile of saltbush, recycle some rubbish and give the chooks something tastier.  Dandelions, for example!

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Spring Guerilla Gardening begins

This week, with rain promised, I made a start on planting out the autumn propagated plants. I find that summer comes sooner and hotter all the time, so I’m trying to push these plants out into the ground so they can take hold of their new surroundings before the parching weather arrives.

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Myoporum parvifolium (narrow leafed “purple” variety) (above), and dianella revoluta (below).

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The bike trailer comes into its own yet again… as a hand cart!

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I’m filling gaps in a massed planting, most of which has gone from strength to strength.

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And you can barely see it, but here are some of my plants tucked into the gap… which is pretty much what I also did with the myoporum, a tough, ground hugging plant that has blanketed more and more of the patch where I keep planting it.  It looks good, it flowers, bees appreciate it, and it gives people the impression that they shouldn’t be walking into the patch where it is growing, where rubbish has been dumped, plants have been stolen, and rubbish lands–and all of these things happen less and less as plants fill the space, creating something good for insects, birds, animals and human passersby.

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Komebukuro Rice-Bags

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I am still in love with this traditional Japanese style of bag.  Having acquired Japanese fabric scraps in Japan, I made some more, combining recycled clothing (a red linen shirt from the op shop and a maroon sleeveless linen shirt worn very much by me since the 1990s became linings) with fabric I have dyed with indigo as well as all kinds of Japanese fabric scraps.

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I find this design very cunning, and in Japan, I was struck by the different styles that casings tended to take, with drawstrings travelling through casings that were quite separate from the main bag.  In the drawstring constructions I more often have encountered and created, the drawstring passes through a casing in the garment or bag itself.

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And there it is again.  I constantly find myself creating series, and I constantly find myself much more readily making scraps, remnants and recycled fabrics into projects rather than using untouched loveliness in my possession, as if it is too special and valuable to cut, even when it is a gift!  I’ll have to work on that, because of course I want people to use the things I gift them!

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Fabrics in Kyoto

I think regular readers will have worked out that there were some obvious reasons I saw textiles everywhere in Japan–after all, I was seeking them out! I must admit though–and I’ve already explained that my ignorance and lack of language are a limitation–that fabric in Kyoto seemed far more accessible than at home. I was really impressed by the range of scrap fabric and recycled fabric available, and the range of places it was for sale. My friend and I bought scrap packs at a high end Shibori store.  There were packs of scrap fabrics available on street stalls during the evening street parties that came with the Gion festival.  Kimono is a big business in Kyoto and no doubt especially during the Gion festival, when people clearly go out of their way to dress up and dress traditionally, and tourists often do so as well.

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This may be one reason that secondhand kimono are for sale in so many places. The amount of silk made into clothing in Japan (relative to Australia) might also account for the availability of bolt ends of kimono silk and for some of the scraps which seem to have been torn off when a hem was raised, for example. But to my ignorant eyes it also seemed there was a different kind of reverence for beautiful fabric and design. During the Gion festival when community treasures are on display, fabulous garments were among them.

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When the Gion floats were paraded through the streets, they were hung with amazing, and in some cases, ancient, tapestries and carpets, often imported (long ago and from far away).

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Here is another example.

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And another!  It was amazing! I had been watching some of the floats being assembled out on the streets (remember the temperature is 39C or above every day at this stage), visited them on display once complete and seen the Gion Bayashi musicians rehearsing in them. Then we saw them lifted, pulled or wheeled through the streets on one of the two parade days. To see them all was extraordinary–each with a complex history and a heavy freight of symbols.  How hard it must have been to be pulling them through the streets–some of them weighing tonnes and with antique wooden wheels, being kept on track by a wooden chock dextrously applied as the wheels turned, and cornering without steering by use of wet bamboo slats and brute strength.  Sweaty work even for the very committed.

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But wait, there’s more.  I’d researched some things prior to departure and understood Nomura Tailor was not to be missed. The main store was on the big shopping strip of Kyoto (the Rundle Mall of Kyoto for local-to-me readers). It looks small here but there were four, or perhaps five, floors!

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I was entirely unsure whether it was acceptable to take photographs, and found myself in someone’s way no matter where I stood on any floor with a small reprieve on the top floor where haberdashery was for sale. I was utterly embarrassed!

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Here was for sale every kind of cloth. Every colour of linen.  Lots of cute prints (I now understand a little more about the cute aesthetic in Japan, but not a whole lot)! In the image above you can see an entire display of Marimekko. I have never seen so many Liberty prints outside a Liberty store. And so on (remember, this is only what I could recognise). It was overwhelming. I try not to buy new stuff as a general rule–but I really wanted to buy here and could find no way to make a decision about where I would stop if I started. I came back on a second day to see if I had more judgment or perhaps it was less crowded.  I still could not bring myself to buy fabric, overwhelmed by how I would ask for it, not understanding how to initiate a purchase, not wanting to hold up the queue, and in general feeling all heffalump in a very organised and efficient space in which I was unable to grasp the key organisational and efficiency principles. I bought some braid, some Japanese zippers and some sashiko sampler packs. The difference between buying fixed items and negotiating yardage is profound, or at least it felt that way to me on the day!

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The sashiko samplers turned out to be cushion covers but only the shape of the fabric and the pictures with the Japanese instructions inside allowed me to work this out.  I became ill a week or so after returning and did a lot of stitching!

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None of these was the highlight for me. The highlight really was going to a shrine sale the day we left.  We went to the flea market, and it was immense.  It was not a fabric sale–pottery, tools, metal, ready to eat food, brushware, vegetables, pickles… just abut everything!  It was over 40C that day and I inhabited a fantasy that I could look around and come back to things sighted earlier.  Oops! That is one thing I do regret.  Here was every kind of fabric, new and second hand. New garments and second hand garments. Second hand sake bags.

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Sacking, advertising materials on fabric (as far as I could tell). Cheap mass produced stuff. I bought what turned out to be strips from the ends of bolts (lengths?) of white silk kimono fabric. Then there were so many second hand fabrics whose origins I could only guess.

There were plant dyed clothes, and while indigo was prominent some were dyed with nettles, cedar bark or wormwood (that is what I could understand at any rate–)

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There was vintage clothing and fabric in every stage from well preserved to utterly disintegrating and in every stage of being mended from a patch here or there to rags stitched together–the boro tradition.  There were also many stallholders converting scraps of beautiful silk or vintage indigo dyed fabric into small items of loveliness, honouring them by transforming them.

I have read about boro and seen images, and read its history.  But while some of these items spoke of thrift and long wear, some were so ragged and so much mended that I was confronted by a sense of grief and awe for the people whose suffering and resilience created these clothes and cloths. While they now sell for a good deal of money (which does not go to anyone who used them), these items speak of the sheer poverty and difficult lives as well as speaking of the diligence, skill, love and care that must have gone into them.

In the end, I felt as though the flea market was an education in the life of everyday people through textiles. The museums I visited focused on things of high quality and amazing craft and design skill (as museums often do). Yet, this means museums often tell the stories of the wealthy and powerful, even when it is their clothing that is on show. At the flea market, the incredible effort that went into staying warm and covered for so many people who made that wealth possible was on show instead.

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A little more knitting in Japan

In addition to the sock, I took some fat, soft handspun to convert into beanies in Japan, in case I needed a change of knitting pace.

The beanies were a hotel knitting project. There had been floods and an earthquake before we arrived, and Kyoto sweltered through an uncharacteristic heatwave while we were there: 39C or more virtually every day. This was knitting for air conditioning!

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These are made from some naturally coloured Western Australian Polwarth roving Joyce left. It was sumptuous to spin and lovely to knit.

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These are knit from hand spun, eucalyptus dyed wool. And some more Polwarth! I can’t shake the feeling there was a third orange-brown hat but if so, I did not take a picture. But I have certainly made a head start on next winter’s beanies…

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