Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Hand made needles

In this post I'd like to talk briefly about the needles we use in traditional Japanese embroidery.

There are three types of needles; hand made needles with large eyes which are used to stitch both flat and twisted silk; hand finished needles used for very fine threads or couching; and a very much larger needle used for lacing the fabric to the frame.

Whenever needles are not being used they are kept in our needle felt. This 100% wool felt contains natural lanolin which helps protect the steel needles from the elements. Even when just putting the needles down for a moment, perhaps to cut another piece of thread, we are encouraged to stick them into the felt which helps keep them safe. The needles are so small and are quite expensive so loosing them can put quite a hole in the pocket.
It can be quite hard to tell some of the needle sizes apart so as you can see above I've stuck a label on my needle felt and always make sure that the needles go back where they came from.

This picture shows various needles, from left to right we have; a size 6 crewel needle; then size 10, 9, & 7 hand made needles; then a size 5 hand finished needle; then the lacing needle.
It is possible to see here how much shorter the Japanese needles are from ordinary embroidery needles.
Close up of needle eyes. In this picture it is easy to see the big difference between standard embroidery needles and needles used for traditional Japanese embroidery.
The large eyes on these needles have two effects, they help the flat silk spread out so it lays much flatter on the surface of the fabric, and for metallic threads they make a larger hole through which real gold thread can be pulled without shredding the gold from the core.
Different sizes of needles are used for different sizes of thread; size 10 (second from left) can be used for 4T (4 into 1 twist), a 3F (3 strands of silk), or #1 or #2 gold; size 7 (fourth from left) can be used for a 1F thread; size 5 (at right) is used for couching or a .5 thread.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

How to wear kimono DVD

Our friends at Ichiroya have just released their first DVD, here is the information. "This is a KIMONO dressing DVD made as a guide to wear a kimono and tie an obi for yourself. The DVD includes the following information:how to wear a yukata + tie a Bunko obi, how to tie a Kaino kuchi (for men's kaku-obi), how to wear a homongi kimono and tie a Nijudaiko obi, how to tie a Fukurasuzume obi bow for Furisode (a fancy obi bow for a formal kimono). To tie a fukurasuzume, you need someone to help you but for other direction, they are meant to make it possible to do it for yourself by seeing the DVD. The printed direction with illustration is included in this DVD also. A narration is in English by a professional narrator- and we are sure the DVD will help you enjoy wearing a kimono and tieing an obi." The DVD costs just under £14 ($28), to find out more or order click here.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Hoitsu scroll - inspiring work at the world exhibition

The 2007 world exhibition is due to finish this Sunday (18th November) and I would recommend anyone who has an interest in embroidery or Japanese art to visit, it is more that worth it. There are many wonderful pieces on display but I would like to talk here about the Hoitsu scroll which has been adapted and stitched by professionals at Kurenai-kai in Japan. The original scroll (housed at the Tokyo National Museum) was painted by Sakai Hoitsu a Rimpa artist from the Edo period and consists of two seven metre sections each of which uses seasonal flowers, plants, birds, and insects to represent two of the four seasons. Because of the difficulty in framing up a seven meter piece of silk for stitching the staff of Kurenai-kai decided to split the design and stitch four pieces each covering one season. At the exhibition the complete work is displayed in one of the exhibition spaces in the Kaetsu Centre, not hung as a scroll, but rolled out on long tables and as you walk along the plants change with the season. It is not simply that one scroll has summer or spring plants in no particular order, in fact the plants and flowers move into one another as in a real garden, early spring plants move into mid and late spring then into early summer and so into the rest of the year. For myself it was wonderful to see the piece in person, I have just started stitching a section extracted from the summer scroll and although I have a colour picture it was amazing to see the original close enough to make out the individual stitches. You can follow my progress either in the gallery or in my personal blog. I’m unable to post any pictures, but for those of you who might like more information there are two short articles in Nuido, the magazine produced by JEC, which go into the background and production of the piece in more detail. Contact JEC and ask for the issues for Fall 2005 and Winter 2006, back issues cost about $5. Also available is a CD of the 2007 exhibition which has images of the scroll and many other pieces. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank some of the staff involved in producing this wonderful piece; Yoshihiro Yamashita san, Chief Professional of the Kurenai-kai workshop (if you visit the exhibition you will be able to meet Yamashita san in person); Sumie Yamashita san, Chief of the Design Department; Kiyoko Uematsu san, Professional stitcher; and of course all the other dedicated staff at both Kurenai-kai and JEC who made production of this piece possible. Thanks must also go to all those who helps raise the funds to have the scroll professionally mounted.

Friday, 28 September 2007

World Exhibition, November 7th-18th, 2007

The Japanese Embroidery World Exhibition is an event co-sponsored by the Japanese Embroidery Center (JEC) and Kurenai-Kai, Ltd. of Japan. Held every four years in a new world city, works are put on display from the JEC and Kurenai-Kai workshops, as well as by students from the US, Japan, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and other nations across the globe.

The World Exhibition will be held at the Kaetsu Centre in Cambridge and JEC will be renting the entire facility, including foyer, exhibition rooms, classrooms, and lecture hall. They plan to hold classes which will enable stitchers from all over the world to embroider together.
From Japan, Kurenai-Kai members have reproduced thirty-one stunningly gorgeous Kombuin Fukusa to be exhibited at the World Exhibition. Pieces such as Fan Screen, Flower Screen, Silent Communication, Crane series, etc., will also be on display.

Their hope is that stitchers from all over the world will gather in Cambridge, and share the spirit of Nuido all together. We look forward to having as many JEC members as possible participating with their friends and families in this special event.

For more information about the exhibition visit the JEC website

The embroidery shown here is not one of the display pieces, it is the companion design of 'Birds of Peace' (below) called 'Orchid' and is one of a series of small designs from JEC which I have stitched. Janey

Saturday, 8 September 2007

How Japanese gold threads are made

Our friends Ichiro and Yuka Wada who run Ichiroya send a regualar newsletter to all their customers and friends which contain interesting information about Japanese life, art, culture, and/or crafts. One of their recent newsletters was about how Japanese gold thread were made, I thought this would be of interest to readers following on from our previous post about stitching with gold thread and they have kindly given permission to reproduce it here. The links go to sites which are in Japanese but the pictures are interesting. "As same as other handicraft items, there are two kinds of gold threads, one is made with traditional technique and another is made with modern industrial technique. Traditional gold thread is made of real gold leaf. Here is the Japanese page about making gold threads. www.nishijin.or.jp/ori/tech_kinshi.html His making process is: ( you can see the images of these processes.) 1) Prepare very thin Japanese paper(washi). 2) Coat urushi on it with scraper. 3) Wait urushi drying. 4) Pick up very thin gold leaf with bamboo tweezers carefully. A gold leaf is 11cmx11cm (4.3in x 4.3in), and it only has 1/10000mm thickness. 5) Put it carefully on the urushi coated paper. Urushi bond the gold leaf to paper.Gold leaf is too thin, and wrinkles are easily made. And this process can't be retried. So this process is extremely difficult, and it takes more than 10 years to master this process. 6) Paper becomes 'hira-haku' (gold leaf paper), and dry it one or two days in 'muro' (urushi dry room) in basement. Urushi drying is not missing water process, but one kind of chemical change. It drys with getting humidity, so 'muro' is basement. 7) Cut the 'hira-haku' very finely. Cut 3cm-1.2in width to 60-100 strips! One width is only 0.3mm-0.12in !! In Meiji 25 (1892), hand-cut-equipment was invented, but before then craftman cut with only knives! This strips are used for weaving obi and other kinran fabric. 8) Wrap a thread with this strips, it becomes 'kinshi'(gold thread). 9) For core threads, yellowish silk threads are used. However, it is the top class kinshi, and 'jinken'(rayon) is often used for usual ones.You can get more precise image about how wrap a thread with gold strips here. www.k-taikodai.jp/kinsi.htm Photos of the third column are this real kinshi's.After we know the details of kinshi, we understand why some kinran fabrics have incredible fine pattern and exceptionally soft touch, and some have stiff and textured touch. Quality of kinran is determined by the quality of kinshi, and it is determined by the gold purity, slimness of gold leaf and base paper and quality of core threads." With thanks to Ichiro and Yuka Wada - visit their blog at www.ichiroya.com/blog/

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Metallic thread without core

In Japanese embroidery metallic threads are numbered according to their thickness, #1 is very fine, while #8 is quite thick. Only #1 and #2 metallics are considered fine enough to use for stitching, any above #3 thickness are couched using a fine silk thread.

Three thicknesses of gold thread, from top to bottom: #8, #3, and #1

As most embroiderers out there will know metallic threads are composed of a gold or silver section wound in a spiral around a fabric core. Sometimes for very fine work in Japanese embroidery it is necessary to use a thread which is even finer than the #1 shown above, in order to achieve this the core is removed from a #1 thread.

To do this first cut a length of thread and holding it towards one end gently untwist it so that the core is exposed.

Untwisting the core

Once you get hold of the core hold the metallic gently and, pulling on the core, gradually ease the metallic section down the core and off the other end.

Pulling the core

Once the core is completely removed the metallic section which is left can be combined with a silk thread (1/2 or 3/4 of a strand) and used to stitch fine motifs giving them just a hint of gold or silver.

From top to bottom; core of #1 metallic, #1 gold without core, #1 gold with core

Friday, 10 August 2007

Treasures - Takarazukushi

A number of motifs in Japanese embroidery have symbolic meanings, this blog article covers those known as takarazukushi or ‘treasures’.

Sometimes a number of treasures will be used, as on Michinaga which can be seen in the phase 6-9 gallery of our gallery, sometimes only one or two. Treasures may be combined with other ‘happy’ motifs which are used to reinforce the message of the design; pine, bamboo, plum, tortoise, or cranes (amongst others) are often seen.

The treasures listed below are not a complete list, indeed the meanings of some items have been lost, and occasionally a new treasure will be added. Master Tamura of JEC Atlanta has included spools of silk as a treasure in some of his designs, these are the Japanese embroiderer’s treasures.

There are seven traditional treasures; the bottomless purse, mallet, magic sedge hat, ball (sometimes shown with flames), straw rain cape, balance-scale weight, and the storehouse key. Some of the other commonly used treasures are; rhinoceros horn, silk, cross, cloves, and scrolls.

  • Swinging the magic mallet will make dreams come true
  • The hat and rain cape make the wearer invisible
  • The magic ball will grant wishes when rubbed
  • In order to protect their gold from theft samurai would have it cast into the shape of a balance weight which, because of it’s symmetrical shape, meant that no part of it could be stolen without detection
  • Scrolls represent the value of knowledge
  • Rhinoceros horn was valued as a medicine
  • Silk, originally rare and very expensive
  • The cross is used as a symbol of expansiveness
  • Cloves were valued for their rarity and its many uses as a sent, flavouring, dyestuff, and medicine
  • The key represents a kura, a stone storehouse built to protect valuables from fire or theft
  • Interlocking circles form a ‘shippo’ pattern often seen in Japanese embroidery and can be used as shorthand for treasures.
Takarabune means 'treasure ship'. It is a symbol of good tidings and blessing to come, it is normally shown carrying a cargo of treasures.
The embroidered Meiji fukusa (top) and vintage woven fukusa shown here are from www.ichiroya.com. Many thanks to Ichiro san and Yuka san for allowing them to be used. To see other items which are decorated with treasures visit their website and do a search for treasures.
For more information John Marshall has an interesting article on his website.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Japanese Embroidery Gallery

I've been doing some updating on our companion gallery over the last couple of weeks and there are a number of new photographs.

Queen of Flowers, stitched by Jennifer Orchard

Suehiro, stitched by Carol-Anne Conway

Seeds of Nuido, a work in progress, stitiched by the author.

If you'd like to take a look at the complete gallery you can find it here.

All designs are copyright of the JEC.

Thursday, 26 July 2007


Well, this is the first post on our new Japanese Embroidery blog.
This blog has been created to act as a companion to our other sites and will, I hope, gradually fill up with interesting information.
I'm still figuring out how this all works so bear with me if this all happens a bit slowly.
The piece shown here is called 'Birds of Peace' and is one of the many designs from the Japanese Embroidery Center, Atlanta (JEC). There will be more of the centre posted in the future I am sure.
You can find out lots more information about Japanese Embroidery by visiting the sites in the links list. If you know of more let us know and we'll get them listed.
It isn't the intention to post lots of images here - that's what the gallery is for, but we're always happy to answer questions so please get in touch.