Sunday, 29 March 2015

Loving Indigo – the Japanese quilts of Shigeko Asada

Last weekend Mum and I went to Ballan, a little town of about 2,500 people, just outside Melbourne. We were going to see an exhibition of Japanese quilts by Shigeko Asada.

Shigeko died in 2005 after eight years fighting cancer. To help her cope and give her strength, she made a series of 50 quilts, many that were on display for the first time outside Japan in this small Victorian town. Most of the quilts were hand pieced and often hand quilted and they contained the most beautiful details – sashiko embroidery, old bed sheets that had been plant-dyed and used to create embroidered cherry blossoms and hand stitched Buddhist sayings.
No.3 Mother Sea – raising life (early works).
The majority of the quilts in the exhibition were made with kasuri. Kasuri is a Japanese form of ikat, where the cotton threads are indigo-dyed before being woven. The pattern in the cloth often bleeds a little where the threads don't quite match up to the intended design. I find this technique quite astonishing that they can get it to match up at all! Shigeko tells the story that kasuri were created by women during the winter or the evenings when there was no farm work. The finished pieces were given to daughters to take with them when they left the family home as brides. For Shigeko, the smell of indigo is the smell of her mother.
Quilts from left to right: No.6 I am content with what I have, No. 5 Indigo | Love | Connection,
No. 4 Memories of Childhood (early works).
Apparently Shigeko was particularly keen to have the quilts shown in Australia, as her home had been affected by the tsunami and Australia had sent a lot of help through the Red Cross and Rotary. Showing the quilts was her way of giving thanks. I'll just show you a few more of my favourites while you're here...

The quilt below was made to highlight the Japanese art of sashiko – the beautiful stitch patterns that were used to strengthen and mend materials. The pieces of kasuri in this quilt are nenneko, which was a special style of padded kimino used while carrying a baby to keep it warm. Traditionally these types of kimino were used to make nappies once they wore out. No waste in those days.
No. 9 Sashiko stitching and kasuri – traditional sashiko patterns being forgotten.
This next quilt contained some of my favourite details – appliqué trees and hills, with sky and moutains in the distance – and just look at those dragonflies. This quilt represents Shigeko's village from her childhood, before the war. She names some of the houses and notes there are lights going on in the early evening – some happy-looking houses, some lonely-looking houses.
No. 8 Dusk falls gently.
This last one was really just a quilt of textile play – patching pieces of indigo that vary slightly in colour. This is only one half of it, but I think it has such beautiful rhythm and composition.
No. 7 Playing with indigo-dyed cloth.
One touching little detail was the origami crane sitting in front of each quilt atop the descriptive plaque.
There were so many stunning quilts and you can see all 50 on the Millrose Cottage Facebook page – they did such a good job of displaying and hosting the event. You can still also buy the little booklet with the stories of each of the quilts, with money going to Red Cross.

Such a beautiful legacy from what must have been a very difficult time.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Visible mending for my mid-month mend

One of the things I've been looking forward to in my year of mending – let's face it, probably the only thing I've been looking forward to – is the chance to try visible mending. For those of you not familiar with this process, it uses traditional mending and darning techniques, but makes a feature of them, rather than trying to make the mend invisible.

The undisputed king of the visible mend is Tom van Deijnen (or Tom of Holland as he's known online) who started the Visible Mending Programme "to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture". I've been raving about the latest issue of Uppercase since I bought it and one of the (many) reasons is the feature on Tom shown below.
Obviously I wasn't going to start with anything quite so ambitious, instead I went for a basic darn using some different colours. The top is actually a cotton knit of my sister's that's a bit worse for wear as you can see.
I marked out where I was going to stitch with a fabric marker and since I don't have a darning egg I used a coffee cup (I am making-do after all). I used two strands of cotton embroidery thread since the knit itself is also cotton. I could have got closer to the weight of the garment thread by using one strand, but it didn't seem sturdy enough.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Stitch and Yarn – a week in photos

Since quitting my job a lot of people ask me what I do with my time. While I readily admit I'm taking life at a more leisurely pace – finally having time to exercise regularly, eat proper meals and even read books (!) I also have classes for about 14 hours a week and around that I work on Stitch and Yarn most days. This might include projects I'm turning into patterns, working on samples, researching, designing and of course, keeping up with various social media platforms – my own, and others I'm following. 

Anyway, today I thought I'd show you my week in pictures – all projects in progress that will turn into patterns, samples and products somewhere down the line.
Last Sunday I worked on my Mexican-cochineal-inspired quilt. I finally got the last of the colours in the mail, but sadly this was the last time I got to it for the week. I'm aiming for a mid-April finish, which seems utterly reasonable at the moment...

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Sustainability in the world of textile design

One of my subjects this semester is about sustainable textiles – I think this subject has come along at just the right time for me. The sustainability of the textile industry really bothers me. Actually maybe it’s more than sustainability, maybe it’s purpose, or more specifically, my purpose, that I’m questioning (AGAIN).

For the past ten years I’ve worked for an environment/communications consultancy whose commissions were mostly for large infrastructure projects. The company owners believed that it was often better to work for an organisation that wasn’t doing the greatest job sustainability-wise, and help them move 10 per cent in the right direction, than it was to work for an organisation that largely did the right thing already, and help them shift maybe a further 1 per cent.

While my role fell more on the communications side than the environment side, I felt, for a lot of the time I worked there, that I was doing something with purpose – and while moving into the world of textiles, gives me the opportunity to nurture my creative side – the sustainability aspect, and sometimes even the ethics of the industry has me wondering how I’m going to find that same sense of purpose.

Knowing how unsustainable cotton production can be, or how environmentally damaging some dying methods are, or how treacherous the conditions textile workers in third world countries operate under, has me thinking about how I can find a place I'm comfortable in, gives me meaning and doesn’t just contribute to the ever-growing mountain of ‘stuff’ that none of us really needs.

Tonight in class we watched this. I’ve seen it a few times before, but it’s through the eyes of a textile designer I’m watching it again and trying to navigate my way towards a new purpose.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

My next textile travel destination!

Along with my passion for textiles, you've probably noticed that I love to travel, and combining the two is my idea of perfection. But the world is wide, and there are so many countries with rich textile traditions, that picking one to travel to can be a daunting task. Last year, I used the Lonely Planet list of Top Ten Countries for 2014 as a starting point. This list comes out every year in the previous October. Last year's top ten consisted of Brazil, Antarctica, Scotland, Sweden, Malawi, Mexico, Seychelles, Belgium, Macedonia and Malaysia. What a selection, filled with textile options!

I did a lot of research, made a shortlist and then narrowed it down before applying to the residency in Mexico. And, before I knew it, I was on my way.
The state of Oaxaca from the air.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Resolution for 2015 – the dreaded mending pile

I don't know about you, but I have this steadily growing pile of clothes in my wardrobe that makes me feel guilty every time I look at it. It's the mending. Many of the pieces only require small fixes – a hem that needs reattaching, a seam that's come undone, a small tear that needs sewing together. I won't lie to you though, there are some things in the pile that require a mammoth effort – the cardigan with a sleeve that needs to be removed, undone and partially re-knitted is one that comes to mind.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

My textile year in review – 2014

I've just taken a look back at 2013's year in review, and I'm blown away by all the projects I managed to complete last year. This year I feel like I've done an incredible amount of textile work, but it doesn't seem to have amounted to very many completed projects. One skirt, a couple of surface designs, a knitted baby blanket, a knitted summer cardigan, and a hell of a lot of assignments.

I think I probably took on one too many courses this year. While I've been learning different embroidery stitch techniques in one of them – and it was worth it when I was still working and looking for textile projects to keep me focussed while I waited for that long period of the company sale lock-in to finish, it's probably not something I'll continue in 2015. I'd rather focus on projects of my own design. Anyway, that's something to think about over the next couple of weeks as we head into the new year.

There is one project I've just completed (in time for Christmas) that I can share with you here – a Mexican blouse that I made for my sister. It's a pattern I modified from the one I learnt to do in Mexico. I used a more Autumn-like palette, added a mix of fabrics and designed the floral bodice for the stitching.