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Nijojo Castle, Kyoto

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Nijojo Mae (Castle) is a World Heritage Site in Kyoto.  As it happened, it was walking distance from the place we were staying, so it was my first stop in my walking tour of Kyoto. I live in a country where people have been living for thousands and thousands of years. Yet they lived lightly on the land, and in ways that shared resources far more equally than the historical powers of Asia and Europe.  So, to me, it is always amazing to be in a bus travelling along a big street in a modern city and encounter a massive monument dating back hundreds of years (in this case, to the 1600s). This watchtower (above) stands on one corner of the Nijojo Mae.

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The Castle has a long and complex history both in terms of the flows of power that led to its creation and subsequent modifications, and of the nature of its buildings. It has two immense circles of fortification–two moats, two circles of earthen walls with supporting structures of wood and stone.

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In addition, it has beautiful and extensive gardens, some of which would have been for practical use–cherry groves and other fruiting trees–as well as pleasure- and beauty-gardens.

Even the gates were astonishing and beautiful. I spent hours wandering around the outer area of the mae and then more time inside, and being a little lost at times.  As usual, I founds myself fascinated by the scenery and the buildings but also focused on the very small things. Trees sprouting with other plants.  Gingko trees hundreds of years old–and vast in size, much bigger than an I had ever seen. Roof end-tiles. Staking and rope-typing strategies for coaxing wisteria into becoming tree-shaped. Moss and lichens and fungi.

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Even buildings with apparently everyday uses were beautiful to my eye–this is an earthen rice storehouse.

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How important it must have been to keep rice safe in any year, let alone one in which a siege was possible.

The inner moat had a sloping wall and there were koi (carp) swimming in the moat. Carp are a pest species in Australia.  It was so interesting to see them where they belong, have profound cultural and aesthetic meaning and are venerated.

Eventually I decided I needed some downtime and found a teahouse in one of the very splendid formal gardens, where I had an extraordinary dish of fruit with ice cream and bean paste and saw other people eating ‘snow mountain’, which seemed to be shaved ice with syrup poured over it, served in a  bowl with a bamboo grate in the bottom, to prevent the whole thing descending into a puddle. There were at least fans in the tea house on this 39C day!

While I was wandering, to my surprise my phone rang, and it was my sister-out-law.  I’d posted her a bag I made before we left Australia and it had arrived on her birthday (which I have to admit was a complete accident, and had I tried to arrange it, surely it would have arrived a day before or a day after!)

I was entirely struck, looking at these gardens–by their beauty and by the care that had been lavished on them, in some cases over hundreds of years.  There were explanatory signs about specific trees and their lineages.  There were accounts of the restoration of buildings and gardens after natural disaster, fire or conflict.  But I was also struck by the evidence that they were organised by principles that I have read about but do not understand in any deep way.  That they arise from a different attitude to nature and plants, to history and scenery, than any I have ever inhabited. So–a place of mystery in the company of others’ cultures and traditions.

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I kept finding myself checking my own assumptions about the cultures from which I’ve arisen.  In a place that is so fully fortified it speaks to an expectation of conflict and even war everywhere you turn, there were carvings of peacocks and butterflies that seemed to me so different to anything that might have been associated with warriors in Anglo Australian history. That had me remembering the Wars of the Roses and the association of warring families or tribes in English history with plants and even with flowers.

Near the end of my journey around Nijojo Mae, after I spent a lot of time watching an eagle or hawk gliding over the castle right in the heart of Kyoto, I came upon a tree that had descended from those exposed to the atom bomb, planted here so that it might be remembered in hope of peace.

 

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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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Silkworms: 6 week update

We still have a few silkworms.  28, to be exact.  The largest are now 7 cm or about 2 3/4 inches long. It’s hard to make photos of silkworms exciting, but here they are:

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Here is a picture of one silkworm starting its cocoon, or to put it the way we’ve been putting it around here, ‘becoming silk’.

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We have cocoons in two very distinct colours.  Mysterious.  All of the cocoons last year began pale and became golden very quickly–within the first 24 hours.  Not these.  Some are pale silver-white, with a slightly green hue in some cases. This is the view from above, looking down on a tray of paper and cardboard tubes.

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We have quite a few.  And about 28 still to add!  Luckily, I gave away about 70.  Some of which have been delighting schoolchildren, apparently.

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I am feeling deeply grateful to the friend who told me there was a mulberry tree behind the Japanese garden in the parklands.  It turned out there were three trees, two varieties of mulberry, and one of them was trailing leaves on the ground and down at head height across a path.  Begging to be pruned when I happened to pass with secateurs and a big bag, I tell you! I even ate a couple of mulberries that were almost ripe.

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Pecan leaf print bag

Pecans do grown in this part of the world, even if they are not terribly common.  A long while back I wrote about leaf printing with pecan leaves from our friends’ tree.  I have had it in mind all the while to make them something from those leaf prints.  Finally I have made good on this idea.  In fact, my beloved saw one of our pecan-growing friends yesterday and told her I’d made them a gift… so this bag is destined for the post sooner rather than later.

I started out with this sun-faded linen frock–the shades of colour you see are not effects of the sun falling on the fabric but the impact of fading.  I think I paid $2 for the frock at a red cross op shop.

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The lining has a pocket from a recycled ramie shirt, and a patchworked panel of leaf printed silk offcuts from another recycled frock.  Here are the inside panels ready to be stitched to the rest of the lining.

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The remainder of the lining is yellow.  A  long time ago there was shop in our neighbourhood that just sold offcuts from a sheet manufacturer, and having made entire quilts, bunting and bags from those offcuts I still have some left!  Here is the finished item on top of my madder patch.  The madder is appreciating the warmer weather–at least until it gets too hot for it to enjoy, and I am hoping my friends will like their present.

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Cortinarius Archeri

The gifts of mushrooms continue!  My neighbour the mycologist came around with a gift of Cortinarius Archeri in many shades of purple.  He had heard they could be used for dyeing, would I like to try them out?  Aren’t they glorious?

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I have read about European dyers using Cortinarius semisanguineus, and Leena from Riihivilla has written extensively about how she uses them. So I weighed my mushrooms and put them to soak on 30 June.  Well, after 9 days the mushrooms were fermenting.  Let’s not discuss the smell.  And, on second thoughts, they were so beautiful when they were whole, perhaps I won’t share a picture either.  I regret to report that no colour resulted from this experiment.  On the other hand, when I reported this to my neighbour, he offered me something else…

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Socks at last

It seems to me as though I’ve had three pairs of socks on the needles for a very long time.  At last this pair have emerged: 50/50 silk and wool from Kathys Fibres, a dyer local to me, in Forest colourway.  The sock is just the plain ribbed one that lives in my mind, but I’m hoping they’ll be warm and comfy for a fellow knitter and dear friend who is facing a tough time.  No one has ever knit her socks before, though we’ve compared notes on lots of pairs she has knit for other people.  It’s about time.

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Tie-dye

A friend from work told me her 6 year old had said he wanted to try tie-dye.  So I invited them over!  In the end there were two 6 year olds and a 3 year old, and 4 adults of varying ages and stages.  We were spoiled for colour choices but had only two pots, so after some lovely parental problem solving we ran a red pot and a blue pot and transferred one garment from red to blue to make purple.  I believe this t shirt was worn to childcare every day for some days after emerging in all its glory onto a towel designed with a tie dye aesthetic in mind.

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My random collection of op-shopped craft books came good when there was a request for a tie dyed square and after three readings of the instructions in Hilary Haywood’s Enjoying Dyes (1974) this emerged:

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Fancy having a Dad who is not intimidated when you say you want a monkey face on your tie dye and instead creates this!

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And of course, the classics reinterpreted:

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I think the last time I tie dyed in this style would have been with Mum, in the 1970s. Just once.  It was an honour to be in charge of the dye pots and watch such fine parents encourage and be encouraged by their lovely children.

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A story of a quandong and its mistletoe

One weekend recently we went to visit a friend who lives near the Aldinga Scrub. While I was there we went for a wonderful walk on the beach, making the dog and ourselves happy.  So I collected a couple of samples while we were out, as many local people, like my friend, are planting as many local species as they can around their homes.  I decided to try a quandong and its mistletoe.  In case you’re not from around here, dear reader, let me advise that in Australia, mistletoe is a big family of parasitic plants which will eventually (but usually slowly) kill their hosts.  It isn’t so much the romantic plant under which people kiss at certain festivals.  There are lots of mistletoes, and they are cunningly adapted to a narrow range of host plants.

I have a fabulous book on mistletoes, Mistletoes of Southern Australia by David M Watson, published by the CSIRO.  It has me in awe of these extraordinary plants, but has convinced me that I am unlikely ever to be able to identify them with confidence.  There are only 46 to choose from in this part of the continent, though, so the task is a good bit smaller than learning Eucalypt identification.  There are some mistletoes in the book that this plant is clearly not.  But as to which one it is… I have several candidates in mind.  And I don’t know which of the quandongs this is, either.  It doesn’t look like the favoured bush food species Santalum acuminatum to me.  But Wikipedia lists a lot of other varieties all called ‘quandong’!

Anyway, on to the leaf prints.  Quandong in flower, before:

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After cooking with iron, which left quite an impression:

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The iron may have made an impression, but this convinced me that this quandong isn’t much of a dye plant.  And now, the mistletoe, which is in glorious flower and will later create a rather impressive berry.  Before:

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And after.  I think this leaf print is a good bit less glorious than the plant, but this is definitely a distinct print.  So the mistletoe has dye potential.

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And that is the story of the quandong and its mistletoe for now…

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Things I’ve done with with plant dyed yarns…

When I was preparing for the natural dyeing workshop I ran recently, I mordanted a lot of Bendigo Woollen Mills yarn as well as some handspun in small skeins–25g or less.  Having all those small skeins of different colours in alpaca and wool and mohair, activated my imagination. Eventually it led to this…

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These are madder-tipped, logwood-stemmed crocheted coral thingummies, inspired by Loani Prior’s ‘coral punk’.  When I say ‘inspired by’, let me confess.  I bought her beautifully designed and entertaining book Really Wild Tea Cosies with a Christmas book voucher I was given.  So I had the pattern.  But even though only one, basic, crochet stitch was involved, my crochet skills are decidedly remedial and I don’t happen to have a crochet instructor on tap.

I turned to Maggie Righetti’s book Crocheting in Plain English (I don’t have the new revised edition, needless to say).  Apparently sometimes I just can’t believe what I am reading… or perhaps I just don’t understand on the first eight passes.  I see students I teach with the same difficulties!  By the time I had finished this tea cosy and started on the next, I’d managed to figure out that I wasn’t doing what Loani Prior must have believed was involved in the one stitch involved in her cosy.  Luckily for me crocheting badly still produces a fabric of a sort.  I also figured out that for me, improvising a knit version of the pot cover itself was going to beat freeform crocheting one as the pattern suggests with my inadequate skill set.  So that’s what I did, and Loani Prior shouldn’t be held responsible for the outcome.  I like it anyway.

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It has highly entertained people who watched me crocheting coral at parties (as one does) as well as those who have seen the finished object, many of whom thought immediately of a sea anemone.

Let it be said that at present coral punk is not alone.  Here is the present plain Jane of the tea cosy selection at our place: yellow from silky oak leaves and orange from eucalyptus–with the felted blobs spun into the yarn.  Pattern improvised.  Luckily, tea pots are just not that fussy about how you clothe them.

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I’ve been branching out and using up some particularly strange art yarn spinning experiments.  This next one is commercially dyed mohair with silk curricula cocoons spun onto it.  Scratchy for a head, perfect for a teapot!  I was surprised how many people liked the look of the ‘hat’ emerging as I knit this at a picnic, riffing off Funhouse Fibers’ Fast and Fun Cozy.  Once again, that is to say, dispensing with the pattern when it became inconvenient.  I guess the hat admirers hadn’t felt the yarn yet.

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And for anyone who is wondering, I have continued to dye with the logwood exhaust from the dyeing workshop.  I ran out of yarn for a while and dyed two, 200g lengths of merino roving.  This morning I pulled out another 100g of superwash yarn.  I think it might be just about done, and I only wish I had kept a record of the weight of fibre that has been dyed with what was a small quantity of logwood in the beginning!  This weekend, the second in a series of two natural dyeing workshops. I’d better eat my crusts and get my beauty sleep in preparation.

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Eucalyptus Erythronema var Erythronema

Riding along the railway corridor near Oaklands railway station, I passed one striking red-flowered tree I didn’t recognise and kept pedalling, but when I saw a second, I pulled over.  Here’s the tree.

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The flowers were especially striking: bright red, with stamens curling back up and around the base of the fruit.  The bud caps are bright red, coming to a pointed tip.

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Quite a sight.

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In her book Eco Colour, India Flint argues that eco-prints are a good way to test potential dye plants using minimal leaf material, and she is, of course, right. On the right, E Erythronema var Erythronema.  Not much of a dye specimen.  On the left, leaves from another E Scoparia, I believe.

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