Sunday, June 26, 2016

Applied Kasuri I- mission completed.

And we have reached the end of the Applied Kasuri I course. This week we attempted Shifting Kasuri. After binding and dyeing the warp the loom was set one more time. We used a Kasuri shifter that is fastened to the back of the loom for the purpose of shifting warp sections desired lengths, always in the same direction. And as per usual after agonizing to get everything to line up perfectly once we started weaving the whole thing just shifted a little more and then a little more and by the end of the piece it all just looked like a big mess. You can till see the arrow shapes but they are just really crazy looking. But I guess that is the beauty of Kasuri, the way it moves and blurs and ends up looking a little chaotic sometimes.

The rice keeps growing.

This weekend there were 2 markets on. On saturday the market was held at the Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine. It was more of a second hand market selling lots of cheap kimonos and fabrics as well as slightly overpriced vintage and antique objects and odd things like live pet beetles. I liked the market but was more impressed by the crazy foods and tried these ball shaped pancaky things with bits of octopus inside as well as a black sesame soft serve to add to the list of great flavours. Today´s market was at the Kamigano-jinja Shrine. It was a large craft market held on the shrine gardens with a small creek running beside it, lovely venue and lots of nice things to buy. I could not resist buying a pair of Pokkuri. First I chose the sole and then the straps and then waited and watched as they were carefully and artfully prepared. Then I tried them on and they were perfectly adjusted to fit my foot. I love them.

Other weekend activities included buying some needles from the 400 year old needle shop, Misuyabari. I also visited Maruzen, a bookshop famous for featuring in a short story by Kajii Motojiro from 1925 titled "Lemon". You can buy many things lemon at the store these days including a pretty lemon cake. I just photographed it, didn´t really feel like eating. I managed to spend a lot of money on stationery items instead and on a book by Yukio Mishima, titled "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion", which is loosely based on a true story of a novice monk that supposedly suffering from persecution complex and schizophrenia, decides to burn Kinkaku-ji Temple to the ground for being too beautiful. He plans to kill himself in the fire but at the last minute is incapable of staying with the flames and runs to a hill behind the temple and there attempts and fails suicide and so gives himself in to the authorities. He is sentenced to jail for 7 years but is released due to his mental illness and dies 5 years later from tuberculosis. The fire happened in 1950 and the Temple was rebuilt also 5 years later and restored to its former glory, covered with even more of the gold leaf that gives it its name. It is still on my list of Temples to visit.

It is interesting that this young monk burnt the Temple down for it being too beautiful. Japan is a very naturally beautiful place but one cannot forget that is it also highly manicured, as are perhaps the behaviours of people.  There is an inherent spirituality and beauty of this place, that you feel in the water, the rocks and the trees and smell in the very wood that the temples are made from. Even the wind seems magic here, you notice the smallest of things as signs from above that make it easy for you to feel connected to something that is a little more than just you. And it is these very things, that I am loving for not feeling them where I have come from. But somewhere something got lost. It is this very simplicity, beauty and strictness, that apply to every aspect of this culture from the tea ceremony to the flower arrangements and garden design, that have suffocated younger generations wanting to break free from "the forms and disciplines of the Zen Buddhist way of life"* that have led to the loss of value of the spiritual awakening of the individual in his search for enlightenment. I guess it is all about about finding the right balance. I am certainly feeling all these things applied to my learning of Kasuri.

* The Temple of the Golden Pavillion", Yukio Mishima, translated by by Ivan Morris, from the introduction by Nancy Wilson Ross, fist published 1956

Monday, June 20, 2016

Applied Kasuri I- Nassen Gasuri

Last week we began the Applied Kasuri course and the first technique to try was Nassen Gasuri. Nassen Gasuri is essentially a stencil kasuri, where the dye is applied directly to the warp on the loom. The stencils that were used in the past were cut from a paper made from mulberry leaves and smoked with persimmon juice and even though this paper is no longer manufactured there are still some stocks around. Today, a synthetic "paper" is available for the same purpose and lasts probably a little longer too. The back of the stencils are sprayed with glue and stuck to the warp. Acid dyes are applied with short bristled square brushes, and rubbed into the warp. A mixture of dye and meypro gum is made beforehand in small quantities and the right consistency is tested so as to make sure there are no bleeds. Too much meypro gum is not advised because when it dries it becomes very stiff. Before weaving a newly applied stencil it is very important that the dye is dry. A hairdryer is used to speed up the process. And that is it really.

I did not approach this project as an opportunity to improve my stencil cutting skills nor elaborate designs. Seeing as we were literally thrown into the deep end with regards the potential of this technique and had to produce designs before knowing its potential and limitations, I was more interested in learning what could be done and how. My design was very basic and that was ok. It allowed me not to concentrate on layout so much but technique and in the end I came up with a half tone approach that I am very happy with and has lots of potential as it can be used to replicate warp Kasuri. Very clever indeed.

To finish, the woven piece is taken off the loom and ironed, then rolled with interfacing fabric and steamed for 40 minutes. It is then rinsed with a solution, I cannot remember the name of now, to remove the meypro gum and then rinsed with cold water, spun and hung to dry.

To mark the end of this project and to seek some relief from saturday´s hot weather I decided to visit a small village close by called Ohara. It has many temples, I visited the Sanzen-In Temple and admired the beautifully manicured gardens and the hundred of varieties of moss. But the best part of this trip was that I found out that Ohara is famous for pickles and in particular Shiso dyed pickles. Shiso is a plant that belongs to the mint family and has the most amazing colour and flavour ever. To top it off you can get soft serve ice cream flavoured with it and even juice (cordial). I opted for the juice because I had just finished a green tea soft serve and you only have so much of the stuff. You can see above the juice I drank in its natural environment. They call it purple perrilla, I call it red perrila. It also comes in green, and I have seeds!!!!!


Monday, June 13, 2016

Kasuri Foundation Course- the end

After all, that sweating to get the loom set up as precisely as possible paid off. I am very happy with the results. The colour that had ended up being off actually looked good in the end too, so it was positive all round. With the warp/weft Kasuri finished marking the end of the Foundation Course, it was time to celebrate and go for a walk to the bakery to stock up on carbon bamboo bread sticks.

The walk was very pleasant, though long, but very worthwhile. I could have borrowed a bike from the school, but I don´t see details when I bike ride. On the way I saw bamboo fences, magnificent flowers and the most beautiful bonsai garden with respective gardener at work. 

The day after I saw a freshly dead snake by the school. Not just any snake. A Yamakagashi, or tiger keelback. It is venemous, but rarely do people get hurt because its fangs are located towards the back of its mouth. But should you be bitten you will bleed internally and your blood won´t coagulate, so your gums bleed, the area bitten bleeds non stop, blood in the urine, blood, blood, blood. I felt sorry for it, and had to check several times approaching slowly just to make sure it wasn´t feigning an injured gut.

With the snake incident behind me I went into Kyoto. Found a lovely tea shop, whose super nice owner explained all I needed to know about green tea, and I stocked up on some to take back home. It was then time to walk and see more temples, to see pretend geishas takes photos of pretend geishas. Fighting the crowds, I finally arrived at the temple. Just then it started to rain, bringing much needed relief to a super hot and muggy day with 88% humidity. The summer rain has begun. It rained all afternoon and night of sunday. No wonder this place is so green.

Inspired by the temple´s bright colours I finally got hooked into buying overpriced fruit. The lovely vibrant display is at the Demachiyanaguy mall. 

And today marked the beginning of the Applied Kasuri course, part I. We will be attempting shifting Kasuri and Nassen Gasuri, a stencil variant where the warp is painted while on the loom. It will be fun, but as we get more experience it seems the schedule gets a little tighter. Lets see how we fare this week.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Kasuri Foundation Course- Days 6, 7 and 8

With the new week came the start of a new Kasuri project. This time we are making a cushion. I chose the pattern you see in the second last image. It is not very clear from the photo but there are 2 different colours, one for the warp and another for the weft, meaning the Kasuri had to be bound and be dyed with two different colours. 

This time instead of ramie we are using silk which is particularly difficult to work with because it gets caught just about everywhere and tends to fray quite easily. I decided I wanted to dye my warp with a greyish green, inspired by the bamboo forest I had seen last week. But something was very wrong in the swatch I used as reference and instead of green I ended up with a weird blue. And my lilac did not really end up that well either and in the end I was left with 2 colours that do not really speak to me. This is not problematic considering the objective is to learn Kasuri.

The third photo shows a goko swift. It is a Japanese swift and it has a wonderfully simple design. We use it to wind skeins onto the kiwaku. The kiwaku are also japanese and used to wind the yarn onto instead of simply making it into a ball. They come in very handy during the whole weaving process but seem to work best with finer yarns.

Setting up this loom was much more complex for this project because of the scattered kasuri. It took 2 days to set the loom, from pre- sleying the reed to adjusting the final tension. It was 2 very tiring days of doing and undoing, fixing one thing and making another worse. Kasuri is proving to be a true test of patience and incredibly strange how we have to be so exact to the millimeter to achieve something we know will inevitably be crooked. When I asked Emma sensei, "There must be an easier way. Is there a secret? Because it all feels so incredibly precise and so abstract at the same time. Why try and adjust the tension by feel alone when you can adjust it when you have already started weaving and know it is not right?". Emma sensei replied, "I have no secrets. It must be cultural. We try and do everything as perfect as we can now so that we don´t have to fix things later." This is a true test. It can never be perfect, but we have to try. It seems impossible. But at the end of the day I did see some improvement, I am just waiting for the click and to find the balance between culture and a perfectionist sensei. Perhaps I need to revisit Mount Kurama, a Temple nearby that is supposed to be "Kyoto´s number one power spot". I need to recharge.

This week also marked the arrival of my indigo seeds. The Tokushima Prefectural Josei Senior High School have dedicated themselves to the indigo cycle, from seed to dye. They are also very generous and mail out seeds to anyone interested, all they charge is postage, which must have been about 20 yen cents. Each packet has enough seed for about 100 meters squared. Next Spring, back home, should the climate agree, I will start a small plantation of Japanese Polygonaceae, to add to my seeds for colour garden that had to stay on standby due to this trip.