Sunday, 20 December 2009

Friday, 30 October 2009

Class number 2

Last week we had a four lovely days holding our 2nd full phase class in Japanese embroidery at the Crofters Hotel in Garstang near Preston. A great time was had by all. This time three more advanced stitching friends joined us which was really useful for the students working on their phase 1. Beginners and advanced students were able to compare notes and experiences and were able to support and encourage each other. Big thanks to Carol-Anne, Sue, and Ruth who very happily gave of their time and experiences. Big thanks as well to Denise, our tutor, who supports us all with endless patience (and who brings along lots of goodies to tempt us with!)
Our little group of Japanese embroiderers in the NW is growing slowly but surely. We had one new student starting her phase 1 piece, Bouquet from the Heart of Japan, while the rest were continuing work on their first phase, we also had two brand new students who joined us for the taster class on Saturday and Sunday.

We've confirmed class dates with the hotel for April and October next year - details over on the Gallery. See you there?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Ōgi - Fans

One of the images of Japan which always comes to mind is that of the fan and as a number of designs from JEC incorporate fans of one kind or another I thought I would do some reading up on the subject. So here you go, a very potted history of the Japanese fan, more reading and websites are at the bottom of the post.
Fans have been used for millennia, whether in the form of a leaf or a beautifully decorated folding fan, hand painted and gilded with gold leaf. Early Japanese fans resemble early Chinese fans and were either one piece rigid fans made from feathers or silk stretched over a round or oval frame or larger ceremonial fans. These rigid fans are known as uchiwa, you can see one of these in the photo below.
Given the fragile nature of fans very few early ones have survived to the present day, but they have been depicted in many ways in fabric, lacquer work, carvings, paintings, to name just a few. Some of these are very detailed and much information can be drawn from these representations. The earliest representation of a fan in Japan is of a large ceremonial type and is dated to the 6th century, it appears in a tomb in Wakamiya. The folding fan appeared early in the development of fans but actual evidence of where it was developed is vague. However, circumstantial evidence points to Japan, and the Chinese give credit to the Japanese. Two types of fans are described in a Japanese dictionary dated 935AD, the uchiwa and ōgi (a generic name for folding fans). Given that a generic name for folding fans had been in use for long enough to appear in a dictionary, they must have been around for some time before 935AD.

A boys kimono decorated with fans (picture courtesy of Ichiroya)

Hiōgi - these types of folding fans are most frequently made from strips of cypress wood. They were the official imperial court fan right through until the 19th century. They are made with about 30 or so wooden 'blades' which are held together with a rivet at the base and either cords or ribbons at the top. These fans were highly decorated and the guard sticks of the fans used by the Empress would be decked with artificial flowers and long flowing cords.

Wedding kimono from Ichiroya decorated with representations of hiōgi fans

Suehiro (wide ended) fans were created in the 15th century and used paper on both sides of the fan sticks, technical problems created by incorporating paper on two sides created the wide ended shape but the shape proved popular and eventually was created deliberately.

Kimono from Ichiroya decorated with suehiro fans

Suehiro - stitched by Carol-Anne Conway, design copyright of JEC

The technical problem of incorporating two leaves of paper was solved also by developing bombori type fans. In this type the guard sticks are formed to bend sharply inwards, when closed this gives the shape of fans we in the west would easily recognise. These fans are often described as suehiro as well.

Kimono from Ichiroya decorated with designs of hiogi fans

If you'd like to find out more about Japanese fans there is a wonderful book called Ōgi, A History of the Japanese Fan, by Julia Hutt and Helene Alexander. It has lots of detailed information and wonderful photographs. ISBN 1-872357-08 3

There are loads of websites out there where you can find out more and also buy fans, here are three to get you started.

The Fan Museum, Greenwich

Japanese fans in Noh drama

Lifstyle Japan - article on Uchiwa

Video of fan making from You Tube

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Interesting websites

While doing some reading for research on future posts I cam across some interesting sites. Thought I would post them here for any readers who are interested. Noh Drama " is a full of rich information about Noh. You will enjoy photo stories that take you to the center of the Noh stage, reading material that helps you understand everything about Noh, articles that highlight the people who work on front stage or behind the scenes, a list of plays with guiding directories, the stories of Noh masks, and a lot more to come. From beginners to experts, there's always something that catches your eye." An interview from - Master Yasujirō Yamaguchi who turned 104 in 2008 has cultivated unsurpassed skills in nearly a century as a master of Nishijin textile, reaching the pinnacle of his craft. He became involved almost exclusively in the creation of Noh costumes nearly 50 years ago, and has made nearly 300 pieces. Kaga embroidery - history, techniques, and examples of Kaga embroidery. Traditional Crafts of Japan - Information from the Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries, Japan.

Pinks - from an antique design book

Sunday, 17 May 2009

A very successful class

You may remember back in October last year we ran a taster class on Japanese embroidery and following that we advertised a four day phase class and another two day taster course. Well I'm pleased to say that in April at the Crofters Hotel in Garstang (near Preston) five of our original students returned to start their phase one piece, one was doing a pre-phase piece, and we had three new students doing the taster class.
I don't have many photos of the course as I was too busy running around assisting our tutor Denise to take many, so this is just a big thank you to all our ladies who were a joy all week, you all worked very hard and were lots of fun.
Denise, our tutor, and Colleen discuss a technique.
Bouquet from the Heart of Japan - copyright JEC. This version was embroidered by my JE colleague Sue.
We have dates for the next lot of classes in the North West which will follow the same format, all four days for the phase class and the last two days for the taster class - 22nd-25th October 2009 and 22nd-25th April 2010. If you would like more details, costs etc, please get in touch with me or with Denise.
If you'd like to find a list of qualified JEC tutors in your area click here (page down for UK tutors).
To meet us in person and see lots of examples of Japanese embroidery come and visit us at the Stitch and Creative Craft show at Manchester Central (GMEX) at the beginning of September.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Sakura - Cherry Blossom

While ume was the most popular spring flower during the Nara period (8th century), since the Heian period (794-1185 sakura (cherry blossom) has enjoyed greater popularity. So much so, that for centuries their beauty has been enjoyed and celebrated at Hanami (flower viewing). From mid January to early May sakura bloom throughout Japan but the blossoms only last a week or two so the Meteorological Agency gives nightly updates after the weather forecast to track the sakura zensen (cherry-blossom front) as it moves northward. In modern day Japan, outdoor parties beneath the sakura have become popular. The better known parks, shrines and temples can become crowded with people picnicking, strolling and enjoying the scent as well as the visual display. Some venues hang paper lanterns especially for yozakura (night sakura). Sakura represents spring and new beginnings; it is considered an omen of good fortune and is also an emblem of love and affection. The transient nature of the blossoms, which fall at the height of their beauty before withering, came to represent the samurai warrior who would sacrifice his life for the honour and protection of the emperor. During World War II, Japanese pilots would paint sakura on the sides of their planes or even take branches of the trees with them on missions. Falling cherry petals came to represent the sacrifice of youth. Cherry trees come in a great number of varieties. Most of the wild trees have blossoms with five petals but cultivated varieties can have five, 10, 20 or many, many more petals. The blossoms can be white or any shade of pink imaginable. Sakura are very similar to ume blossom but are easily recognised by the small indented ‘v’ on the edge of each petal. All the techniques used to stitch ume can be used for sakura and like ume, sakura may be stitched with or without branches. One notable difference is that sakura may be depicted with leaves, where as ume never is.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Ume - Plum Blossm

Japanese arts and crafts are adorned with motifs from nature and the beautiful stylised designs that have evolved from them. These motifs and designs are not merely decorative but convey messages that are easily understood by Japanese people. When we begin our journey with Japanese Embroidery our main concern is learning the stitches and techniques but gradually we also begin to understand the hidden meanings in the designs we are stitching. ***** Plum (ume) blossom is the harbinger of Spring, blooming even while snow still clings to the trees branches. Ume blossoms are often mentioned in Japanese poetry as a symbol of spring. When used in haiku or renga, they are a kigo or season word for early spring. During the Nara period (8th century), the blossom of the ume tree was preferred over the sakura (cherry) blossom, which became popular after the Heian period (794-1185). Ume is one of the elements of the "three friends of winter" (shou-chiku-bai), the others being pine and bamboo, and is associated with courage and endurance. The blossoms are associated with the Japanese Bush Warbler (uguisu), and they are depicted together as one of the twelve suits on hanafuda (Japanese playing cards). In fact the ume tree is more closely related to apricot than to the plums we know in the west and is considered to be a protective charm against evil. For this reason, it is traditionally planted in the north-east of the garden, the direction from which evil is believed to come. The pickled fruit (umeboshi) is sometimes eaten for breakfast to stave off misfortune. The five petaled flowers are so simple in form that even the stylized version, umebachi, is instantly recognisable.
Umebachi, Vintage Fukusa (Back) - courtesy of Ichiroya
Plum blossoms can be stitched in any number of ways. Small flowers are often stitched with either flat or twisted silk in a vertical foundation. Stamen and pollen are frequently added but not always. The blooms can be depicted on branches or on their own but leaves are never included (the ume tree flowers before the leaves appear). Larger designs may be stitched in long and short stitch, or the shape of the blossom may be filled with a geometric design.
Nagoya Obi - courtesy of Ichiroya
Sometimes the shape of the flower is simply outlined.
Nagoya Obi Bolt - courtesy of Ichiroya - courtesy of Ichiroya

Friday, 27 March 2009

Colour in Japanese Embroidery

I've been thinking about colour recently, what colours we wear, stitch with, how we combine them, perception of colour, how our perception of colour can change, and how it is different depending on where we grew up. At the beginning of my Nuido journey I remember discussing colour with my tutor and talking about how different people from different countries perceive colours differently. I didn't really understand what she was trying to explain, well I did in theory, but surely green is green, red is red, and blue is blue. Isn't it? So why would a colour we in the UK would definitely call blue be green in Japan? She recommended a great book by Sadao Hibi, The Colour of Japan. In this the author talks about how different colours are used, and what they represent. It is well worth getting hold of if you want to find out more. It contains large high quality photographs of objects or landscapes each of which is used to describe a colour and its meaning. One photo of fields full of tea bushes contains colours which I would certainly have described as 'blue', but they are tea bushes therefore green, therefore this colour is called green in Japan. This photo helped me to understand the differences in perception of colour. Study of the colour of Japan would take many years to understand fully, and we will always be influenced by the colours, light, seasons, and traditions of the place we grew up so me may never fully understand it all. Here in the UK for example red is linked to danger but in Japan it is linked to the sun. Although I like red and wear and use it a lot it does not have the same resonance for me as it does for a Japanese person because of the traditional meanings. In my reading I have also discovered that sometimes the meaning of a colour can be influenced by the plant the dye comes from, this adds a whole new level of meaning. Plus whichever bit of the plant is used to create the dye may not even be the same colour as the final product so this is really very subtle!! There is a set of books by Katsumi Yumioka which talk about this side of things. There are 4 books in the series up to now all talking about different aspects of colour and all are beautifully illustrated with photos of kimono and obi. Check out the bibliography at the end of this post for the names and details of all the books mentioned. Our study of colour in Japanese embroidery journey is quite subtle, at first we are guided in our choice of colours, as we progress up the phases we can choose to adapt the colours in JEC designs. Over time our sense of colour becomes less European and more Japanese, although we always keep that innate sense of colour that we learn growing up. We do learn what colours represent the different seasons, how the underlying fabric colour can change the colour of the thread, and how the same colour looks different if used twisted or flat. All this is very theoretical of course and the only way to understand is to see examples. So here are some pictures of various pieces by my fellow stitchers which have been stitched in different colour ways. Neither of the pieces is right or wrong, good or bad, they are just different examples. A big thank you goes to (in no particular order), Iris, Marie, Cathy, Jennifer, Susan, Denise, and Carol-Anne who have stitched these pieces and allowed me to use their photos.
As always copyright is property of the Japanese Embroidery Center and Kurenai-kai who designed all these lovely pieces and who continue to travel with us on our journey.

Resonance Cords
Queen of Flowers
Final Dress Up


By Katsumi Yumioka, all published by Pie Books Kimono and the Colours of Japan -ISBN 4-89444-451-8 Summer Kimonos and the Colours of Japan - ISBN4-89444-531-x Child Kimono and the Colours of Japan - ISBN978-4-89444-607-6 Kimono Sash and the Colours of Japan - ISBN978-4-89444-630-4 By Sadao Hibi, The Colours of Japan - ISBN4-7700-2536-x

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Talk on Japanese Embroidery

Just a short post today, as you may remember I am a member of the Japan Society North West. The society runs a number of events throughout the year and on 19th April 2009 yours truly will be giving a talk on traditional Japanese embroidery. You can find all the information here on the JSNW website, along with details of all our other events. Why not come along and say hello.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Japanese Embroidery Course

Following the success of our first Japanese embroidery taster class in the North West, we are running another taster class and a full Phase 1 class in April 2009. The tutor will be Denise Foster, Authorised Tutor (2008) Japanese Embroidery Center: Kurenai-Kai. Phase class dates: 23/24/25/26th April Taster class dates: 25/26th April Venue: Crofters Hotel, Preston If you would like more information, including full costs please drop an email to Denise , or to Jane.

Friday, 16 January 2009

The Legend of Takasago

Images of the Legend of Takasago are often used at New Year in Japan and I'd intended to post this to wish everyone a happy new year. However, a small accident with the laptop and a glass of pepsi (oops) meant the laptop was out of action so I didn't get chance to complete this post. Since I'd started it I thought I'd finish it, so here we go. The images from Ichiroya are linked back to the specific item so you can find out more.
As with many legends and folk tales in Japan this story is depicted in many different art forms in as many ways and styles. In textiles it can be found dyed, woven, or embroidered. Almost always some version of a pine tree is shown sometimes with other auspicious symbols such as a crane or tortoise.

Silk noren curtain dyed with yuzen technique - courtesy of Ichiroya

Takasago, the legend of the devoted couple is very famous. Their images are often portrayed at weddings, anniversaries, and New Year celebrations. Takasago is the location of the tale, the old man, Jou, and the old woman Uba. In life they are deeply devoted and when they pass away within moments of each other their spirits are transformed into pine trees.

Boy's miyamairi kimono - courtesy of Ichiroya
Jou always to carries a rake and Uba a broom. She sweeps away all sorrow and ill fortune, Jou rakes in the blessings of the past. If you'd like to read more about Uba and Jou check out Conversations with John Marshall, a very interesting site with lots of information about Japanese textiles and associated topics.

Fukusa of chirimen silk with dyed pattern - courtesy of Ichiroya

I've always been drawn to this story and after searching for ages I found the embroidered fukusa below on Ichiroya. Here we don't see Jou and Uba, just the pine tree and the broom and rake which symbolise the couple (I like to think that perhaps they've sneaked off for a cup of cha).

Embroidered fukusa using silk and metallic threads - own collection

It's very simply embroidered using metallic and silk threads. Some padding is used under parts of the trunk and the metallic threads are couched using red silk. The pine needles are stitched very simply with twisted thread in long stitches.

I think the metallic thread must be silver threads, synthetic metallic thread wouldn't have been available when this was stitched, but they have tarnished over the years and now they are a wonderful silvery grey.

The bamboo leaves are stitched using a twisted silk thread. The twisted threads below the bamboo leaves forming the ground are formed from various shades of green twisted together and then couched.

Along side Uba's broom is a fan showing the rising sun. Fans are also auspicious symbols and will form the basis for a post all of their own.