Category Archives: Natural dyeing

Silk cot quilt

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Back before March, maybe even last year!  I took out a silk cot quilt kit I bought from Beautiful Silks remnants section and dyed the silk cover.  I’ll be honest with you, Marian (the fabulous proprietor at Beautiful Silks) persuaded me to buy this kit and I didn’t know where it would go.  Then the moment for me to give it to one pregnant friend passed without it being finished.

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I was very happy with how the dyeing turned out.

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I was intimidated by the next steps.  It was just too beautiful.  Silk is just a bit too precious for me to relax about. In about March, still not sure where it would go, I decided to add the silk batting and stitch the quilt edges together.  Then I safety–pinned and tacked the quilt layers together before losing my nerve again.

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Then it emerged that my daughter was expecting!  She wanted to wait until after the third month before being really confident that it would, as she put it, “stick”.  And when that date passed and all was well with the foetus, I started to think about this quilt again.  I didn’t know how to quilt it, and to be honest, I like the patchwork part of making quilts but not the quilting part.  I’ve never made a whole cloth quilt. Finally I decided to stop waiting for it to be perfect and just stitch.

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Suddenly I made my peace with this cone of thread that really wasn’t what I had thought I was buying on some previous mail order, and chose a needle. I finished the stitching after we arrived to visit my daughter, now visibly pregnant and beginning to multiply plans for her life as a parent.  She did rather seem to love it, wonky stitching and all, to judge by all the stroking and patting and cheek-placing–and we’ll have to see how it stands up to the rigours of an actual baby.  Or perhaps it will end up as a new mother’s comforter!

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Handspinning

There has been a return of my Royal Show entries. I was so unwell when I spun some of them, and had no option but to submit things already dyed rather than dye to purpose, that I was surprised to win any prize at all on these grounds–and then, there are much better spinners than me!

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I applied cochineal to some of the Suffolk previously dyed with indigo in places, and to the Ryeland. The hen is a Royal Show reference–and the colour in the photo above and right is a better reflection of the cochineal than the one below…

Some time back, I decided to use up of some fibres that had been purchased years ago with specific uses in mind that no longer seem interesting to me. First, Perendale curls that I had used to create lockspun yarns.  After all the sock yarn spinning I’ve done in the last six months, this was massive!  I also spun up small quantities of commercially dyed merino roving but don’t seem to have taken pictures of it.

I found I also had some eucalyptus dyed batts and some carded local wool I’d prepared some time ago, and as serious fibre prep has felt beyond me in the last while, I spun them too.

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I progressed on through roving in the stash to some oatmeal BFL dyed by The Thylacine and acquired from a destash a few years ago.  The braids were so spectacular!  I tried to maintain some of the colour changes.  And I also discovered I had some Australian grown Cormo from the Tonne of Wool–most of mine went to a fine spinning competition at my Guild, but I found a little bag of odds and ends of Cormo roving and it was buttery, velvety, exquisitely soft.  Also, so white I didn’t get a great photo of it!

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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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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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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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Tuffsock Knitting: Frankensock edition

 

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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.

In preparation for our trip to Japan, needless to say I did some serious knitting planning (despite knowing that it would be high summer, humid and HOT in Japan. Do I need to explain to any knitter who is reading, the need for knitting in airports, train stations, on planes, and on the Shinkansen (bullet train)? Of course not. At one point in the ten hour trip from Australia to Tokyo, a flight attendant said something like ‘now you’re really getting somewhere!’ I guess progress must have become visible… by the time I reached Kyoto one sock was complete and I was knitting the second.

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Here, on a bus in Kyoto (enter in the middle of the bus, exit at the front, and pay with exact change into a machine as you get off!  Compare what I do at home: enter at the front, buy a ticket from the driver as you enter if you don’t have a prepaid ticket, leave through the centre door).

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Then, knitting with a set meal.  In Japan, I had a lifetime highlight number of mystery meals–where I sometimes did not know what I was eating before, during or after eating it!  Delicious but mystery items abounded for me.  In this case, the small round dish on the left contained what looked like grey stem tips and buds. Terrestrial plant? Seaweed?  I have no idea. Imagine how readily I picked these up from the liquid in which they were sitting beautifully–all the more graciously when it transpired that they were surrounded by (I assume they produced) a slippery-slimy-gelatinous substance.  And they were sitting in vinegar, so slurping them down didn’t seem right either.  Another mysterious-to-me Japanese food.

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This meal I bought when I went to see the Master Indigo dyer’s studio. I walked ten or twenty kilometres most days and this was a twenty km day. I often had the idea that I’d just catch a bus back, but would always be curious about things I could see further up the road or wonder what was around the corner.  In this way I walked huge distances some days!  This day I eventually settled on a cosy, homely looking cafe.  The woman running it looked at me with some concern when I arrived, and indicated I should wait (she was going to get her phone).  We had a conversation about the menu (two main dishes) with google translate and mime.  Big serve or smaller?  I said big.  She let me know she thought that was the wrong choice.   I took her advice. She was right!  This plate had pickles, potato salad, seaweed and whitebait… leafy salad… and so on.

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Here, knitting in an okonomiyaki restaurant as the chef creates dinner in front of everyone in the restaurant–a maximum of about 12 at any one time–being charming and entertaining as well as making a fine meal.

This sock is a combination of a eucalyptus-dyed merino-silk commercial yarn leg and a handspun, logwood? sanderswood? dyed handspun Suffolk foot. It works for the one who knows–the wearer–and as a result there will be more Frankensocks!  The knitting of these socks led to all kinds of entertaining nonverbal and no-shared-language interactions as I was watched knitting at Nijo Jo Mae castle in Kyoto by a small child from China who had to ask a woman who might have been her mother a lot of questions and watch me a lot, while she used her battery operated fan.  And by a gentleman at the same spot who was highly entertained and pointed me out to a woman who might have been his wife. But there were also knowing nods from older women on buses.

I can only apologise for this gloriously random selection of photos in which the colour is pretty sad… but the socks have gone to their happy new home and these are the remaining portraits…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Guerilla Gardening Winter Edition 1: Planting out

Once winter seemed to have set in, I put my last plantings in the ground around the neighbourhood.  Everything that was sprouted from seed in spring and summer has now been planted out.

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There have been some losses as the Council or its contractors have been cutting down trees which have died sue to a soil borne fungus. Undergrowth often gets taken out in the complexity of removing entire tress. But they have also been planting more trees that are a decent size when they go in.  And then (I am guessing) one of my neighbours dug out my most successful weaving sedge, undoubtedly with different ideas about how to manage water flow through the neighbourhood after the flood. Even more recently, someone decided to take out two huge thriving wattles that I liked very much, presumably as a way of dealing with the gentleman who had been storing things behind them, sorting through them and then leaving behind what he didn’t want or need. I’d picked up the discarded items a few times, but evidently not enough for someone… or there was other trouble going on from someone’s point of view!

Some things are really thriving and this year I have direct seeded saltbush into some parts of the neighbourhood where ground cover is low, while in others, saltbush is being itself and spreading itself around freely. Thank goodness.

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Some of last year’s sheoaks have survived a more widespread than usual weed spraying programme and their understorey of saltbush and other tough native plants is growing too.

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In this very challenging spot I planted some random plants given to me by various people and this hibiscus has been flowering for months.  Understorey boobialla, some eucalypts and a feijoa tree are still growing too. Life just keeps growing up.

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