For a long time, I have thought about printing fabric I use in my clothes with woodblocks.
While in Bangkok now, I spent two days recently with my friend and woodblock print artist Ralph Kiggell. I love Ralph’s work, own a few of his prints myself, and learned much from him during a private two-day workshop at his studio. During our time together, Ralph taught me the basics of woodblock cutting, which he studied in Japan, and we made some trial ink prints in his studio. Next, I will try “resist printing” where we are staying in Bangkok, and will continue to experiment after I return to Nagano in a couple weeks.
Of course, we all made prints and cut woodblocks while at school, but we did so with constraints, perhaps necessary in a classroom environment, but which nonetheless did not allow us to experience the wide range of techniques and styles available. The process is different from, for example, the one used in India traditionally to print from woodblocks on fabric.
It was fascinating to watch Ralph work. He designed several different leaf patterns for me, first sketching lightly with pencil on the wood surface, expressing the essence of each leaf with a few simple stokes, then carved the wood almost effortlessly it seemed, all this the result of the artist’s years of experience. Ralph carved several blocks for me, which I will use in Japan to print on fabric. We had talked about such a collaboration for years, and finally were able to do something together.
Below are photos from a reference book about natural dyeing and printing on fabric in Bangladesh. One quickly sees how complicated the process can be. Recipes for dyes and mordants are given, some of which I will try back in Japan. In India today, by contrast, one sees a lot of chemical dyes used, which are bad for the environment, for the health of the dyers and printers, and ultimately for wearers of clothing made from this fabric. Traditionally, of course, plant dyes were used exclusively, and “resist dyeing” in Japan was accomplished by using natural materials as well, such as glutinous rice, rice bran, salt, lime, . . .
I want to try many different ways to print with woodblocks on fabric, after I return to Japan, and look forward to sharing the results with you.
Thanks to my many customers for using my online store. Thanks, too, for the many emails I have received thanking me for quickly shipping your purchases. Many have remarked that the colors of the garments they receive are much more vivid and richer than as they appeared on their computer screens.
I want to change the online store platform I now use to one that will more faithfully display colors of the garments. I will soon update store offerings, too, adding some things, after I complete my next round of dyeing, so please wait for this.
My son is enjoying the seasons as they change in Japan, compared with the seasons in Penang, Malaysia, where changes were more subtle.
His interests have changed too, moving from “indoor” diversions such as playing with Legos and watching videos in Penang to exploring the outdoors and all that it has to offer a young boy here. He is looking forward to: the emergence from underground of stag horn beetles soon, and to catching and studying beetles and other insects of all sorts; catching “kanahebi” (a kind of small lizard); and as autumn approaches to catching dragonflies, crayfish,…
The paddy across the narrow street from our house is a world all unto itself, a home to freshwater snails, “amembo” (a kind of pond skater), frogs (and the snakes which feed on them), tadpoles, leeches,…to swallows flying just above the water’s surface, especially as rain approaches, magpies, and even a pair of visiting ducks.
Making final preparations for my spring/summer online store. I have been taking photos, trying to capture faithfully the colors of the clothes I hand dyed, so you can see as well as possible what they would look like in person. This was not easy to do today: it rained here, and there was not always sufficient natural light available. I will take more photos tomorrow, so please wait a couple more days to see the results.
As noted in a previous post, this year I am introducing a second line of clothing under my “indochina” label. I have been working under my present label for six years, and wanted to broaden my collection with a second line of clothing made from hand-spun, hand-woven, and hand-dyed fabric that I would source from India and Southeast Asia. I am busy now designing clothes for this new label and hope to offer a few items this spring at my shows or through my online shop. The photo in today’s blog entry shows one sample blouse I have made.
My sleeveless linen top, which I dyed a year-and-a-half ago in a combination of Japanese sumac and “tingi,” a dye substance derived from the bark of a mangrove tree. Clothes dyed with natural substances will experience subtle changes in color over time, as well as a softening of the fabric, which is normal. I dyed this piece as darkly as I could, as I knew I would be wearing and washing this garment often living in a warm climate. I use only a mild detergent, though, and the change in color, while noticeable, is not as pronounced as it would have been had I used harsher detergents. This is why I recommend following the washing instructions given elsewhere in this web site, and washing in “Umi-e” or a similarly mild detergent.
We have been watching as a family several (five to date) films by the Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu from DVDs, a 9-disc set of which I brought with me from Japan.
The films provide a good opportunity for my son to both listen to Japanese spoken by others than I, and give him a look too at post-war Japan, daily family life then, and typical scenes from traditional Japanese homes and offices.
Ozu’s camera work is quiet and steady, especially compared with the often frenetic movement that characterizes more recent film and animation. In time, though, one gets used to this different pace made for a different time.
We are also working our way through a nine-DVD set of Italian films shot around the same time, by directors De Sica, Rossellini, Visconti, about which more in a future post.
Today I cooked golden pomfret for the first time, one of four species of this fish found in the waters off Malaysia. (There are also silver, black, and Chinese pomfret available here.) I steamed the whole fish with black-ear mushrooms and garnished with coriander. I found the flesh soft, and mild flavored despite being a bit oily, and the fish was easy to debone. Usually swimming in deep waters, pomfret near the surface at night, perhaps to feed, but are themselves preyed upon by tuna. We have little time left in Malaysia and want to try as many new things as we can before moving on.
My husband has been obsessed with charts of pork cuts lately and wants to try to make soup with neck bones, a cut we have not used before. He found a couple recipes for soup online: one uses daikon; the other, renkon, or lotus root. The Chinese eat this cut of pork at New Year’s, slowly simmered for hours. We want buy some before Chinese New Year, beginning February 19.
With New Year behind us, I can again focus on work. I have completed almost all design and pattern work for 2015, both for Spring-Summer and Autumn-Winter. More than half are all new designs; the other half, previous popular designs with modifications, which I will make available with new materials. One final design for 2015, a linen coat, will be made from fabric from Linificio, a manufacturer located in Bergamo, in northern Italy. The hand-woven Indian kadhi cotton cloth I ordered from a factory near Calcutta has arrived, and I look forward to working with this new natural fabric. In the photo for today’s entry, you can see a blouse of the kind worn by a member of the Swedish royal family in the 16th Century. At that time, all clothing was hand sewn, of course. Today, the detail and all the time-consuming pleating and gathering of fabric, is doable only in the best of haute couture houses. Often, these antique clothes, though well maintained considering their age, have on them blood stains and less violent examples of day-to-day use.
The five northernmost states of Malaysia are experiencing flooding now, and it is reported that 100,000 people have been evacuated. Penang State has received much unseasonal rain as well, but there has not been any serious flooding to date.
With just a few days left in 2014, I have been busy finalizing the pattern for a new blouse, a sample of which I have sewn and which you can see in the photo for this day’s blog entry. This blouse will be part of my Spring 2015 collection. I simply must buy a dress form, after we relocate to Thailand next winter, to use for draping clothes I design as I do when I am in Japan, and I have already located a couple suppliers in the Bangkok area. Now, I am using a fan supported by a pedestal in my bedroom, which is not ideal. My son is too small still to be of use as a model, and my husband is getting tired of me asking him: “Would you try this on?”
On one of his almost daily trips to the local wet market, this morning my husband bought four “aji” (horse mackerel) about one kilo, for the equivalent of 240 yen. The fish are fresh, and my son loves to eat aji.
He also bought home some winged beans (angle beans) shown in the accompanying photo, some freshly grated coconut and freshly squeezed coconut milk. I made a cold salad partly with these ingredients, and the results were good for a first attempt, I think. These beans are rich in protein as well as a wonderful source of dietary fiber. The Thais have their own style of this salad.
As we move from next year to neighboring Thailand, the things we will miss most about living in this part of Penang are the local wet market, southern Indian food, and being within walking distance of almost everything we need on a day-to-day basis.
We have become comfortable here, perhaps too comfortable, and to us this signals that it is time to move on to the next place, to the next set of challenges. Emil Nolde, the Expressionist painter/printmaker, explained this better than I can when he wrote: “Clever people master life; the wise create fresh difficulties.” We think it is time again for us to create “fresh difficulties.”