Antwerp Kimono Show

Last weekend we travelled to Antwerp to see an exhibition of kimono by the late Japanese master Itchiku Kubota. Kubota is one of my favourite artists and the chance to see some of his pieces that I only knew in reproduction made the trip a must.

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The exhibition was small with just eight kimono, six from the “Symphony of Light” series (the “Universe” set) plus two from his “Mount Fuji” series. The works were fabulous, which I knew they would be, but sadly the quality of the display was very poor with untidy hanging and lighting totally unsuitable for this type of work. The main light came from an internal paved courtyard but this caused so much reflection on the glass that you could only really see the piece directly in front of you. Fortunately we were permitted to take photographs, which is normally strictly forbidden in Kubota exhibits.

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Reflections on the glass made viewing very difficult!

The “Universe” set of kimono represents a mythical dragon within Mount Fuji breathing out flames and magma. They form one amazing continous image which was impossible to photograph but I have put together a set of individual photos to show the effect.

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The Universe set from “The Festival of Light”

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The complexity of the shibori work is amazing

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The subtle areas are among the most beautiful

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One of the Mount Fuji kimono

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The hand-stitched shibori textures are breathtaking!

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The other Mount Fuji kimono

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Kubota would spend as much as a year working on each kimono

The exhibition runs until the 19th June at MOMU – The Antwerp Fashion Museum. Antwerp itself is not a city I had ever considered visiting but proved to be a very pleasant and enjoyable destination.

The Taunton Kimono -part 2

This is the second post covering the making of a silk dyed Kimono for the “Imprints” exhibition at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.

Detail of the finished Kimono showing the Shibori textures

Detail of the finished Kimono showing the Shibori textures

Stage two of painting the silk involved adding detail and richer colours to the design.

Fossil ammonites were used as motifs to add detail

Fossil ammonites were used as motifs to add detail

While the Rhinoceros teeth were my main inspiration, many other items in the museum fossil hall were used as inspiration for decorative details. These included ammonites, crinoids (also called sea lilies), gryphaea (devil’s toenails) and the ribs of an ichthyosaur. Some fossil cabinets had photographs of coral as a background, and these too found a place in the decorative scheme. Even the colour scheme of the Kimono was originally inspired by a picture of a red desert scene on the end wall of a display.

Fossil Crinoids or

Fossil Crinoids or “sea lilies” were another source. The dye didn’t work as planned, and so some of the fine detail was lost

The long white bars were inspired by a cluster of fossil ichthyosaur ribs

The long white bars were inspired by a cluster of fossil ichthyosaur ribs

At this point the front of the Kimono was lagging behind the back view

At this point the front of the Kimono was lagging behind the back view

Here the garment is pinned up prior to the second steaming

Here the garment is pinned up prior to the second steaming

Some of the detail and colour intensity was lost in the second steaming process. This was partly due to my unfamiliarity with the dyes, but mostly due to fact that the silk was just too lightweight to take intense dye easily. If I make another Kimono like this I will certainly use a much heavier silk.

Adding stitches for Shibori knotting

Adding stitches for Shibori knotting to create texture (click to enlarge)

Texture was added to the silk using Shibori knotting techniques. First the areas to be textured were stitched

Stitching a different pattern

Each thread was then pulled tight and knotted before the fabric was steamed again to set the creases

Each thread was then pulled tight and knotted before the fabric was steamed again to set the creases

Fully knotted silk ready for steaming

Fully knotted silk ready for steaming

After the final steaming to fix the texture, all the Shibori threads had to be carefully removed before the Kimono could finally be assembled.

Assembling the garment. The main body panels were nearly 4 metres long and everything was hand stitched

Assembling the garment. The main body panels were nearly 4 metres long and everything was hand stitched

Preparing the silk lining material

Preparing the silk lining material

The Taunton Kimono

The Taunton Kimono

The “Imprints” exhibition is on at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton Castle, Castle Green, Taunton, from 10th October 2015 to 2nd January 2016.
The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 10.00am to 5.00pm

The Taunton Kimono -part 1

The Taunton Kimono – part 1

A couple of years ago The South West Textile Group arranged a future exhibition at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton. The long time scale and the chance to exhibit in a beautiful space made me decide to take on a major piece of work. I have long wanted to tackle making a Kimono and this seemed the perfect opportunity. The project proved to be a long and steep learning curve, but on October 9th I got to see my piece (now known simply as “The Taunton Kimono”) on display at the private view of the “Imprints” exhibition.

My Kimono on display at the entrance to the

My Kimono on display at the entrance to the “Imprints” exhibition at the Museum of Somerset

All the work in the exhibition was to be inspired by items or displays in the Museum of Somerset permanent collection, so a day trip to the Museum was the starting point for everyone. A tour around the collection begins with the fossil gallery. It was here that I found the objects upon which I wanted to base my design. One was a 55,000 year old fossil Woolly Rhinoceros skull which featured the most amazing teeth. The serpentine graphic shapes of these teeth just begged to be reused in a piece of art, and the fact that the skull had been dug up just a few hundred meters from the museum seemed to make it even more appropriate.

The 55,000 year old woolly rhinoceros skull at the Museum of Somerset

The 55,000 year old woolly rhinoceros skull at the Museum of Somerset

Design work began with sketches based on photographs taken at the museum. (In the end I almost filled a couple of sketchbooks with ideas big and small.) These led on to a large number of watercolour sketches where I began to get an idea of the colour scheme I wanted to explore.

Watercolour sketch exploring ideas for the Kimono design.

Watercolour sketch exploring ideas for the Kimono design.

Preparatory watercolour sketch

Preparatory watercolour sketch

Work on the Kimono itself started with a full-sized line drawing that was then transferred on to the silk.

The final design was drawn out full size on pattern paper

The final design was drawn out full size on pattern paper

Transferring the design to the silk using a fugitive ink pen

Transferring the design to the silk using a fugitive ink pen

I had originally planned to use exclusively Shibori techniques to decorate the fabric, but the silk I had was too lightweight and too prone to bleed along the satin fibres to be reliably dyed using these methods. I therefore resorted to conventional silk-painting techniques and used Shibori purely for texturing.

The silk was pinned to purpose made frames and the design was divided up using water-based gutta resist

The silk was pinned to purpose made frames and the design was divided up using water-based gutta resist

Using a hairdryer to selectively dry the dye allowed the creation of tonal variation

Using a hairdryer to selectively dry the dye allowed the creation of tonal variation

The two halves of the Kimono were developed together to ensure a good match

The two halves of the Kimono were developed together to ensure a good match

My husband Alex was heavily involved in the project throughout. As well as helping with both the design and execution, he also made the painting frames with rollers on each end to cope with the long fabric lengths. His other great contribution was in making a really good steamer to fix the colours. He simply fixed an aluminium tube to the top of a large saucepan, with a hollow tube suspended down the centre around which the silk was rolled.

The silk was steam fixed in a steamer made by my husband Alex

The silk was steam fixed in a steamer made by my husband Alex

After the first round of painting and steaming, the pieces were pinned together to see the effect

After the first round of painting and steaming, the pieces were pinned together to see the effect

The “Imprints” exhibition is on at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton Castle, Castle Green, Taunton, from 10th October 2015 to 2nd January 2016.
The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 10.00am to 5.00pm

My next post will cover the remaining part of the Kimono making process.

The Taunton Kimono – part 2

The Arimatsu Shibori Museum

During the Edo era in Japan, the Tokaido road leading from Kyoto and Osaka to the capital Edo was the nation’s main highway. Near the city of Nagoya a village called Arimatsu grew astride the Tokaido and achieved great prosperity through the production of indigo dyed clothing fabrics that were sold to travelers on the highway. These fabrics were decorated using sophisticated Shibori tie-dyeing processes. Shibori techniques already had a long history in Japan but in Arimatsu many processes were developed and refined that allowed the large-scale production of many complex patterns.

A historic textile warehouse on the little street that was once the great Tokaido

A historic textile warehouse on the little street that was once the great Tokaido

Alex and I visited Arimatsu in 2014. The village has long been absorbed within Nagoya’s suburbs and what was once the great Tokaido is now just a sleepy side street lined with many nice old buildings. Several of the buildings are the great warehouses and mansions of the textile merchants who made their fortunes here, alongside old-fashioned restaurants and craft shops selling shibori items. There is also the Arimatsu Shibori Museum, which was the reason for our visit.

Arimatsu Shibori dyed fabrics on sale in a craft shop

Arimatsu Shibori dyed fabrics on sale in a craft shop

The key to Arimatsu’s success lay in systematising and regimenting the production of small and complex repeat patterns. One important technique was the printing of a guide pattern on the fabric using a fugitive ink. This allowed the craftperson to align many hundreds of small individual elements with great accuracy. Various posts and hooks were also developed to help the worker carry out the arduous task of repeating complex patterns.

A craftswoman tyeing Shibori knots using dots printed in fugitive ink as a guide

A craftswoman tieing Shibori knots using dots printed in fugitive ink as a guide

At the Arimatsu Shibori Museum one can watch craftswomen demonstrate some of their techniques, though when they are working at full speed it is almost impossible to see what they are doing. It is only when they slow down a great deal that one can work out how the seemingly magical knotting techniques are achieved. The ladies we watched were very patient and spent a lot of time showing us exactly what they were doing step by step.

Craftswomen demonstrating at the Arimatsu Shibori Museum

Craftswomen demonstrating at the Arimatsu Shibori Museum

This woman is using a hook tied to a post to help control the complex knotting process

This woman is using a hook tied to a post to help control the complex knotting process

A section of knotted fabric. When the entire bolt of cloth is completed it will be sent for dyeing

A section of knotted fabric. When the entire bolt of cloth is completed it will be sent for dyeing

Pieces of knotted fabric. The completed material beneath shows the final pattern

Pieces of knotted fabric. The completed material beneath shows the final pattern

The Museum features a wonderful display of example pieces that show each traditional pattern from untied material through the tied stage, the dyed stage and on to the finished patterned fabric.

Examples of just a few of the many classic Arimatsu Shibori patterns

Examples of just a few of the many classic Arimatsu Shibori patterns

Each sample shows every stage from blank white cloth through to finished pattern

Each sample shows every stage from blank white cloth through to finished pattern

A close up showing the different stages

A close up showing the different stages in producing one design

There is also a display area showing Kimono and other items created from Arimatsu Shibori fabric.

Gallery display showing Kimono with Shibori designs

Gallery display showing Kimono with Shibori designs

A famous Kimono with Hokusai's "Great Wave"

A famous Kimono with Hokusai’s “Great Wave”

A contemporary Shibori wall hanging

A contemporary Shibori wall hanging

The museum features a large shop with a wide range of locally produced textile goods ranging from small “touristy” items up to very fine goods such as Kimono at truly eye-watering prices. Sadly, even with the local craftspeople’s great speed and skill, such labour intensive items now struggle to find a market at a viable price. Much of what looks like Shibori fabric sold in Japan today is in fact printed and we discovered that much of the genuine Shibori made for the more commercial end of the market is now sent from Arimatsu to Korea and China where it can be knotted by much cheaper labour.

Japan 6 – Food on a Budget

Alex and I both love Japanese food but eating in fancy restaurants in Japan can be extremely expensive. On our trip there last summer our target was to eat as cheaply as possible but without entirely missing out on the wide variety of culinary experiences Japan can offer. Of course you could stay in Japan’s cities without trying anything beyond McDonalds and KFC (we used to know people who did just that!) but you might as well stay at home. Noodles are the other obvious low cost food option that is available everywhere but is lacking a bit of variety if you choose it every day.
(Click photos to enlarge)

Japanese restaurant chains offer a wide choice of delicious food

Japanese restaurant chains offer a wide choice of delicious food

Our approach was to eat as cheaply as possible for most meals and then splash out a bit more once in a while for something special. Most days we ate convenience food for at least one meal. Fresh ready to eat meals in Japan are very different from Western equivalents. Typically they consist of meat and vegetables over noodles or rice in a plastic tray or bowl but things like dumplings or sushi are also available. We started out using convenience stores such as Seven Eleven. These were good but the food had a mass produced feel and seemed a little pricey for what you got.

Seafood with rice and vegetables. Convenience Store meals are tasty but basic

Seafood with rice and vegetables. Convenience Store meals are tasty but basic

Later we discovered that big supermarkets and department store food halls offered even better choice and value. Japanese supermarkets time-stamp all sushi and start marking it down after about four hours.

Even budget sushi is great quality in Japan

Even budget sushi is great quality in Japan

Simple but delicious snack for lunch. A slice of grilled salmon with grated daikon and soy sauce

Simple but delicious snack for lunch. A slice of grilled salmon with grated daikon and soy sauce

When we stayed in a traditional inn or Minshuku we splashed out on the Japanese breakfast. Fish, rice, pickles and miso soup are not everyone’s favourite start to the day but we love it.

Japanese breakfast in a traditional inn

Japanese breakfast in a traditional inn

We also splashed out on a wonderful evening meal at an inn one night.

The evening meal at an inn

The evening meal at an inn

Not all our meals were traditional Japanese food. One night in Kanazawa we had a very fine Sri-Lankan curry meal. On a rainy afternoon in Matsumoto the only eating place we could find open was a Japanese “Hawaiian” themed burger restaurant which proved to be amazing. The burgers were pure steak and made on the premises – a real surprise!

Sri-Lankan food in Kanazawa

Sri-Lankan food in Kanazawa

A wonderful "Hawaian" burger

A wonderful “Hawaiian” burger

Japan has many different budget restaurant chains serving all types of food. We decided that our favourite was “Yayoi”, a big chain with outlets all over Japan (and a number of other Asian countries).

The Japanese take on the concept of a mixed-grill

Japanese take on the concept of a mixed-grill in a Yayoi restaurant

Finally, you cannot talk about food in Japan without mentioning the ubiquitous plastic food models on display outside almost every budget restaurant. While many of the big city food outlets now make an effort to cater for customers who cannot read Japanese, the food models are still a great help in deciding what you are going to eat.

Plastic models of food are seen everywhere

Plastic models of food are seen everywhere

Mmmmm! yummy plastic food

Mmmmm! yummy plastic food

Japan 5 – Hida no Sato

Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village) is a wonderful open air museum situated on the outskirts of Takayama, a delightful town in the mountains of central Honshu, north of Nagoya. The site consists of around 30 old buildings from all over the mountains that were dismantled and then rebuilt here in the 1970’s. The buildings are mainly large farmhouses of various types and most are over 100 years old.

The old buildings have been re-erected as a small village in a rural landscape

The old buildings have been re-erected as a small village in a rural landscape

The Hida region of Gifu Prefecture is subject to heavy snowfall (often up to two metres) and the different styles of architecture show alternative approaches to dealing with this climate. In the north of the region the farmers built using steeply sloped roofs so that snow would slide off. This is the “gassho-zukuri” (praying hands) style of building used at the nearby Shirakawa-go village that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other areas built houses with very strong, low-pitched roofs so that people could climb up and shovel off the excess snow.

The "gassho-zukuri" farmhouses were built with steep thatched roofs

The “gassho-zukuri” farmhouses were built with steep thatched roofs

Other buildings have shallow-pitched roofs where snow could be easily cleared

Other buildings have shallow-pitched roofs where snow could be easily cleared

Visitors are able to wander around and enter the buildings. Inside are many of the everyday tools and artifacts used by their original inhabitants. Each structure also functions as a museum for one aspect of traditional mountain life, including weaving, house building and repair, cultivation, transport, etc.

The houses are packed with many original artifacts

The houses are packed with many original artifacts

This building displayed many looms and other fabric processing equipment

This building displayed many examples of looms and other fabric processing equipment

Models are also used to show house construction techniques and such things as farm layouts.

A model showing the construction of a "gassho-zukuri" house

A model showing the construction of a “gassho-zukuri” house

The immense size of many buildings is very impressive. Large extended families would have all lived together under one roof.

Many of the farmhouses are very large spaces

Many of the farmhouses are very large spaces

Most buildings also feature space for the domestic animals

Buildings also feature space for the domestic animals alongside the people

Hido no Sato even features an original village well that has been painstakingly reconstructed on the site.

A village well

A village well

A view down the well showing the handmade wooden buckets

A view down the well showing the handmade wooden buckets

A fascinating old phot showing one of the buildings before it was moved

A fascinating old photo showing one of the buildings before it was moved

Hida no Sato is a very peacefull and picturesque place to visit

Hida no Sato is a very peaceful and picturesque place to visit

Some old thatched roofs have developed into interesting little ecosystems

Some old thatched roofs have developed into interesting little ecosystems

The village has a couple of little rice paddies that were developing a nice crop when we visited

The village even has a couple of little rice paddies that were developing a nice crop when we visited

Developing rice

Developing rice

This is a wonderful place to visit and certainly proved much more interesting than we had anticipated. In one part of the site visitors can watch traditional craftspeople at work and buy their wares.

The doll is called "Sarubobo" and is a symbol of Takayama

The doll is called “Sarubobo” and is a traditional symbol of Takayama

 

Kaga Yuzen Dyeing

Yuzen Dyeing is a traditional process for decorating silk which uses a paste resist made from glutinous rice to contain dyes within desired boundaries. It can be thought of as a sophisticated production version of the western “Serti” technique for silk painting. While Yuzen dyeing is carried out in many parts of Japan the most famous traditional area of production was the “Kaga” region, an old province, now part of Ishikawa Prefecture on the North coast of Honshu.

Restrained, traditional Kaga Yuzen Kimono at the Kanazawa Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts

Restrained, traditional Kaga Yuzen Kimono at the Kanazawa Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts

Kaga Yuzen production was centred in Kanazawa and the decorated Kimono silk from this area became famous from the eighteenth century onwards. The distinguishing features were highly naturalistic designs based on plants and animals and a colourful but strictly limited palette.

During our visit to Japan this year, Alex and I travelled to Kanazawa to see what we could learn about Kaga Yuzen dyeing as practised today. Our first port of call was the city’s Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts. This was a very interesting place to visit with some great exhibits by young craftspeople but it only had a few Kimono and very little information.

Kaga Yuzen features fine white lines between the blocks of colour and often has fine shading within the colour areas

Kaga Yuzen features fine white lines between the blocks of colour and often has fine shading within the colour areas (Click to enlarge)

Our next port of call was Kaga Yuzen Traditional Industry Centre, a sort of co-operative education and marketing effort for all the local producers. Sadly this featured the same disappointments we encountered at a few other venues in Japan: no photography permitted and a distinct feeling that they only really cared about you spending time in the gift shop buying the quite pricey and often slightly tacky souvenirs. Still, the displays did feature many Kimono including some with very dramatic and unusual compositions. We were also able to sit and watch a lengthy TV documentary on Kaga Yuzen dyeing. One thing the displays at this Centre made clear was that today’s Kaga Yuzen dyers have now largely abandoned the traditional restricted and restrained colour schemes in favour of much more exuberant, sweet and perhaps even syrupy hues.

The Kaga Yuzen Traditional Industry Centre had lots of Kimono on show but was disappointing

The Kaga Yuzen Traditional Industry Centre had lots of Kimono on show but was disappointing

The next day we went to a privately run Kaga Yuzen studio, the Nagamachi Yuzen Kan. Here we were made very much more welcome with photography positively encouraged and a helpful guide who tried hard to be informative, despite speaking little English. I suspect that this studio makes most of its income through teaching but it had a large gallery full of Kimono on display. The sweet, bright pastel colours were again in evidence but the technique shown was superb.

The Nagamachi Yuzen Kan had a large gallery space and a welcoming atmosphere

The Nagamachi Yuzen Kan had a large gallery space and a welcoming atmosphere

A design drawing.

A design drawing.

The Kaga Yuzen process can be summarised as:-

1. The design drawing is transferred to the silk over a lightbox using fugitive ink that will wash out.

2. The design is outlined in very fine lines using a bag of rice paste and a fine nozzle similar to that used in cake decoration

An artist's work table. Note the heater set into the surface to dry the dyes

An artist’s work table. Note the heater set into the surface to dry the dyes

3. The individual areas of colour are painted in. Artists use an electric heater to quickly dry the dyes so that they do not run and work on the different sections of Kimono fabric simultaneously.

Artists work on several pieces at once

Artists work on several pieces at once. Bent bamboo strips with pins in each end are used to stretch the silk

4. The fabric is given a short steaming to fix the painting before all the design areas are coated with rice paste resist.

5. The fabric is stretched and the background is rapidly coloured in using a large brush.

The black background was painted after the design was fixed and covered with resist

The black background was painted after the design was fixed and covered with resist

6. The fabric is given a final steaming to fix all the colours

7. The silk is washed to remove all the rice paste and excess dye. Formerly this was done in the local rivers but now this only happens during festivals and special events to entertain tourists.

8. After drying and ironing the finished fabric is made up into a Kimono.

A finished Kimono

A finished Kimono

Wai-Yuk Kennedy - Kaga Yuzen artist!

Wai-Yuk Kennedy – Kaga Yuzen artist!