TBZ goes to Japan: Sashiko, Tie Dye, and Silk

TBZ goes to Japan: Sashiko, Tie Dye, and Silk

The last two days have been a bit of a whirlwind through Tokyo, Nagoya, and Kyoto. We’ve seen some stunning and inspiring traditional textile work and met some wonderful and chatty artists. Please enjoy this this picture heavy post!

(Special Note: I’ve learned that in Japan when something is called a “museum”, it isn’t always what American’s think of. The “museums” we’ve visited have all been artisans and craftsman that show off their work then kindly offer to sell you their art or supplies.)

We took a little drive to a village called Hinohara in Tokyo whre Akie Ginza’s Sashiko Museum is located. The drive was a lovely lightly winding tour though the mountains with Mount Fuji ever present in the background.  Akie Ginza’s museum is a traditional Japanese farm house sitting in the nook of a mountain. There is a lovely walk up to it and the snow really added an extra bit of whimsy and beauty. Here’s the house from the outside after the climb.

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We were very lucky as Mrs Ginza was home and more than accommodating showing us her work and simple demos of how to do it. sashiko_silk_tiedye_japan_artist (12)

Could I be more big, hulking, and awkward with my big coat and too small slippers next to this sweet and very little lady? I know what you’re thinking – you want to know what the rest of that coat looks like, right? I aim to please….

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Her house is simply stunning. All of the wood, roofing, and decorations are traditional and natural. If I remember correctly she said the house was around 200 years old.

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Her body of work and the way she has displayed it is almost overwhelming and each piece is so thoughtful and beautiful. Here’s a collection of some of my favorites.

It was Akie Ginza’s 85th birthday and one of our traveling partners had a gift of one of her sashiko works. It was lovely to watch the two women bond over the art form, especially on the side of a mountain in Japan. Surreal really. When it was time to go, she followed us all the way down the driveway and told stories of some of the work she’s done herself on her property.

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From her shop, I picked up a few printed Sashiko patterns, some brilliant indigo fabric, a little bit of thread, and this super funky thimble I can’t wait to try.

She’s a really lovely woman and from what I gather, has a pretty interesting life story beyond her artwork. I wish I could tell you how to find the place, I’ve been digging around for a bit on the web and if I had not been there I wouldn’t be sure it was real. This may be one of those word of mouth type places. I’m so lucky to have been there.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that looks right at Mount Fuji. Here it is with and without my ugly mug.

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After lunch, we were treated to Itchiku Kubota’s  museum to learn about see his kimono’s using his technique he dubbed “Itchiku Tsujigahana”. Listen to me – If you care about textiles at all and you’re in Japan, this goes on your must stop list. The story of his life and technique are interesting by themselves; the kimonos will steal your breath. They are so precise, thoughtful, and  full of color and textile. In one of the videos he said it was important for his art to tell a story and I’m here to say it really does. No photos inside were allowed (which really is OK, you can’t really understand the amazing without standing in front of them). The kimonos are displayed without glass allowing you to get really close and inspect every detail. The thing I found most interesting about them was how they changed depending on where you stand to look at them. I found new things, movement, and overall excitement by simply standing further away. Really thinking about the process and how many steps are involved, it is hard to image how anyone could be as successful as he. Seriously – I’ll say it again. Go see these kimonos. While you’re there, really think about each step from planning to final execution and try not to tear up a bit.

We could take photos outside and his gardens are pretty lovely too…

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I picked up a few post cards with pictures of the kimonos on them so I could jog my memory though I don’t think I’m going to need it for some!

After Itchiku’s we headed to Nagoya – on the bullet train! (the “slow” local one, so more of a musket train, but cool none the less!)

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The next morning we went Arimatu Narumi Shibori museum. Our guide explained that it is on the first highway in Japan. She said even though it is narrow, it does reach from Kyoto to Tokyo. So here’s a Japan Number 1 selfie.

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Shibori is a method of tie dying fabrics for kimonos, clothing, towels, and just about any textile that will hold the dye. They showed us a video of how it was done then we looked at their pattern samples. In this picture, you can see they hang it to show the pattern, if you look towards the bottom, you can see what it looks like when it is still tied and before it is dyed.


My favorite were these little framed pieces. I’m just so amazed at how much precision and texture they are able to get with such tiny pieces all done by hand.

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We were also treated to up close and personal demos. The first lady pictured is 92 years old and has been doing this for over 50 years.

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I picked up a beautiful indigo bag and few gifts for people back home.

Finally, we visited Orinasu-Kan in Kyoto. This is another craftsman building inside of a traditional (and fantastic) old Japanese home.

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All of the textiles here are made from 100% silk.

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We were treated to a trip back into the workshop where the lead craftsman showed us how he weaves silk for traditional kimonos and obi’s. We weren’t allowed pictures in the workshop, but I can tell you they used very large and complicated versions of these.

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He demonstrated a few rows of a pattern he was working on and I was quite fascinated by it. He’s clearly been doing this for a very long time and understands it in ways I just can’t image. He said he could complete roughly 8″ a day on the Obi pattern he was working on. Kind of explains why they are 1000s of dollars.

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He came down to the showroom and told us about many of the Obi’s available including the ones that changed color in different light situations. Whoa.

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The whole process is just a beautiful as the finished product. Here’s two close ups of a few of the Kimonos on display. At 8″ a day, I suspect these take a very long time!

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I picked up a few small silk items to take home and show everyone from this shop.

Even after all this – can you believe we still have two days left?? We’re staying near Kyoto station and get to watch the bullet trains come and go. What a cool view!

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Want to see more? Check out the index of all TBZ goes to Japan Posts!