Friday, 28 April 2017

Indigo Book Binding at the Farmhouse.

Debra Valencia is a friend of mine who is a designer living LA. She drops by the farmhouse once a year. She is bringing a group to study indigo and book binding in October. I promise it will be a great time with projects at the indigo vat from morning until night with long happy hours. She has two spaces open in the workshop.
Contact me or Debra directly for information.
2017 Shibori Textile & Bookbinding Workshop in Japan: NOW TAKING RESERVATIONS! USA Organizer: Debra Valencia Japan Instructor: Bryan Whitehead Location: Tokyo & Fujino, Japan Dates: October 1 to...

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Hand sewn....thousands of stitches

 I sent out simple homework boxes with massive pieces of Japanese slightly crinkled linen to Finland, Belgium, Australia, America and the UK. The students spent hundreds of hours designing and stitching a woodgrain lining for the jackets they would make here in Japan.

Graces stitching was magnificent in its precision and elegance of design.

Here (below) she wears the jacket inside out to show off the lining.

She cut a stencil with her name in a Chinese character for the back insignia on the jacket. The insignia is coloured with soot and a watered down indigo and soy based dye. Here she is wearing it outside out. (properly.)

The jacket was dyed with soot and soy milk instead of indigo.

Really beautiful work Grace.

Zoe had a different approach. She taped on a design then rice pasted resisted it on the linen and then brushed on a soot and soy dye several times to get the nuclear hashtag effect. She brought some soft leather and made white sleeves for the jacket. The lining crosses worked wealth the back design. Gorgeous Zoe.

Claudia worked hard on this soot dyed masterpiece,  Pine & Plum & Bamboo characters wrapped around the bottom of the jacket. A pocket carefully constructed and set in the jacket to add some subtle extra visual interest to the jacket.

More jackets to come.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Japanese Indigo Dyed Fireman Jackets.

There is a museum in Tokyo dedicated to Japanese fire fighting.

There is a collection of old fire brigade uniforms on display so I went for a few hours to take a look.

The museum was quite lively. There were plenty of mothers there with their young ones who seemed to aspire to be fire fighters. There is a fire station in the building so there were plenty of brave, duty loving, serious looking Japanese in the building along with a few non-Japanese hunky fire fighter looking tourists who would be very interested in the long history fire fighting in Tokyo.

There were millions of people living in this city for five hundred years plus. The city was crowded and made of wood. One of the fire brigades main jobs was to tear down buildings quickly to create a fire break. (Interesting aside...There was a small city upstream where large boats owned by the wealthy held all the materials to rebuild buildings after fires or buildings being torn down as a fire break. )

As with all Japanese museums there was a magnificent miniature recreation model. This time of a section a Tokyo with a fire watch tower and fire fighters tearing the clay tiles off a roof before collapsing the building to make the fire break. (I love Japan on museum days.)

But my interest this day was the indigo dyed work jackets. What was the spirit they were wore in?

I have nine guests at the farmhouse from April 1st here to design and indigo dye these jackets for themselves. It is time to get out of the cave of winter hibernation and get in the work mode again.

Japan is beautiful in May. I had a few cancellations in a regular indigo workshop. If you are up to a ten-day workshop here at the farmhouse with a lot of indigo dyeing, good food and cultural activities we will spoil you & take care of you well. Drop me a line at

The jackets on display were typically masculine and bold.

Fire fighters were always gorgeously tattooed. He is carrying a mattoi with his brigades insignia design on the top. These are made of white painted leather. They are amazing when every man holds one and they do a choreographed uber tough guy parade dance.

There was a healthy collection of these matoi on display.

Here is a sample design pattern for the hanten jackets. The amount of stripes and their position signifies rank.

The Museum is the Tokyo Fire Museum.

A few more related pictures of old time fire fighters..

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Smoked Dye Patterns on Deer Leather in Old Japan

Wistful smile on the train through the mountains in Japan to Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture to hunt out what is possible of an ancient technique of smoking deer leather that has been resisted with string for stripes or rice paste and stencil patterns.

My birthday and the anniversary of immigrating to Japan fall in early Aquarius. 28 full years in my adopted country. It was a anniversary trip.

Wistful hairline....wistful cold wind through my sweater.

Kofu is only a few hours away. It is the peach and grape growing area of Japan. Famous for warlord Samurai, thick wheat noodles, greedy pork barrel politicians  and lacquered leather.

Last spring at Morita textiles, Mrs Morita excitedly showed me a newly acquired pair of deer skin trousers from the late 1800's. The beguiling story of the trousers....they were refashioned from  deerskin samurai jacket from the Edo period. The obvious wear of the jacket collar was now visible on the bum of the trousers. Wow.....


The trousers looked like they had a orange striped lining but in more careful examination it was actually the suede side of the leather that was patterned.


She explained that the pattern had been smoked onto the leather with paper resisting the stripes. She continued on that is an extinct technique.


My imagination ran wild.

The next mystery was how the green colour was created. There are no natural true green dyes in nature. It is always a combination of a yellow and indigo. How can you dye only one side of the skin?

Always playing with the idea of a small indigo museum on the second floor of the clay storehouse next to the house the trousers were procured. (They actually fit.)

They have sat on an open shelf and admired frequently.

I figured out that they had actually come from Kofu a few weeks back and on a clear day a few of us took the train out to Kofu to see what vestiges of the tradition of smoking deer leather we could find.

Turned out to be a gimmicky sort of display in the corner of a gift shop selling lacquered "inden"
leather products. But we all got excited like kids and decided on the spot to rig up a smoker, find a small mountain of rice straw, fix up a barrel to rotate over the smoke, find some deer skin.....and make some smoke patterned leather and paint on indigo on the opposite side.....just for fun.

We are getting all the materials together and as soon as it warms up a little we do it.

These techniques are regional secrets....we asked as many questions as the shop keeper was willing to answer.

And some stealth photographs of the tools hanging around were shared later over a beer as we plotted to overthrow the local industrialists of the neighbouring fife.

The smoker oven with a roof tile door.

Tied and smoked and tied again and smoked some ingenious.

The small museum was just so satisfying. What is the word for the uplifting feeling when you see beautiful old masterfully crafted textiles?

The small museum had indigo dyed deer leather items. Katazome dyed indigo deer leather. Laquer stencilled leather and smoke dyed leather goods.

Jackets. Gloves for archery. Purses. Tobacco pouches. Leather armour scraps. Shoes. Drum bags. Hats. Horse saddles.

So beautiful... all this pre-industrial  Japanese hand work.

These are deer leather stencilled patches from samurai armour.

Fine stitching on archery gloves.

Regular Ise katagami stencils are used for the resist process.