Tsutsugaki

April 29, 2011

Last week I attended a tsutsugaki workshop at the Australian Academy of Design. Tsutsugaki yuzen (tsutsugaki dyeing) is a 400-year-old Japanese dye-resist technique, a little like batik. Tsutsugaki utilises a rice paste to create designs on the fabric. The workshop was taught by Kobayashi Shumei, a tsutsugaki artist based in Kanazawa, Japan.

First, we use a weak dye made from the blue flower, aobana, to sketch the underdrawing onto the fabric. Then we apply the rice paste (tsutsunori) with the tsutsu, a cone-shaped bag like a cake piping bag. It’s not easy to use and takes a lot of practice to get straight lines, even though the fabric is stretched out using special bamboo poles. Once we have outlined our design with the rice paste on one side, we flip the fabric and have to apply it in exactly the same place on the other side, otherwise the dye will bleed and ruin our pattern. Usually, kimono makers don’t apply the pattern to both sides, but we do this to make the pattern more durable. The rice paste is made from rice flour and rice bran, kneaded to the consistency of ‘your earlobe’ and then steamed to turn it into a caramel-like consistency. In the past, if any of the mixture was left over the artisans grilled and ate it.

After the rice paste is dry, soybean juice is washed over the fabric with a deer-hair brush to smooth inconsistencies and because it helps to fix the paste. It smells like tofu.

Once the pattern is applied, the fabric can be coloured with dye (irosashi). We mix our choice of colours and apply washes or colour sections of our patterns in. My design has many sections so I can dye all of them in one go and don’t need to mask and over-dye. It also means I only need to steam it once. Kobayashi-sensei helps us with different techniques, teaching us how to graduate colours.

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Once my work is steamed, I can wash the rice paste out and fix the dye.

Kobayashi Shumei carries out all parts of the tsutsugaki dyeing process himself. In Japan this is rare as usually different individuals do the different steps in the process. As he says, ‘how can you call a piece of work your own if you haven’t done all of the processes yourself?’

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Ura

September 4, 2010

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About three weeks ago a new Japanese shop opened in Fitzroy. Ura has a distinctly Kyoto feel to it and is everything I love about Japan. The atmosphere is warm, relaxed and cosy with traditional tansu (chests of drawers) and wooden display tables. Owner Yutaka Matsuda’s concept for the shop is to stock ‘treasures’ that customers will discover and fall in love with, hence Ura sells a mixture of seemingly random items—pottery teacups, second-hand clothes and kimono, Japanese school badges, noren and tabi socks. But perhaps the most exciting product Ura will be selling from September are jika-tabi, the traditional Japanese-style shoes with the separated big toe. The jika-tabi are made by a company I know well, Sou Sou, from Kyoto.

Sou Sou prides itself on the fact that its goods are designed and made in Japan. The Sou Sou design concept is based on traditional Japanese clothingshirt collars influenced by the crossover kimono, wide sleeves, side ties and simple flowing lines. Designer Wakabayashi-san says that designs have to be useful so Sou Sou aim to retain the convenient aspects of traditional Japanese clothing but create something modern. ‘We want to upgrade the kimono, like you would upgrade your computer.’ The fabric patterns are modern Japan—funky flowers, hiragana letters, dots and stripes, mon, colourful stylised chrysanthemums. Wakabayashi-san says that Japan has a history of making things that suit the environment, designs that depict the seasons and the physical world. He also points out that Japanese are collectors, a fact very much reflected in the eclectic mix of contemporary Japanese fashion and style. ‘[You can find a] world museum in Japan.’

As a company, Sou Sou is not interested in being a fashion brand. As Wakabayashi explains, they see fashion brands as mostly short-term trends because 90% of fashion brands fold relatively quickly. Sou Sou is in it for the long-term, and have collaborated with other very well-established names such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Le Coq Sportif. However, for me, their best product is the jika-tabi. This kind of footwear have a mixed image in Japan. Often, the only time the young wear them is when participating in festivals. Older generations are reminded of traditional workmen’s shoes, especially construction workers who used the tread on their jika-tabi to help them climb the bamboo scaffolding poles on building sites. It’s still possible to see construction workers today wearing jika-tabi and the baggy genie-style trousers that go with them. The basic design of Sou Sou’s jika-tabi is based on these Taisho-period workshoes, but the fabrics and molded soles definitely give them a radical upgrade. So, if you are keen to get the iPad-equivalent for your feet, check out Ura.

Ura
28 Johnston St
Fitzroy 3065
Ph: 9416 4503

Yesterday I was wandering around in the back streets near Shingyoku-dori when I stumbled on quite an incredible sight. A new shop has opened (in fact it only opened yesterday) called Pink Latte. It stocks a range of ultra girly clothes and accessories with a predominantly pink theme as is no doubt obvious by the name. The staff member told me it was aimed at the junior high school market. The extraordinary thing about the shop is the building. The overall image is of a Japanese temple – a pink Japanese temple. It has the pagoda-style roof, the temple posts and lanterns. Then, inside the wallpaper, a cool goth black, sports an outrageously eye-burning pink mon motif. I wandered around with my jaw on the floor. Plus I’m sure the whole building didn’t exist a week ago – they seem to have constructed it in record time.

Art flower workshop

April 25, 2010

Yesterday I did an art flower workshop at my favourite Kyoto clothing designer, Pagong. There were only three of us in the class. I arrived early, having cycled across Kyoto to get to Pagong’s head office in the southern part of the Nishijin quarter, so I had time to shop – dangerous! The two other women for the class came slightly early too, and when one of them found out I was intending to do the class she said, ‘Kowai’ (she was scared). I’m not exactly sure what she was scared of – perhaps I have more of a presence than I think.

We were shown upstairs and greeted by Endou-sensei, a glamorous woman with carefully curled locks, perfect make-up and decorated nails. She told me her husband makes lacquerware for the temples.

My classmates had obviously done workshops there before as they got into selecting their fabric straight away. Nishimura-san calls herself a ‘wa-designer’ (‘wa’ means Japanese-style or peace and harmony). She was the more vocal of the two, asking me questions and arguing with the sensei. In fact, Nishimura-san was such a chatterbox that I never discovered the other woman’s name.

After selecting our fabric, in this case silk printed by Pagong, we started bending our wires into our desired petal shapes. Then we chose a centre bobble and glued it together. Using a little glue, we had to stick the wire petals onto the fabric and cut them out, leaving a 5mm trim to be folded under and glued. The gluing and cutting took the better part of the lesson. Once that was all done we had to arrange the petals in a desired configuration, glue them altogether, cut off the stem and hot glue it to the corsage pin. They all praised me on my good taste and told me I had a Japanese sense but I think they were just being polite. Still, if you see me wearing a large flower, be kind.