Friday, 9 December 2016

Double Weave Carpet and Fully Lined Japanese Jackets.

Instead of two two-meter blankets...there is one monster three-meter blanket and a somewhat useless one meter whatever..

Guess who kept weaving without measuring the progress?

The 90% wool 10% silk yarn was purchased from Nancy Zellar at Longridge Farm and she shipped it half way across the planet away from the lovely sheep that produced the wool.

It was all dyed with Madder and Indigo (overdyed) in varying shades of intensity. Ten threads per centimeter. It was a tight weave. When it is fulled will loose some of the nuances of the weave structure colour? Worried. 


Barbara Pickel and her lovely daughter Molly picked up some more wool from Nancy and flew it all the way here from New York. One suitcase full! 

That big Finnish loom in the middle room was a bit of an embarrassment. It was changed it from a counter-balance to a counter-marche several years back. Wooden squeaky dowels etc. It was time for an upgrade and Barbara lent a hand. We made new jacks and lams and put them on stainless dowels. 
It now has eight harnesses instead of a humble four. It can do anything now. It is for real weavers now.

Four rather messy harnesses...

Making new lams and jacks.


A loom to be proud of.

Last summer I was asked to clean out an old barn near Ogata san's house and found an old miserable warping wheel and silk farming materials in that had not been used much since the war. It took a few days  to wash them down at the river then sand then repair. It works perfectly now. 

Whiteboots loved all the moving parts and was being naughty when the blue linen warp was being taken off.

The blue linen warp is being used on a 8 shaft twill double weave. 

The colours are reverse on the back of the cloth. The carpets on the step up from the entrance are pathetic. This is 3 meters ling and 50 centimetres wide. It will be slightly felted after it is woven. This is the practice part....time decide the weft colours and weave. The natural grey colour (Wool from Finland last summer, thank you Henri.) looks good with the darker blue. The bolder pattern will suit the place it has to sit.

While fixing and setting up the loom Barbara and Molly took time to cut stencils, indigo dye a beautiful antique linen sheet Barbara had found in Europe. The sheet was enough to make two hantens. It was the first time I was able to teach the entire process from dyeing to construction with out the help of Yazaki san the local kimono seamstress! Fully lined and beautiful. Molly is a knitter and her insignia on the jacket is a knit stitch. Barbara is a weaver and her insignia is a plain weave. All hand stitched!

Barbara taught me how to upgrade the loom and set up a 8-shaft double weave and I thought her how to dye and sew a hanten. Loving my winter vacation already.

I had a few cancellations in the hanten making workshop from April first for two weeks in the mountains here in Japan. (I am sorry I turned away a few people and sent them to the autumn workshop.)  If anyone is interested in learning to dye and sew one of these jackets let me know. 

Two Different Ways to Process Indigo Leaves.

Look at this wonderful square pile of blue indigo leaves.  Gorgeous.

The leaves were harvested throughout the summer when the sun was out and stripped off the stems and dried in the sun. (Many thanks to the strippers who lent a hand.)


Now, the trees are almost bare in the valley, the angle of the sun is low and the mountains are heading into a cold sleep.

In just three days the pile of indigo has already started to ferment. If you stuff your hand in deep enough it is warming up. It should reach 60 degrees Celsius and maintain that temperature for 100 days.

The leaves were lightly wet (Just enough so that when you squeeze hard barely a drip escapes.) and tossed for an hour or so to evenly distribute the dampness.

Yamazaki san, Yoshi kun, Ishii san, Eliot kun helped get the room and the leaves ready.

We peppered salt around the leaf pile to keep any potential indigo eating villains at bay, rubbed ourselves with a few pinches to purify any invisible tenacious baddies,  took  few sips of sake to help with inner purification and keep off the crisp sweater-penetrating gusts and solemn December sun and lit some incense sticks to sanctify the occasion.

We wrapped and blanketed on some rice straw mats to keep the heat and moisture in.

This method is more complex than my usual technique of fermenting the leaves and making indigo balls. From this past spring I have two more indigo fields just below the house. Yamasaki and Ishii sans share the work and the produced indigo paste. Two more indigo producer/dyers in Fujino! This has been my goal for over 15 years and it is finally happening! 100 years from now an indigo culture may still exist in this solitary village.

The leaf pile needs to be tossed and dampened on a regular basis for 120 days. I will keep you posted on the progress.

Another process to extract indigo pigment:

One problem with growing indigo is dealing with cloudy and rainy weather. The leaves should be dried to crisp as soon as possible after harvesting. Sometimes it is impossible and the indigo grows taller and taller. The leaves pass their prime and the pigment content decreases. (Sob sob....)

This summer past was particularly cloudy. We managed three full harvests but could have squeezed in a fourth had the weather cooperated. Instead of crying in my beer I cut (with the help of workshop cutters) the indigo leaves, left them on the stems and submerged them in a stainless bathtub for four days to leach the pigment out. I kept them in large onion bags to make the job easier and neater.

This simple technique is the perfect solution to what to do with a few huge indigo fields with thin leaves and not much strength left in the sun and not much pigment in the leaves.

After four days it gets rather stinky. (Just below gag-reflex intensity.) The leaf bags get taken out and placed above the blue liquid to drip all the excess back in the bath.

A cup of calcium hydroxide. (slaked lime) is hydrated and poured in.

At first we used bamboo rakes to whip oxygen was exhausting and then I remembered my old cement mixer in the barn!


The whipped liquid is left and the indigo pigment sediment settles to the bottom.  The clear liquid is then scooped off. The muddy bottom sludge is filtered through a few layers of cotton and then scooped into a container and left to dry in the sun.

This can now be used as regular indigo powder in a hydro-sulphate reduced indigo vat. It is a lot simpler than the three or four month slow fermentation technique. Not as sexy and involved. It is considered the Indian way of doing it although in Okinawa they use the same technique.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Hanten Jackets.

There have been a lot of projects going on here at the farm.

Ted and Yoyo dropped by yesterday with their new son. Sena's hand sewn denim hanten was almost finished. I put in the sleeves and it was ready for him to wear home. I dyed an old tenugui with persimmon tannin in last summer. It has a boy on a water buffalo. The 5th segment of the 10 ox-hearding  stories of Zen enlightenment. It made an adorable lining for his jacket. It is tough to find a present for an almost toddler with such stylish cool parents.

Such a sweet boy.....aghhhh. He charmed us all day long and our faces hurt from smiling.

I held the second Hanten jacket course at the house this year. We finished last week. We made two jackets. A denim one and an original stencilled indigo one.

Thank you Dawni, Kerry, Judi, Sue, Kate, Chris and Monica and Hinda. It was great to meet you all again and go somewhat slower than usual. I am so proud of you all and your hard work. Beautiful jackets. You all get gold medals for some category of work on them. Brilliant work. Period.

Hinda gets special mention for her spectacular mokume shibori lining that was too good to get cut up for a lining. Hundreds of hours of stitching and pulling and tying.

Being a little tired of indigo I made a soot dyed hanten for myself with the characters of "Old Indigo Hut" the name of my knit studio."

It snowed already...Where did the year go???

It is time to go slow for a few months.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Woofing in Japan

Quite a few email show up in my inbox from travellers in Japan who want to come out and take a look at the indigo farm etc. Timing is often bad. But occasionally I can use a hand cutting indigo or dyeing thread etc. (Sometimes cleaning the mountainside, washing windows and weeding the garden.)

There is a backlog of thread that needs dyeing and indigo that needs harvesting. Luck sent me plenty of help the past few weeks.

Art students and product engineers and anthropologists ..... you are all so enthusiastic and smiley....contrasted with this grumpy old cynical farmer.

So if you are travelling around in Japan, drop me line and I may be able to put you to work for a day or so. Roof and rice on me.

Whiteboots has taken a liking to the indigo process. Guarding the dried indigo.