Sep 29, 2017

from quilts to garments: sewing Japanese fashion, in Japanese

When I was about 13 years old, I sewed all the time. I loved making tops. That was so long ago, but those memories are somehow very fresh. Well, in the past year I have sewn 2 new tops and I've had a blast. Here is one I finished today. 

Its made from Japanese linen and I followed a Japanese pattern... with no English!

The fabric was designed by Yoshiko Jinzenji, an amazing artist who lives and works in Kyoto. Over the years, I've been lucky to visit with her on several occassions. A few weeks ago, when I was in Kyoto, she invited me to a lovely lunch at a swanky Kyoto gallery / cafe. Joining us was Akiko Shibusawa, one of Yoshiko's master students. I loved the top Akiko was wearing (which is also made with Yoshiko's fabric).

Yoshiko Jinzenji and Akiko Shibusawa are both featured in my new book: "Cotton & Indigo from Japan." 

Akiko kindly gave me a copy of the sewing book, which included the pattern. The fashion in this book is just darling. But there is no English translation. I gave it my best shot by following the pictures.

The hardest part was knowing whether or not the pattern included a seam allowance. My decision was that the pattern did include a seam allowance (although I have no idea if that is correct). Since this top is quite boxy and loose, I figured I'd be okay with an inch or so "off" in either direction.

I started by tracing the pattern. Then I shortened it a bit (from dress length to a long top). I ended up creating my own textile for the front and back (rather than cutting on the fold, as recommended). I really wanted to preserve the selvedge with the Made in Japan writing and the designers name. Plus, since its linen, there is a nice edge. So I cut the pattern paper and pieced the sections together - as pictured below. The two pieces seen here form the front section of the top.

I stopped a couple times to try the top on. It fit well using the pattern, even though the typical Japanese woman is much smaller/more petite than me. I did enlarge the sleeve quite a bit. It was too tight, and I wanted more of a loose look. There might have been instructions for alterating the size, I'll never know... haha.

I'm happy with the way it turned out. And now I am ready to sew more garments. I feel like my 13 year-old self again.

I also did some searching and I found several Japanese sewing books that have been translated and I have ordered them! Can't wait to try again, this time with English!

Third Floor Quilts fabric label.

Sep 8, 2017

Coming Soon: Beloved Kyoto book store to carry "Cotton & Indigo from Japan"

Maurzen Books, Kyoto's beloved book store, will soon start selling "Cotton & Indigo from Japan." Maurzen is known for its huge section of books in English and I'm thrilled my new book will soon be among them.

Maurzen has a long history in Kyoto. It first opened its doors in 1872! The store closed in 2005 for 10 years, and finally repoened in 2015 - on two floors of the basement of BAL department store (downtown Kyoto).

Its everything a book store should be --- large selection, helpful staff, coffee shop and cafe. And lemons! Wait... lemons???

There is a popular Japanese short story titled "Lemon." Its very poetic and children read it in school. The main character ends of creating a sculpture out of books in the old Maurzen book store, and he places a perfectly shaped lemon on it. So people used to bring lemons and leave them on the shelves of the old store. Now, you can find the lemon table in the new store, along with copies of the story (Japanese only). Or you can go the more commercial route, and buy a lemon shaped cake in the cafe!

So, if you go to Kyoto, or live there or nearby, be sure to visit. Check out the quirky lemon story. And ask for my book!

I'm so happy to be a part of this beloved book store.

Maurzen Books / BAL department store
251 Yamazaki-cho
Kawaramachi-sanjo Sagaru

Sep 6, 2017

Japan travel diary: Tokyo quilt exbhibition and denim made in Japan

Visited a small quilt exhibition and market in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. It was held in a large department store. We arrived a few minutes before 10 am and there were quite a few quilters waiting in line to get in. Quilters can always spot other quilters!

Here are two highlights.

The taupe quilt is called "Victoria and Albert" and was made by Yoko Saito. This quilt is featured in my new book and if you read it, you'll learn about Kameda Jima, a very special woven fabric used in this quilt and how its still being made today by a handful of waevers in the Niigata region of Northern Japan.

The other highlight for me was this stunning swirl of small circles made by Yoshiko Katagiri. The hundreds of small circles are all made from antique silk kimono, and hand appliqued. The quilt is also hand quilted. Antique silk kimono, paired with this chalky black cotton background, is her signature style.  If you want to read more about her story, she is featured in my first book "Japanese Contemporary Quilts and Quilters."

This lovely lady had an exquisite booth of handmade sashiko clothing! She makes everything herself using antique textiles and sashiko stitching.

My friend Noriko Endo and I walked through all the vendor booths... fabric, purses, patterns, and notions. Just two aisles of booths - mostly commercial cotton. Not too much antique or specialty fabrics.

After a morning of quilts, I headed off to a store that sells denim made in Japan. 'Evisu the Tokyo' is the name of the store, and its near the Ebisu metro stop.

Japanese denim, or Japan Blue as its sometimes called, is coveted by denim afficiandos! The denim is made at very small boutique mills and designed and constructed domestically.  Evisu is kind of famous for their seagull logo. I had way too much fun in here!

Good night Tokyo. See you next time. I'm off to Osaka and Kyoto.

Sep 5, 2017

From Houston to Japan: escaping floods to arrive where a nuclear missle flew

These are the faces of my friends. A week ago, North Korea flew a loaded nuclear missle over their heads. I should have been in Tokyo that day. But I was stranded in Houston - surrounded by flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey.

August 29, 6:02 a.m. - every cell phone in Northern Japan is warned to take cover.

Television is interrupted with straight forward warnings - take cover. The threat is serious.

Ten minutes later, it was over. The missile broke up and landed in the ocean. Thank God!

Sitting in Houston, worried sick about my family and friends, watching in horror as the water rose higher and higher... I saw the breaking news of the missle launch over Northern Japan. It was unbelievable, and confirmation that the world was officially off kilter.

My flight that day had been cancelled. Both Houston airports were under water and would stay that way for several more days. I managed to make arrangements to fly out of Dallas on Wednesday... all the while hoping the roads would be clear enough to drive.

By noon on Wednesday, there was one freeway with outbound lanes open in the whole city. My husband offered to drive me and we got on the freeway. It had been raining for 5 days and was still raining. And never mind that the only open road was in the wrong direction. We just needed to get far enough out of the flooding to find a route that would get us to Dallas. About 6 hours later we made it. On Thursday I got a flight from Dallas to Denver, and then on to Narita Airport.

Everywhere I went, I heard people talking about Houston. I felt like I should've been wearing a badge: "I'M FROM HOUSTON." It was all so strange. So many family and friends from out of town called and texted to check on us. And during the days and days of rain and flooding, I had been constantly checking on our huge extended family in Houston.

My niece and her husband are both meterologists for the National Weather Service. They lived at their office for nearly a week. At home, they have 3 kids and their house is in an area where there was a lot of flooding and thousands of evacuations were taking place. Amazingly, their house is ok.

Our home did not flood, but several of our relatives have flooded homes. Others have been under mandatory evacuation and were only able to return home yesterday.

My husband works in television news. He had taken an assignment with ABC News and they sent him and a crew to Port Aransas on Thursday (a full week earlier). The storm hit there Friday night. We kept in contact until the storm wiped out all communcations from the Rockport / Port Aransas area. I did not hear from him until 3 am Sunday morning. It was a tough day. In my brain, I knew he was fine. After all, I figured if anything had happened to the crew the other media crews working in the area would be all over it. But still... you worry.

My friends in Japan sent notes to check on me. The whole world was watching Houston.

I arrived safely in Tokyo and had one day to prepare for an event I had scheduled months earlier to celebrate the new book. As everyone arrived at the reception, their first words were to ask about our house and family. I held my hand to my thigh and indicated Houston had received almost 1 meter of water in some parts. They were awestruck.

But, speaking of awestruck. What about those missles? I mean, OMG!

"Ahhhhh.... yeah," they said. Shaking their heads. Trying quickly to move on to the next topic. When I finally sat down with one of my friends later that night, I tried to get more reaction. Were you scared? What did you do? Are you worried about what they will do next?

One thing I have learned over the years of interviewing people and doing research in Japan, is that the Japanese are not big on drama. They are very practical people. And they try to keep their individual emotions in check.

Those who would talk about it told me how the cell phone warning woke them. They are used to getting warnings like this for earthquakes. But this one was different and they were trying to take it all in. Most said they just stared at the screen on their phone or the tv, not sure what to do. Before they could really decide anything, it was over. For now anyway.

So now what? The powers that be are all trying to figure that out. Please God, let's not have another war. But, please God - stop that guy!

My friends may not express their fear with me, but I know their fear is real.

Houston will recover. But a nuclear missle? There are no words.

Sep 2, 2017

Japan book launch: happy times

Anytime a group of artists gather, there is sure to be lots of energy and enthusiasm.
Precious! Yasuko Saito, Akiko Iki, Akemi Narita and Akiko's lovely daughter!

Yasuko Saito and me, in front of her quilt "Movement" (featured in my book).

Keiko Goke and me.
Group photo.

And the artists who came from all over Japan to help celebrate the launch of my new book certainly brought lots of both!
It was quite fun to watch as each person picked up their copy of "Cotton & Indigo from Japan" and saw their story for the first time.

The reception was held on Saturday afternoon (Sept 2) at the Amuse Museum in Asakusa, Japan (outskirts of Tokyo). This quirky, contemporary museum has a permemant collection of boro (which means antique textiles that are old, patched, rags).

Guests came from Osaka, Niigata, Kyoto, Sendai, Ohara, and all over the wide swath of Tokyo. It was such an honor that they would travel so far to be a part of this event.
Akemi Narita.

The fashionable Akiko Iki!

Quilter Yaskuo Saito and Indigo dyer Toru Shimomura.
Telling this story was really important to me. I believe that I have helped preserve an important part of Japan's textile history. And all the artists who are featured in this book are also doing such incredible work to preserve these traditions, and also push new ideas forward into the future. They are heros who have chosen the path of art. And their aesthtic is alluring.
Asakusa - the golden hour of light!
From left, Akemi Narita, Keiko Goke, Masahiko Sotowa - President of Yuwa, Yoko Ueda, Etsuko Misaks, Hisako Fukui - Yuwa Executive, Shizuko Kuroha, and me.

I hope others enjoy reading their stories and learning about Japan's history with cotton and indigo. Its certainly captured my attention! And after years of work and research, the book is ready to make its way out into the world! Launch complete

Indigo dyer Ken-ichi Utsuki.

A lovely bouquet sent for the event.

From left, Jackie Sakuraoka, Yasuko Saito, me, Shizuko Kuroha.

Sep 1, 2017

Japan travel diary: shibori, noodles and the post office

Day one is done.

Today kicked off with a stunning shibori exhibition at the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum in Shinjuku. Its a small musuem, but this exhibition was beautiful. Shibori from all over the world, plus display of only Japanese shibori. Sorry... I was not allowed to take any photos inside. Bummer, cuz it was so cool. I did see a lot of fashion students visiting and it was fun to see their reaction as they learned more about how shibori is made.

Next on the agenda... dealing with copies of my new books, lots of  them.

After you've written a book, there is one big job left: distributing it.

First step is to get the book in the hands of all the people who contributed to the research... everyone who gave a significant amount of time... everyone who shared their talent (and images!) with me... and for this book, of course, those individuals are mostly in Japan.

These details may seem totally boring to anyone but me... When the book was finished a few weeks ago, I had several cases of books shipped from the printer directly to Japan. Books are very heavy and very expensive to ship. I don't know how other publishers work, but all of these costs are on me... and it cost $450 for shipping alone (yikes...!). Oh well, the cost of doing business.

My dear friend and lifeline, Akemi Narita, helped me find the closest post office and we labeled the books and schlepped them off. The effecient staff there assured me the books would arrive at their destination the next day! Super effecient - as these are going all over Japan.

Finally, we had a lovely lunch of noodles. The great thing about Japan, is you can pretty much walk in to any restaurant and be guaranteed a good meal. I've always found New York to be the same way. We had some great noodles. Love being back in Japan.

Now  time for a little shopping! The dreamy, high-end department store - Isetan - (in Shinjuku) is hosting a very large handicraft and food/drink exhbition. One of the indigo dyers featured in my new book was there with a display of his beautiful hand-dyed clothing and accessories.

It was so fun to re-connect. We stay in touch through Facebook. By the way --- his FB page is @aizomeya for anyone to wants to follow him.

He spent about 18 months getting ready for this one event! Some items even took longer. He's partnered with local garment designers and they make these lovely, one of a kind clothes - mostly cotton, some linen - and then he dyes them. As I studied each item, he could tell me just how many times he dipped these items to get the incredibly deep indigo hues and intricate designs.

I bought some lovely tops and I'm just in awe of the craftsmanship. When I wear these, it might be only me that recoginizes that these are handmade, indigo dyed shirts made by an artist who has dedicated his life to keeping Japan's textile traditions alive. And that's good enough for me.