Fibre art & textiles exhibitions in Kyoto May 2023

kyoto exhibitionA table full of textiles, fashion and craft exhibition leaflets at the Kawashima textile school

While Tokyo’s art museums and galleries regularly hosts major contemporary art and design exhibitions, Kyoto is THE place to visit if you are interested in traditional Japanese crafts and textiles. When I was staying at the Kawashima textile school, my weaving classmates and I would take the opportunity to see the various textiles exhibitions in the city on the weekends.

One of the most mesmorising exhibitions that we saw was ‘Fiber art by Fifteen’, showcasing extraordinary fibre art works by 15 Japanese fibre artists. Although fibre art became an international movement in the 1960s-70s, its ambiguity also became a hindrance and most people don’t know how to define or classify it. Is it textile art? Craft? Sculptural textile? Conceptual art? For decades, the term ‘fibre art’ seems a bit dated, and fibre artists were not considered as real ‘artists’ except for Sheila Hicks. However, in recent years, the perception on fibre art has changed and it is being taken more seriously. At last. This fibre art exhibition introduced us to 15 contemporary Japanese fibre artists, who use textiles and washi to creat unique and beautiful sculptural or 2-dimensional pieces.

fiber art exhibition  chieko maedashigeo kubotaTop right: Chieko Maeda; Bottom: Shigeo Kubota

tetsuo kusamatatsumi ushioai itohiroko ote  hiroko oteTop: Tetsuo Kusama; 2nd row: Tatsumi Ushio; 3rd row: Ai Ito; bottom row: Hiroko Ote

I was particularly impressed by Kazuyo Onoyama (born in 1951 in Tokushima)’s fibre feather as each one looks so delicate and light… her works look stunning both from afar and up close!

Kazuyo OnoyamaKazuyo OnoyamaKazuyo OnoyamaKazuyo Onoyama

On the top of Daimaru department store, there was a rare chance to see ‘The 57th Japan Traditional arts exhibition 2023’ exhibiting splendid traditional kimono that showcase different techniques like kasuri, katazomi and yuzen etc.

kimono  kimonoThe Daimaru award was awarded to the artisan who made this Kurume Kasuri kimono, which is traditional technique that dates back over 200 years, and recognised as an important intangible cultural property of Japan.

kimono  kimono

kimono  kimono

We also visited Musee de Some Seiryu, the world’s first museum dedicated to contemporary dye art works. The exhibition we saw featured abstract dyed textile pieces by textile artist, Motono Toichi (1916- 1996). Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside, but it was interesting to see the modern textile art pieces by a Japanese textile artists who is not less well-known in the West.

motono toichiMotono Toichi exhibition

Another interesting museum nearby is Hosotsuji Ihee Museum, a museum dedicated to tenugui/ a traditional hand (or multipurpose) cloth. The museum is named after the fabric merchant Hosotsuji Ihee, who established one of Japan’s oldest continuously running businesses, Eirakuya, in 1615. Initially dealing in silk fabrics, Eirakuya eventually shifted to selling cotton as it became more and more popular in Japan and still has 9 shops in Kyoto.

In 2018, the Eirakuya company opened the Museum to showcase the diverse art and craftsmanship of tenugui as well as to archive the history of the shop. It exhibits Eirakuya’s past designs and offers a glimpse into its history, as well as into the future of the art. The exhibition we saw was called ‘Modern girls’ and it featured some wonderful art deco style illustrations on the tenugui. There is also a shop on the ground floor that sells many interesting tenugui with contemporary illustrations.

Hosotsuji Ihee MuseumHosotsuji Ihee MuseumHosotsuji Ihee MuseumHosotsuji Ihee Museum  Hosotsuji Ihee MuseumHosotsuji Ihee MuseumHosotsuji Ihee Museum

 

Kyoto’s textile heritage: Kawashima textile museum & kasuri in Nishijin

Kawashima textile museumkawashima textile schoolKawashima textile museum

One reason I love Kyoto is that it is full of hidden gems, and there are always pleasant surprises whenever I visit. One of the least touristy museums in Kyoto has to be the Kawashima textile museum partly due to its distance from the centre, but also down to the fact that prebooking necessary for the visit. After our 2 week course, we were granted a guided tour of the Kawashima textile factory followed by a museum tour near the school. It was a real privilege to visit the factory to see how the large-scale tapestries were designed and produced. I was particularly impressed by a room full of vintage and Jacquard looms, even though they are now dormant.

The Kawashima Selkon Textiles company was founded in 1843, and The Kawashima Textile Museum opened in 1889 is the oldest company museum in Japan. One of the missions that Kawashima Selkon Textile company aimed to achieve was to continue to contribute to development of textile culture by preserving and educating the public on the history of textile crafts and techniques. In order to achieve this goal, the company constructed the Ichihara plant in 1964 handled by 4th Jimbei Kawashima, which includes the factory, office, museum and school with dormitory.

kawashima textile schoolKawashima textile museumKawashima textile museum

Opened under the name Museum of Art Specimens, the museum exhibits masterfully-woven textiles produced by the company over the last 170 years, as well as historic textile artifacts and exhibits. There are over 150,000 items in the museum, ranging from dyed and woven textiles, 7th Century textile artworks (jodai-gire), historically notable works (meibutsu-gire), Chinese fabrics, Coptic fabrics, traditional costumes, books and drawings. In recent years, the company has also collaborated with renowned international designers to produce new home furnishings and furniture. During our visit, there was an exhibition on the new collaboration, which were exhibited at the Milan design week.

The following day, we headed to Nishijin, Kyoto’s famed historic textile district to visit Kasai kasuri atelier specialising in kasuri (). Kasuri is a form of double ikat dyeing, which creates splashed patterns characterised by their blurred edges ( ‘kasuri’ means blurring) on the textiles. Originated in ancient India, the history of kasuri dates back to 5th century Kyoto in the Nishijin district where local weavers worked.

Currently, double ikat is practised in only three countries in the world: India, Indonesia and Japan. Unlike single ikat, the warp and weft are both resist-tied according to a specific design and, when woven, intermesh seamlessly to reveal the pattern. Hence, the process of preparing the warp and weft yarns for dyeing demands the same degree of mathematical precision as the process of weaving the textile on the loom. In 2019, I visited Patan in Gujarat, which is famous for Patola, a double ikat woven sari, usually made from silk. At the Patan Patola museum, aside from demonstrations and exhibits on the locally made textiles, there were also double ikat textiles from Indonesia and kasuri textiles on display. This shows that the curators at the museums view kasuri and Indonesian ikat textiles on par with their intricate Patola textiles.

nishijin  nishijinkasai kasuri nishijinThe kasai kasuri atelier is located in the historic Nishijin textile district

Sadly, like many traditional crafts around the globe, the craftsmandship of kasuri is under threatened due to less demands for kimono and obi, aging artisans and fewer young people wanting to learn a craft that is time-consuming and requires meticulous care as well as precision. Now one of the ‘youngest’ (middle-aged) artisan working in Nishijin is Ikuko Kasai, who is determined to preserve and pass on the invaluable craftsmanship that has been passed on for centuries.

We felt very grateful to have spent the afternoon at the atelier learning about the process of kasuri. In Nishijin, each artisan specialises in only one task, hence they all have to collaborate together to create the kimono or obi piece. Usually a custom-made kimono would take around 6 months and 20 artisans to complete, which explains the high price tag. At her atelier, Kasai san is responsible for the marking and wrapping of the yarn to be resist-dyed at a differenet dye studio. After the initial dyeing process, the dyed yarn returns to her studio again for a second wrapping, and this process can be repeated multiple times depending on the colours on the design. After the dyeing process, the dyed threads are spunned around a drum-like machine called Taiko (see below). The next stage is called ‘hamekomi’ when the threads are counted and arranged according to the design. The last stage involves the threads are hung on a machine called ‘hashigo’ (meaning ladder – see below), and passing through metal rods at various height, so that the horizontal lines are shifted vertially to create the unique kasuri patterns. The finished yarn is then ready to be shipped to the weavers to be woven.

kasai kasuri kasai kasuri  kasai kasurikasai kasurikasai kasuri  kasai kasurikasai kasurikasai kasuri  kasai kasuri

One thing really struck me during and after the visit, and it was Kasai san’s immense passion for her craft and her determination to pass on the craftsmanship. She was always smiling while explaing her work and techniques, but I am sure her road has not been easy so far. With dwindling orders for custom-made kimono and obi, the presevation of the heritage and craftsmanship is crucial for the Nishijin craftsmen/ artisans. Undoubtedly, they have a tough road ahead of them, but I think with the resurgence of traditional crafts like shibori, natural dyeing and weaving etc in recent years, there is hope for things to change.

 

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.

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

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

Ichiharaichiharamaple leavesmaple leavesichiharaichiharaichihara  ichihara

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.

img_2029-min  img_2708-min img_2821-minimg_2712-min  img_1995-minimg_2710-min  img_2722-min

 

Two-day natural dyeing workshops at Aranya Natural, Munnar

aranya natural

 

The first two days of “The sustainability of natural dyes” conference took place at Eastend hotel in Munnar, followed by two days of natural dyeing workshops (at an extra cost) at Aranya Natural’s HQ. Due to limited numbers, all the spaces for the workshops filled up quickly, but many conference attendees requested to stand by and watch, which subsequently overfilled the workshops on the first day.

It was hard to blame those who wanted to watch the workshops as it was a rare opportunity to learn from three leading natural dyeing experts and a group of Japanese indigo farmers and dyers. Since the process of natural dyeing involves the understanding of chemistry, many of the experts would focus more on the chemistry rather than the aesthetics. To me, this is quite valuable, as I believe it is crucial to understand the science behind it all in order to achieve the desired results.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

 

The first workshop that I attended was conducted by Michel Garcia, a world-renowned botanist, chemist, dyer, and naturalist. He is the founder of Couleur Garance (1998) in Lauris, France, and established Le Jardin Conservatoire de Plantes Tinctoriales (Botanical Garden of Dye Plants) in 2000. I have long wanted to attend a workshop by Michel, but he doesn’t seem to conduct many regular workshops, and I can only watch his videos online. In person, he is very funny, passionate and creative, you can really feel his passion for plants and natural dyeing.

In natural dyeing, a mordant is often needed to fix the dyes onto the textiles, and the most common mordant used is alum/potassium aluminium sulfate. At the workshop, Michel demonstrated how to use old tea leaves as a natural mordant, which was very interesting. However, the workshop was extremely packed, which made it difficult for us to hear and follow him properly. It was a shame that this issue was only addressed on the next day.

 

aranya natural  michel garcia

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

Screen printing workshop using natural dyes with Michel Garcia

 

The afternoon workshop was conducted by Jagada Rajappa, who is an independent textile entrepreneur/consultant on natural dyes. She demonstrated dyeing silk yarn with kapila (mellotus Phllipinces) and lac (coccous Lacca), which resulted in vibrant red and yellow. The results revealed that naturally dyed colours are not dull and muted as many would expect.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

Jagada Rajappas workshop and ceremony

 

The next day, the workshops were restricted to those who had originally enrolled, which made more sense. The first workshop was conducted by Linda LaBelle, who is a weaver and natural dyer specialising in indigo. She also runs the website The Yarn Tree that sells fair-trade indigo and other natural dyed items. After yesterday’s observational workshops, I was longing to get my hands dirty. Finally, we got to do some doodling with natural indigo on some cotton fabric that has been pre-dyed in myrobalan. It was a fun session and we got to taste some indigo tea grown by Linda.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

Indigo Doodles workshop with Linda LaBelle

 

The last session was the one I had been looking forward to since I signed up months ago. Buaisou was established in Tokushima by a collective of indigo farmers in 2015, and it is partly responsible for the revival of natural indigo worldwide in recent years. Not only it has over 44K followers on Instagram, it also collaborates frequently with other fashion and textiles companies to promote Japanese indigo and the colour ‘Japan Blue’. Buaisou is renowned for its indigo leaf farming – from cultivating the raw indigo, fermenting the indigo leaves (Sukumo), dyeing, and designing, all the way to production. Since the fermentation process takes around 10 days, Kyoko (the manager) had to arrive 2 weeks earlier to set up the vat.

 

buaisou

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop  buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

 

Since I have previously tried katagami (making paper stencils for dyeing textiles) and katazome (the Japanese method of dyeing fabrics using a resist paste applied through a stencil) with Bryan Whitehead in Japan (see my earlier post), I was quite familiar with the process. This time, I didn’t need to design and cut my own stencils as there were many beautiful and complex precut designs to choose from. We were all given a cotton bandana to work on, and after applying the paste through the stencils, we all took turns to dip the fabric into the indigo vat with some guidance.

I would say this was a taster workshop, and would love to learn more from them when I next visit Tokushima (which was supposed to happen this year but it got cancelled because of COVID-19).

 

buaisou workshop  buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

 

After the workshop, it was time to say goodbye to everyone. Over the four days, I made many new friends from around the world who share the same passion as me, and got the opportunity to chat to many experts in the field, hence the conference has exceeded all my expectations. The fact that it managed to take place just before COVID-19 became a pandemic was extremely lucky.

After exchanging contacts with many attendees, a few of us decided to walk back to town and have dinner together. It was a pleasant walk downhill and we had a fun girls’ night out – something that I haven’t done for a long time.

In the past few years, the pursue of natural dyeing has opened doors for me and enabled me to make new friends from around the world. This was completely unexpected, and it made me realise that I am on the right path.

 

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

munnar

munnar

aranya natural

munnar

munnar

 

 

African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection at Brunei Gallery

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Often it is easy to miss many excellent exhibitions in a big city like London, especially after Timeout got rid of its exhibitions listing when it became a free magazine. Meanwhile, the few art listing apps don’t seem to be comprehensive either. This is when Instagram can be useful sometimes… it was a post that caught my attention and brought me to The African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection exhibition at SOAS’s Brunei Gallery. Thanks to this post, I managed to see the remarkable exhibition before it ended. I felt that the show was not given the publicity it deserved, and many people who are interested in the subject probably would have missed it like I almost did.

The Karun Thakar Collection is one of the world’s largest private collections of African textiles, and this exhibition showcased 150 exhibits and textiles from west and north Africa including Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. Karun Thakar is a passionate collector of textiles, and it would be hard not to be impressed by the outstandling and vast collection.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collectionimg_4997-min

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

In recent years, I have devoted more of my time to the world of textiles. One of the reasons why textiles fascinate me so much is the important roles they play in every culture throughout history. Every handmade textile tells a story, which reveals the fascinating tradition of where it comes from. Often I am surprised by the similarities between textiles made from different parts of the world. The language of textiles is universal and it can break through all cultural barriers.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Before the exhibition, I knew very little about African textiles, so I was quite blown away by the vibrant colour combinations, primitive patterns, and the variety of weaving and dyeing techniques. Aside from large hangings, there were also rugs, costumes, jewellery, and even a wonderful selection of woven hats.

There were some distinctive stripweave ‘kente’ or ‘nwentoma‘ cloths made by the Ashanti and Ewe tribes from Ghana at the exhibition. The cloths have interwoven checkered patterns made of silk and cotton fabrics, and each colour has a symbolic meaning.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

I particularly loved the Indigo room, which was full of indigo-dyed textiles. Indigo is an ancient dye, and the oldest known indigo-dyed textile was discovered in 2009 at Huaca Prieta, Peru dating to 6,000 years ago. Yet the practice of indigo-dyeing also has a long history in India, Japan, China, S.E.Asia, Iran, Africa and Europe. In Egypt, blue stripes found in the borders of Egyptian linen mummy cloths were dated around 2400 BC.

Inside the room, there were many indigo pieces from West India (partcicularly from Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon), where the tradition of indigo dyeing has been practised for centuries. It was really interesting to see works created by the resist-dyed technique; although they are not as refined and sophisticated as the ones in Japan, the primitive aesthetics make them unique, and immensely different from the bold and colourful ones in the other rooms.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

If you missed the exhibition, you can buy the book ‘African Textiles’ published by Prestel, 2015. My wish, though, is that one day Mr Karun Thakar’s collection would get a permanent space somewhere so that the public can admire and learn more about the beautiful textiles from this continent.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Festival of Natural Fibres & Saori weaving at Craft Central

craft central  craft central

 

Even though I live in London, I don’t often venture away from my neighbourhood or the centre, and I had no idea where the Isle of Dogs is until I looked it up on google. I have not been to the Craft Central‘s new venue since they moved across town more than two years ago. Their new space is a Grade II listed Victorian (1860) forge with many historic features located Isle of Dogs not far from Canary Wharf. The spacious industrial building was converted by Emrys Architects to provide artist studios and exhibition hall for crafts people and other creative professionals.

I missed the Festival of Natural fibre in Sept, but I attended part 2 of the festival in November. Organised by Khadi London, Freeweaver SAORI Studio, ONE and Craft Central, the festival aimed to showcase the best ethical and sustainable products, and discussed current trends and challenges in the revolution in the global textiles industry. Personally, I I believe that when the public learn more about the environmental damage caused by fast fashion, many are likely to change their shopping habits (though it takes times), and this festival highlights the beauty and sustainability of textiles and fashion made from natural fibres.

 

craft central  craft central

craft central  craft central

 

There were textiles workshops throughout the day, but unfortunately they were all fully booked when I tried to book. It shows the popularity of these craft workshops nowadays!

 

craft central  craft central

craft central

craft central

craft central

 

There was a demonstration of Indian Charkha wheel spinning, a craft that is often associated with Mahatma Gandhi and regarded as the symbol of the Provisional Government of Free India. The handwoven cloth spun by the wheel is called Khadi, which is usually made of cotton or other natural fiber cloth originating from India and Bangladesh. Also, the yarn used is dyed naturally, so it is much more sustainable than synthetic dyes.

 

craft central  craft central

house of tamarind  house of tamarind

Bottom: House of tamarind

 

At the event, there were some items that are woven with natural fibres in the Japanese Saori weaving style, which I found quite fascinating. Established by Misao Jo (1913-2018) at the age of 57, Saori is free style hand weaving with no rules or restrictions. There is a sense of freedom and liberation, and it enables the weaver to express his/her creativity through the weaving.

Although I couldn’t sign up for the workshop on the day of the festival, I did sign up for a workshop with textiles artist Erna Janine from Freeweaver Saori studio a few weeks after the event ended. Erna helped us to set up the loom and asked us to pick from a wide range of coloured threads from her studio.

 

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori

 

For next few hours, we were just weaving away and being as creative as possible. Since there were no rules, I decided to go a bit ‘wild’ and make a more 3-D piece with the wool I found. I absolutely loved the experience, and I wished that the workshop was longer. I used to think that weaving is a boring and repetitive task, but this workshop completely changed my mind, and I am hoping to learn more about this craft in the future.

 

craft central

freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

 

LDF19: Biodesign Here Now at Open Cell

open cell

OPEN CELL

OPENCELL

 

After my recent visit to the biotech hub Open Cell at the Shepherds Bush Market, I was keen to learn more about biodesign and its future. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long because at the London Design Festival this year, Open Cell organised an event called Biodesign Here Now at its premise over one weekend.

The event showcased over 30 emerging international designers and startups with innovative ideas that are breaking boundaries between biology, design, and technology. Although I missed the fashion show on the opening night, I did manage to visit the exhibition and listen to some designers talk about their projects.

 

bio design now

Yggdrasil

Yggdrasil – an architecture collective of PhD researchers from Newcastle University specialising in living technologies for the future. Our mission is to challenge conventional methods of construction by proposing an ecocentric alternative. We believe that the buildings of the future should be living, breathing and inclusive of nature.

 

Paula Nerlich

Paula Nerlich – her current research explores vegan biodegradable bioplastics and foams from industrial and household food waste with diverse possible applications within interiors and product design.

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic (in collaboration with Bartlett School of Architecture) – ‘Biogenic Luminosity’  is a research project that questions ‘flat’ appearance and unsustainability of synthetic materials in comparison to those of biogenic and geologic origin.

 

Mohammad Jawad

Mohammad Jawad

Mohammad Jawad – Manufactured by Nature: Growing Generatively Designed Products

 

Post Carbon Lab

Post Carbon LabPost Carbon Lab

Post Carbon Lab – a design research studio launched their service pilots of two pioneering microbiological processes for sustainable and regenerative fashion applications: Bacterial Pigment Dyeing and Photosynthesis Coating on fabrics and garments.

 

Studio Aurelie Fontan  Studio Aurelie Fontan

Aurelie Fontan is a sustainable fashion designer, with a focus on bio-design and circular economy (including zero-waste production methods in texture making and cutting). Her collection includes a bio-designed dress from bacteria, recycled materials and four fully recycled leather outfits, none of them being sewn together but rather linked through innovative re-usable elements that allow complete disassembly and recycling.

Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

BIO DESIGN  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

Piero D’Angelo’s Wetwear Couture uses Physarum Polycephalum/slime mould to create fascinating fashion pieces

 

OPEN CELL

Nicole Stjernswärd KAIKU Living Color

Nicole Stjernswärd KAIKU Living Color

Nicole Stjernswärd – KAIKU Living Color is a sustainable alternative to colours made from petroleum. KAIKU uses plant waste to create natural powder pigments. Many plants & fruits we eat every day, such as avocados, onions, and oranges, have valuable colors within their skins and peels. Normally these are left to rot in landfills, but KAIKU transforms this waste into a high value resource.

 

img_2253  img_2251

img_2252

Nikoletta Karastathi & Zafer Tandogdu’s ‘Awareness of the Microbial World’ explores antimicrobial resistance and the human-microbe relationship as key concepts for creating bio-textile.

 

Carolyn Raff

Carolyn Raff uses Agar Agar, an algae based gelatin substitute for many different experiments as a new kind of bioplastic. The complete biodegradable material can be created in many different shades, looks and structures. It is dyed with natural dye, mainly with algae based colours, such as astaxanthin and phycocyanin.

 

Mira Nameth Biophilica

Mira Nameth Biophilica  Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia - 'Made by moths'

Top & bottom left: Mira Nameth – ‘Biophilica’ is the result of a year long material development, working with plant-based resources. Biophilica materials are truly local, biodegradable, and recyclable.
Bottom right: Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia – ‘Made by moths’ is a project that investigates the potential of clothes moths and their digestive enzymes as collaborators in selecting and breaking down keratin-based textile-waste.

 

Silvio Tinello - 'Grown Objects'
Silvio Tinello – ‘Grown Objects’ is a collection where all the producrs have been bio-fabricated. This means, grown and harvested using biological processes. Grown in two predominant materials: A fungi bio agglomerate and bacterial cellulose, both grown in yerba mate: part of the “argentine cultural DNA’.

Lindsay Hanson, Margot Vaaerpass and Zaki Musa Resistance Runner  Wearable Lab on Body

Left: Lah Studio – ‘The Resistance Runner’ is a bio-formulated shoe that utilizes cloned bacteriocins and micrococcus in a nutrient broth cocktail; essentially harnessing the bacteria’s own defense system as a protective layer. 

Right: MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group creates ‘Wearable Lab on Body’ wearable systems and interfaces for cognitive enhancement.

Valentina Dipietro Mychrome

Valentina Dipietro – ‘Mychrome’ is a project that explores the possibility of mycelium and its surface applications. Mycelium is the vegetative part of mushrooms and it has been used to bind agricultural waste and create new sustainable materials which are naturally fire retardant, insulating and sound-absorbing. Dipietro likes to focus on designing with waste as well as using it as a pigment to dye and finish her materials.

Midushi Kochhar A waste project

Midushi Kochhar – ‘A waste project’ is made from by-products of poultry industry, namely, eggshells and feathers. The aim is to create alternatives for plastic disposables and encourage sustainable living. All the objects are 100% biodegradable and once their purpose is over, they can literally be crushed and thrown away in the compost.

 

Pat Pataranutaporn wearable lab on body

Pat Pataranutaporn from MIT gave a talk on the future of ‘Wearable Lab on Body’

 

Denimaize

Denimaize

Denimaize gave a talk on denim made from corn husk

 

The last talk of the day was by Denimaize, a studio from the University of Pennsylvania, which includes bio-designers, artists and engineers. They use wasted and diseased corn husks and process them to extract their cellulose fibers. The corn fibers are spun with flax and woven in a twill pattern. The fabric is then coloured with microbial dye and relaxed with cellulase enzymes. Denimaize is a response to the dominance of the corn crop in the U.S. and the waste it generates, as well as the pollution in the denim industry. Denimaize is proposing a biological (albeit corny) alternative to the old way of denim processing.

The weekend event was interesting and inspiring, and it is very encouraging to see so many designers, startups and innovators coming up with sustainable solutions to address the issues our planet is facing right now. Sustainability is not a trend, it has to be here to stay for the sake of our future.

 

 

London design festival: Kings Cross design district

coaldropsyard

coaldropsyard  coaldropsyard

Coal Drops Yard

 

This year, the ever-changing Kings Cross was chosen as the design district for the first time at the London design festival. Aside from the annual design trade show, DesignJunction, there were many exhibitions and activities taking place during the festival.

I received a trade preview invitation to visit Designjunction, so I set off earlier to see what was happening in the area. The initial installations I encountered were two giant wooden sculptures that resembled robots. Designed by Steuart Padwick, the “Talk to me” installations were designed to ‘converse’ with passerby, as part of Designjunction in support of the charity Time to Change to encourage Londoners to talk about mental health.

 

img_1841-min  img_1842-min

‘Talk to me’ installations

 

img_1844-min  img_1845-min

Camille Walala’s installations

 

Probably the most ‘bizarre’ installation at the design festival was “Disco Carbonara”, by London-based Italian furniture designer Martino Gamper. Inpspired by the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and a Potemkin village, the designer used film sets and scaffolding to create a temporary structure. There was disco music playing inside and a bouncer standing outside stamping visitor’s hands, yet there was nothing inside… it was just a façade.

The fake disco structure was made from a patchwork of cladding created from waste offcuts from an Italian company called Alpi. The conceptual installation aimed to make visitors think about urban design, and the sustainability of temporary structures created for short-term events like the London design festival.

 

Disco Carbonara by Martino Gamper

Disco Carbonara by Martino Gamper

 

Tottex and Kiosk N1C 

Textile waste banner installations by Tottex and Kiosk N1C

 

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img_1905  img_1907

STORE Store making meringue

 

Granby Workshop launched a new range of ceramic tableware made from 100% waste materials. The range has grown out of extensive research by the Liverpool-based ceramics studio gathering, testing and analysing materials from a wide range of post-consumer and industrial waste streams including glass, metal and ceramic recycling, steel production, quarry spoils and water filtration. Collectively, these sources generate hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste per year which otherwise goes to landfill. The range is now available for purchase on Kickstarter.

 

Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop  Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop

 

tom dixon  tom dixon

tom dixon  tom dixon

TouchySmellyFeelyTastyNoisy at Tom Dixon

 

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg

PRINT – Bill Amberg Studio‘s new ccollection of digitally-printed leather hides are made with collaborators including Marcel Wanders, Calico Wallpaper, Solange Azagury-Partridge, Lisa Miller, Alexandra Champalimaud and artist Matthew Day Jackson.

 

Out of all the exhibits and events that I saw on the day, ‘Designing in the turbulent times‘ initiated by Maison/0 – the sustainable innovation programme created at Central Saint Martins in partnership with the luxury group LVMH – was by far the most interesting and thought-provoking. The exhibition showcased graduate projects from Central Saint Martins offering compelling propositions for more sustainable and equitable futures. “How can we break away from our current systems and adapt a more sustainable way of living?” is the question that we should all be thinking about, and here, these young designers are trying to address this issue in their work.

 

designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times  designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times

Maria Cuji

Bottom: Maria Cuji’s worked with artisans from Ecuador tp produce woven textile made from factory offcuts and leftover yarn.

 

'Weighting feathers' by Jing Jiang

'Weighting feathers' by Jing Jiang

‘Weighting feathers’ by Jing Jiang uses waste feathers from the farming industry to create a jewellery design range

 

Olivia Page

Olivia Page

Olivia Pages exploration on bio-waste materials and has created a “Recipe Book of North Portugal, Abundant Biological Wastes for Construction Materials”

 

designing in turbulent timesi  designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times

Grayshan Audren‘s ‘Seamless: Woven workwear for the automated future’ addresses the waste issue in the fashion industry; Top right: ‘Wool: Re Crafted’ by Nathalie Spencer is a vegan alternative to wool by utilising the discarded waste leaves of pineapples from markets and juice bars around London and processing the fibres into a wearable material. 

 

Tansy Hamley  Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley  Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley’s ‘An Indian traffic jam” display of blockprinted and indigo-dyed textiles at Central St Martins reminded me of my textiles trip in Indian earlier in the year.

 

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse showcased LSA’s new CANOPY collection, a partnership with the Eden Project alongside a range of products and concepts from brands such as Vitra, String Furniture, Artcoustic, with plants decorated by The Botanical Boys.

 

The organiser of designjunction changed this year, and the locations of the show were scattered around different parts of Kings Cross. I skipped the Canopy pop-up shops because there were too many activities happening at once! At the main Cubitt House Pavilion, there were less emerging designers and fewer exhibitors than before, which was quite disappointing. I visited my friends from Di Classe, had some drinks and decided to call it a night.

 

diclasse  di classe

img_1931

isokon  isokon

Designjunction at Cubitt House Pavilion

 

The last stop of the night was Designjunction’s Rado Star Prize in the King’s Cross Light Tunnel where they showcased design pieces by the next generation of young British designers. The theme, ‘Re:Imagine’, explored different ways design can improve life: by evolving existing product forms through materials, function, technology, end-use or even, re-use. Surprisingly, this section of the show was more interesting than the main pavilion, so I believe the organiser need to make some changes to improve the show next year.

 

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Top: Judges’ winner 2019 – Huw Evans’s Concertina collection

 

The art of paper: folding, pleating and manipulation

paper art

 

Unlike children today, when I think of my childhood, paper played a crucial role in my early days. Aside from drawing on paper, I collected paper bookmarks, writing paper, and stickers; I dressed up paper dolls with my classmates after school; I did origami and paper cutouts; I learned calligraphy and practised on translucent paper; I made birthday cards for my parents… It would be fair to say that paper dominated my childhood.

But like most people these day, I am spending more time in front of the computer, and I sorely miss the days of touching and playing with paper. It is not easy to find a course that focuses on paper art (and I don’t mean origami or pop up books), yet I came across a Paper art course at the The Camden college and I quickly signed up for it. I loved it.

 

paper art  paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

 

Years ago, I bought paper artist Peter Jackson‘s book ‘Folding techniques for designers’, and I have tried (and failed) to create some paper structures from the book. I have also applied some of the techniques onto textiles with some interesting results. Hence it was encouraging to know that our tutor/designer/artist Thomas Prendeville also used this book as a reference for the class.

 

paper art  textiles art

Manipulating textiles using folded paper moulds is fun too

 

One of the most basic techniques is learning to score, which means creating a crease in the paper so that it can be folded easily. Thomas suggested using a ‘dead’ pen and a metal ruler to score lines on the paper. Another important point to remember is the rule of mountain (high) and valley (low), which applies to everything we fold. Folding straight lines are not difficult, but patience is required if you are folding larger pieces. And it becomes more challenging when you fold curves, so the weight of the paper has to be considered.

 

paper art  paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

 

Paper folding feels like meditation to me. It is a meditative practice and you cannot rush it. Yet when you see the results, you would appreciate all the time and effort that has been put into it. Also, the possibilities are endless, and you can certainly apply the skills onto other materials like textiles and metal.

Architects like Thomas Heatherwick often applies paper folding techniques in his architectural work, e.g. the vents for a substation cooling system at Paternoster Square in London (2009) was derived from a piece of A4 paper. And for decades, Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake has applied the pleating techniques in his collections. He invented the ‘garment pleating technique’ back in the 80s and launched the Pleats Please collection in 1994, which is consisted of light, stretchable and wrinkle-proof garments for all shapes and sizes. In recent years, Miyake and his Reality Lab. team also launched IN-EI, an innovative lighting line produced by Italian lighting company Artemide.

 

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art  paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art  paper art

 

It always amaze me to see a flat piece of paper being transformed into a sculptural piece. I also love the shadow and light created by the ‘mountains and valleys’, which look beautiful when being photographed up close.

 

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

 

After scoring and folding for a few hours a week (plus homework time), we all improved and became quicker by the end of the course. Meanwhile, Thomas was keen to get us to make larger duplicates so that we could create hanging sculptures by connecting mutiple pieces together. Before I knew it, my place was filled with paper sculptures!

I thoroughly enjoyed the course and would love to carry on folding or apply the techniques elsewhere. Now all I need is paper, time, and a large studio.

Watch this space.

 

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art  paper art

 

Other interesting paper artists:

Richard Sweeney – an English paper artist who creates large sculptural paper installations. He has also published books on the subject.

Fung + Bedford studio – I became acquainted with Angela Fung at a Christmas design fair. Angela is a paper artist and jewellery designer who makes origami-inspired jewellery and large scale architectural paper sculptures for many U.K. art institutions.

Foldability – a London based design studio run by Kyla McCallum, a set designer and paper artist who has been working with origami for over 10 years. She also sells paper art and lighting on her website.

Aditi Anuj – a textile designer from Mumbai not only produces large-scale paper sculptural installations, but she also conducts workshop and collaborates with other artists.

 

 

London Craft Week 19: Contemporary Japanese craft

BUAISOU indigo hands

Indigo Hands installation at Coal Drops Yard

 

At the London Craft week this year, many Japanese craftsmen and artisans were invited to take part and showcase their exquisite craftsmanship. Although Japanese craft is highly regarded worldwide, the future of many traditional Japanese crafts is still uncertain due to the lack of younger people entering these fields. In the past, traditional craftsmanship is passed down from generation to generation within artisan families. However, due to dwindling demand, urbanisation, change of lifestyle and taste in Japan, few young people would want to dedicate their lives learning and perfecting an ‘old-fashioned’ craft. In order to preserve these crafts, artisans have to constantly evolve, collaborate, and innovate.

In recent years, the revival of natural and indigo dyeing proves that there is no such thing as an ‘old fashioned’ craft. After computer and mobile technology took over our lives for the past two decades, many people are now finding comfort and joy in making tactile craft again. 

 

BUAISOU indigo hands  BUAISOU indigo hands

 

Eastablished in 2015, BUAISOU is a young team of Japanese indigo farmers and artisans responsible for the revival of sukumo – dried and fermented indigo leaves – in Tokushima, the hometown of Ai Zome (natural indigo dye). Tokushima was the top producer of Ai Zome garments in Japan in the 19th century with around 4,000 aishi (sukumo farmers), but due to the introduction of synthetic indigo and other various factors, now only six are left.

At LCW, Coal Drops Yard commissioned BUAISOU to produce a series of handmade and hand dyed flags, and the team conducted several onsite dyeing workshops in KIOSK N1C. Unfortunately, I missed the workshops, but I do hope to visit their studio in Tokushima in the future.

At Heal’s, the Japanese Craft Market showcased ceramics, Mino washi, blades, and wood craft produced by thirteen exhibitors from the Gifu prefecture. I visited Mino and Takayama in the Gifu prefecture last year, so seeing the crafts brough back memories for me.

 

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Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

There are several towns in the Gifu prefecture that are famous for ceramics, including Mino, Toki, and Tajimi. In Tajima, there is Ceramics Park Mino, a ceramic museum and park that showcases Japanese ceramics. The town also holds an annual ceramic festival during the second weekend of April which attracts thousands of visitors to this area. The region has a lot of small and large scale producers making tiles and ceramic wares including household items, crockery, sculptures etc. as well as huge furnaces and other equipments for industrial purposes.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market   Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

The ancient town of Mino is famous for Washi (Japanese paper), which is used for shoji doors, umbrella, fans, lanterns and stationery. The high quality and durable handmade paper uses pristine water from the Nagara river and is considered as natioanl treasure in Japan. You can learn more from my previous entry on Mino here.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

As soon as I arrived at Hida Takayama in the Gifu Prefecture, a glass showcase of wood crafted furniture at the railway station caught my eye. The wood-abundant Hida has maintained a woodworking tradition for over 1,300 years. This region is famous for its skilled woodworkers and beautiful handcrafted furniture, and its minimalist aesthetic is similar to Scandinavian design.

I think the exhibition was a good introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Japan’s regional craft and design. I hope the Toyama prefecture will be next on the list.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu  Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

At the Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe in Mayfair, California-based mother and daughter team Shizu Designs demonstrated traditional Japanese basketry weaving techniques that transform rocks into art. Rattan or cane is used to wrap and tie the rocks with ornamental knots used in Japanese ikebana basketry. Shizu Okino and Karen Okino also contributed to the LOEWE Baskets accessories collection which features their signature style.

It was mesmerising to watch the two artisans working side by side. Basketry is another traditional craft that is being revived today, and I believe these collaborations are likely to make people appreciate traditional craftsmanship and see it in a different light.

 

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design  loewe

shizu design

 

To be continued…