Category Archives: Sewing

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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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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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.

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They made some nice bags…

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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….

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Workshop announcement

Dear readers, if you are local–this workshop might interest you!  It would be lovely to see you if you’re able… and Susan is a lovely host.

Make a zippered box pouch

Saturday and Sunday 25 and 26 August, 10am-4pm each day

At the Aldinga Arts Eco-Village with Mary Heath from Local and Bespoke www.localandbespoke.com

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Come along and make a zippered pouch from plant dyed, woollen fabric. We will also dye more woollen fabric and thread to take home for your next project.

What to bring:

·         Your lunch

·         Treats to share

·         plant dyed fabrics to create a pouch OR use the plant dyed, upcycled woollen blanket provided (no extra cost)

·         your sewing machine in good order or hand sewing tools – your choice (sewing machine service is not on offer at this workshop)

·         thread to sew your bag

 

What will be supplied:

·         coffee, tea (all sorts), cocoa and milk

·         plant dyed, upcycled woollen blanket to use for your bag

·         upcycled woollen blanket to dye for future projects

·         plant dyes

·         zippers

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When:

Saturday and Sunday 25 and 26 August, 10am-4pm each day

Where:

12 Dianella Walk, Aldinga Arts EcoVillage, Aldinga SA 5173

Fee:

$120 per person (up to 10 participants; fee due by 3 August to secure your place)

Contact:

susan1147schullerATgmailDOTcom

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Komebukuro bags

It all began with a visit with friends, who took us for a trip through part of Tasmania, months ago.  We went to a country market and right beside it was Wafu Works. What a place!  Full of all kinds of Japanese paper, textiles and tools. I ended up with some thread an sashiko needles, and bought a kit to make a rice bag with some gift money… Indigo dyed fabrics on the outside, a red lining and a drawstring cord.

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I was so intrigued.  I learned a new stitch and a cunning construction. I loved the vintage fabrics.  You know what happened next, right?  I paired the leftover fabric with some of my own indigo dyeing, and cut up a mauve linen shirt I remember buying about 16 years ago for the lining, and pieced the scraps together…

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In the end I made three, and I’m now itching to make more…

 

 

 

 

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Boomerang bags

I decided to raid my stash of pockets.  They have been cut out of garments I am turning into other things (like bags!) and here they are now, stitched to the inside of Boomerang Bags.

What bags?  I hear you asking.  These bags. Historical cotton, and upholstery fabric left for me by the charming BB volunteer organiser who collected my last lot of completed bags (she apparently does not understand the supply issue at my place is oversupply).

 

Oh, and I mean these bags too.

And these! I have now reached the end of the 1980s eye-bleeding fabrics from hard rubbish and moved back to whittling away the back catalogue of fabrics I have inherited, bought, thrifted, or upcycled from garments and manchester. Scraps are getting thinner in the cupboards.  My love of tablecloths shows less. The ancient pairs of trousers and jeans ran out and I have acquired some jeans through the op shop so I have sturdy fabric for places I need it (handles, for example).  In fact, I have started reorganising the supplies in the room I use to sew, and I’ve also decided to release some fabrics into the wild.  Some were needed for a friend’s school project, and he liked some fake fur scraps so much they went home with him too. I took some more to the Guild last night because… I am reaching layers of my own stash that I cannot imagine ever using and there is no obvious reason I should keep them instead of taking them to places where other people might enjoy them! And… twelve or more fully lined Boomerang bags are under construction and moving gradually to the finish line right now.

 

 

 

 

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PS: More on mending

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Just as I felt the mending was done, I found two–two!  Holes had worn through in my pyjamas.  The fabric is so thin.  I decided a big patch and a lot of machine stitching was the solution this time.  Here it is on the inside (below).  The patch was just a scrap left over from cutting something else out and I decided it was fine as it was.  Making it a rectangle didn’t seem likely to improve it.

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Then I realised how many patches there already were. At least three–with some pictures from the inside and some from the outside below. Some of these look just like scribbling to me.

And that same day, I mended the stiffening rectangle at the bottom of a shopping bag… and my beloved handed over some ripped jeans for repair!

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Mending the mending

Recently the pile of mending on my mind reached a point where it became the weekend’s project. But–I realised that there was only one thing I was mending for the first time.  I’ve reached the mending on mending stage.  This knitting bag has been waiting for a few more stitches into the base–the fabric the base is made from has just worn through over time.  But I don’t want to let the bag go.  It was made by one dear friend and embroidered by another and it was a birthday gift from years back.  It’s a treasure.  This time I fully embraced the idea of stitching the outer and lining together because I think this bag is at a stage in life where more mending is inevitable and not too far away.

Then there was the raincoat.  This op-shop find has had years of living on my office door for emergency wear because it is shower proof and has a zip-out wool lining. It’s a high quality garment!  If I am caught by wind or rain on my way home, I can grab it and run for the bus. It had this sophisticated arrangement for hanging on a hook (and I do hang it on a hook) and it has been broken for quite a while.

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This week I was caught by sudden wind and rain and wore it home.  The hanging arrangement is now stitched back with waxed linen thread.

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And I did some mends to the wool lining.  Yes, visible mending it is. Check out the fringe on the wool liner!

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My leafy linen bag, patched together from offcuts of my earliest eco-printing experiments on recycled linen shirts had worn through in several places again. Here it is  in use in 2014 and being mended in 2014.  The fading shows. Could I bear to let it go?  Not yet.  The new patches are all from one piece of dyed cloth that took up a lot of yellows.

Then there was the mighty flourbag shirt, which was mightily mended in 2015.  The patches on the inside fronts had not been stitched to the seams in every single place, and now there are holes right where I missed that rather crucial step in mending a garment that has been worn this much.  here are some of the holes and frayed parts…

And here are the mends seen from the inside and outside:

Sometimes when I mend people post asking why I bother.  Which is a decent question.  In a case like this raggedy shirt I think the only explanation can be that I love this shirt so much I don’t want to give it up.  Even though I wear it for gardening and such (let me be clear, I love having time in the garden).  the fact that I made it is part of it, but I make other things that I don’t love this way.  I love the feel of the calico and I have come to enjoy patching it up.  There are more places that have worn through where I am not going to bother at this stage–like where some layers of the collar have worn away but there are others still holding together.

And speaking of gardening, here are my gardening jeans.  Another case of thinking you have patched out to where there is some fabric with integrity and finding that a hole wears through just beyond the patch.  Never mind, just add on!  These jeans are comfortable for grubbing around in, and although I have another pair that are beyond use in polite company, they are made from poor quality denim that won’t bear a whole lot of mending.  They had a twin pair and I tried–but sometimes I can’t mend something back to wearable.  How do you decide when to mend your mending and when to let it go?

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