Beginners weaving course at Kawashima Textile school 2023

kawashima textile schoolkawashima textile school  kawashima textile school

It is early June 2024, exactly a year after I completed the 2-week beginners weaving course at Kawashima Textile school in Kyoto, and I decided to share my experience one year on. One reason why I stopped updating the blog was because it is a very time-consuming task, and due to the pandemic, my life (like everyone else’s) changed drastically. Once I lost the incentive/ momentum/ habit, it is rather difficult to pick it up again. However, lately I have been thinking that it would be a shame not to share my experriences, especially my craft journey in Japan over last spring/summer.

The 3-month trip to Japan was originally planned for spring/summer 2020, but sadly it got postponed due to the pandemic. The Kawashima Textile school is a well-known vocational school in Kyoto that specialises in weaving. Every spring and autumn, it accepts only 5 international students onto their weaving courses out of hundreds of applicants. I was thrilled when I was got accepted, so it was particularly disaappointing when the school decided to stop the all the courses due to the pandemic. I refused to get a refund and opted to wait three years, which seemed to impress the teachers/admin of the school! Before the course, I knew very little about weaving and have only done some Saori/ free style weaving, which is quite different from traditional weaving. Shockingly, despite being the oldest person out of the 5 students, I was also the one with the least experience, which was a hindrance for me.

kawashima textile school  kawashima textile schoolkawashima textile schoolkawashima textile school  kawashima textile school

Founded in 1973 by Kawashima Textile Manufacturers Ltd to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the company, the school is one of the oldest textile academies in Asia. The internationally-renowned Kawashima Selkon Textiles (the company changed its name in 2006) is a fabric manufacturer founded in Kyoto in 1843, and it is particularly known for its tsuzure-weaving techniques used for large-scale stage curtains. Secludedly located in the suburbs North of Kyoto, the factory, school and museum (appointment only) are largely tourist-free, with only one small supermarket and one konbini near the railway station.

Surrounded by by mountains and beautiful nature, the school and dormitory were designed by renowned Japanese architect Shozo Uchii, and was warded with the Building Contractors Society Prize in 1975. The weaving room up in the main school looks absoultely splendid with row after row of vintage looms and equipment. Most of the tools that we used are original/vintage items and rare to find these days. Hence it was a real privileged to be able to stay and study in this environment and get acquianted with some local textile students.

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Over two weeks, we learned to dye woollen yarn using acid dye (not my usual preference, but I guess it is ok for this occasion), set up the large loom (which takes over a day), read the charts and weave some basic patterns. It all sounds pretty simple, but I found out that it is really not as simple as it sounds!

A lot of my friends were curious to know my reason for doing this course. I have never thought of learning to weave until I saw a few natural dyers who could weave too. It made me think that perhaps I could dye and weave by myself in the future (very idealistic). Also I enjoyed some saori weaving previously, so I thought I would make sense to learn the basics.

It turned out that I am completely hopeless at weaving and tying knots! I am a right-brained person, and I reckon that weaving is more suitable for people who are logical and diligent (which I am not). I never knew that setting up the loom would be so time-consuming – it requires a lot of concentration and meticulous care. After making a few mistakes while threading, I had to redo it all over again, which was very frustrating. Even while weaving, my threads constantly got tangled, and the more I tried to untangle, the worse it became, so I ended up spending hours after dinner in the weaving room trying to fix my mistakes.

kawashima textile schoolkawashima textile schoolkawashima textile schoolkawashima textile schoolkawashima textile school  woven scarf

After struggling for 2 weeks, I finally completely the 2 pieces thanks to Emma sensei’s patience and teachings, and I even received a certificate for it. Thankfully, I did not enroll onto the kasuri (double weaving) course right after, because I was told by my classmates that it was very complicated and even they struggled with it.

Despite it all, I am glad that I took the course and learned the basics of weaving, meanwhile I realised that weaving is not for me as I much prefer freestyle weaving, natural/indigo dyeing, shibori or block printing. However, it was interesting to spend three weeks staying in the suburbs of Kyoto exploring places that I normally would not visit if I was staying in the city centre.

IchiharaichiharaIchiharaichiharaimg_3559-minIchihara  eizan railway img_3559-mineizan railway  eizan railwayeizan railwayeizan railway

Ichihara is a quiet suburban town reachable via bus or the Eizan railway from the centre of Kyoto. The railway line ends in Kurama, a popular day trip destination for visiting the sacred Mount Kurama and its famous temples. The train journey is very scenic, with some special scenic trains and a maple tree tunnel, which I believe would like spectacular in autumn. Interestingly, the seating inside some trains were woven by Kawashima textile company, and I even spotted some small ‘photo-like’ woven tapestries at the Ichihara train station. It is easy to miss them as they look like ordinary sightseeing photos (see above)!

ichihara shrineichihara temple  ichihara templeichihara shrineichihara shrineThe Daijingu-sha Shrine behind the railway station

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Over the three weeks, my classmates and I would spend the weekends exploring either the city or its surrounding area. On weekdays, I would sometimes go for walks around the town after dinner. Since the town is located in the mountainous region, with Kurama river running through it, it is very tranquil as few Kyotojin would visit this area, let alone tourists.

I think the school has certainly picked the right location for its students as there isn’t much to do in the surrounding area, but nature is plentiful, thus very inspiring for the students. Sadly I learned that local students (especially male) who apply for the weaving courses have been dwindling in recent years as less youngsters are interested in becoming full-time weavers in this day and age. There are exchange programmes with schools overseas, and students can also get apprenticeship/jobs at the factory, but I am not sure if these are ‘appealing’ enough for them. I know that the school also runs short courses on weaving and natural dyeing for the locals, so I hope that these would help promote the school and the craft of weaving. It would be a real shame to lose the school as it is part of Kyoto’s craft heritage, and it needs to be preserved for future generations.

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