Grass poets: Japanese baskets 1845-1953

I’ve written previously about a bamboo Japanese ikebana basket given to us by ESP’s parents. So last week we went to a talk organised by the Japan Society entitled “Grass poets: Japanese baskets 1845-1953” by Joe Earle.

Bamboo is very important in Japan, as an element of simplicity. Before the 16th century, most bamboo baskets were imported from China and used for ikebana in the chanoyu tea ceremony during the summer months. When the Japanese started making their own baskets they were largely copies of Chinese styles and, unlike other crafts of the time, were unsigned. So we know little about the earliest Japanese basket makers.

Hayakawa Shokusai (1815-1897) was the first Japanese basket maker to sign his work, perhaps because he started to combine twining with more open weave techniques to create a more distinctive Japanese style rather than simply copying the Chinese. One of his most unusual works was a Western-style rattan bowler hat!

Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Basket making seems to run in families. Shokusai’s son also went on to become a basket maker. Tanabe Chikuunsai (1877-1937), who created an art-deco inspired Japanese style, had a son and grandson who also went on to become great basket makers.

Tanabe Chikuunsai I
Chikuunsai II
Chikuunsai II
Chikuunsai III

According to Joe Earle, probably the greatest basket maker of all was IIzuka Rokansa (1890-1958). Inspired by rustic found objects, he often used smoked bamboo from the ceiling of workers’ houses. He also named all his pieces.

“Fish” by Rokansai
“Prosperity and longevity” by Rokansai
“Spring rain” by Rokansai

Perhaps not surprisingly, Rokansai also had a son, Iizuka Shokansai (1919-2004), to carry on the tradition. Shokansai was recognised as a Living National Treasure of Japan in 1982.

Bamboo basket by Shokansai
“Mount Fuji” by Shokansai
Woven box by Shokansai
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New scrap bags on sale

I am so slow on the uptake sometimes. About 18 months ago at a textile fair, one visitor mentioned that she would be interested in buying any offcuts or fabric samples I didn’t want, as she could use them in her work.

However, it wasn’t until I got another similar request just before Christmas that I thought there may be a new product line in this. Then when I was having a bit of a clear out between Christmas and new year I came across a load of old experiments, samples and pieces that hadn’t worked out quite as I hoped – enough to fill a whole box.

box of indigo and ecoprinted samples

I thought I should do a bit more market research, so I took a small bag of pieces along to our felting group to get some feedback on how big the pieces should be, how many in a bag and how much to charge.

What I wasn’t expecting was the enthusiasm with which they pounced on the fabric – within 10 minutes most of the indigo samples had been snapped up! This made me think that there was indeed a market for these pieces. 😉

So I ordered some bags and stickers and spent a couple of evenings ironing, trimming, sorting and folding.

indigo scraps ecoprint scraps

And now I have two sorts of scrap bags for sale on Etsy: indigo shibori and ecoprinted/natural dyes. The fabrics are a mixture of type and weight. Some pieces are upcycled, with bits of lace trim or other embellishments.

scrap bags indigo scrapbags ecoprint

They are perfect for small craft projects, patchwork, scrapbooks, creative collages and much more (some of the lighter fabrics may need stiffening support or interfacing).

The minimum size of each piece is 15x15cm (6×6 inches), but most are a bit larger than this. Because they are hand dyed, each piece is unique – when it’s gone, it’s gone!

 

Upcoming textile workshops

I’m very excited to be running a one-day felting workshop for beginners at Know How You Sewing School in Beckenham, Kent, on Sunday 18 February.

Know How You is located in the Georgian Beckenham Place Mansion, surrounded by the gorgeous Beckenham Place Park.

In my Introduction to felting workshop you will start by making a flat piece of felt to learn the basic technique. You can decorate it with yarn, silk and other embellishments.

felt vessels

In the afternoon you will make a 3D object by felting around a resist. This could be a small bowl or a phone case. Again, you can decorate this in various ways.

All materials will be provided, but please bring an old towel and a waterproof bag to take your work home in (it will still be damp).

The workshop is on Sunday 18 February, 10am-4pm and costs £55. You can bring your own lunch or there is a cafe in the building. You can book here.

Other tutors

If you already know how to felt, or you’re interested in other textile techniques, here are some other workshops coming up, in the UK, elsewhere, and online. They are all run by tutors I know and would recommend (I don’t get any commission or other perks from this!).

  • Mary Spyrou: Feltmaking, Embellishment and Stitch at Morley College in London
  • Liz Clay: Couture-inspired nuno felt at West Dean College in Sussex (you can read here about a previous workshop I did with Liz at West Dean)
  • Caroline Bartlett: Caroline is running various workshops at both Morley College and West Dean (and the Netherlands!) – full details on her website. You can read here about a previous workshop I did with Caroline at Morley College.
  • Maria Friese: Maria sculpts wonderful organic forms and textures from felt and is running various workshops in Europe (Netherlands, Austria, France and Germany) – full details on her website. You can read here about a previous workshop I did with Maria in France.
  • Dagmar Binder: Runs workshops in Berlin – full details on her website. Click here to read about a workshop I did with Dagmar in London.
  • Lisa Klakulak: Lisa takes a very scientific approach to felt for maximum control and is running workshops around the US and South America – details on her website. Here’s an account of a workshop I did with Lisa in the Netherlands.
  • If you can’t travel, the Felting and Fiber Studio offers various online classes, from wet felting for beginners to hats, bags and combining felt with mixed media.
  • Pam de Groot: Based in Australia, Pam offers both face-to-face and online workshops – details on her website. You can read here about an online workshop I did with Pam last year.

Enjoy!

 

The craft of darning

I finally got round to visiting the Victoria & Albert Museum this weekend to see the exhibition of finalists in the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize.

Launched in 2017 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Woman’s Hour, the prize seeks to “reward originality and excellence in concept, design and process and to recognise a craft practitioner or designer-maker who is an outstanding artist and who has significantly contributed to craft practice in the last five years”.

The winner of the £10,000 prize was Phoebe Cummings for her fountain made from raw clay. The fountain is turned on at noon each day for one minute, so it erodes and dissolves over time.

womans hour prize phoebe cummings

Predictably, the work that appealed most to me was by Laura Youngson Coll. Her sculptures of microscopic marine organisms, made from goat vellum, were inspired by Haeckel.

womans hour prize laura youngson coll womans hour prize laura youngson coll

Romilly Saumarez Smith is a jeweller who combines precious metals and other materials with found objects to create organic or natural forms.

womans hour prize romilly saumarez smith

Also very organic was the large scale willow sculpture by Laura Ellen Bacon.

womans hour prize laura ellen bacon

Andrea Walsh combines glass and bone china to make beautiful delicate and translucent boxes and vessels.

womans hour prize andrea walsh

Another finalist, Celia Pym, uses darning, knitting and embroidery to mend other people’s clothes, drawing out memories and meanings through the process.

womans hour prize celia pym womans hour prize celia pym

In an adjoining room there was a drop-in workshop displaying clothes that people had brought in for Celia to mend throughout the exhibition.

celia pym celia pym celia pym

Now, fond as I am of upcycling, I’ve never been a great mender of clothes (it takes me forever to get round to sewing on buttons that have come off). My mum used to have a darning mushroom in her workbox, though I have to confess I never saw her use it.

However, by coincidence, between Christmas and new year I did patch a pair of much loved jeans by sewing an extra piece of denim on the inside and then stitching over the top. Do you think it will show? 😉

darned jeans

After seeing the exhibition I was inspired to have a go at mending a very holey cashmere sweater. There are still a lot of holes to go – it will probably end up more purple than grey by the time I’ve finished. 🙂

ESP has offered me some socks if I want more darning practice but I have to draw the line somewhere!

The Woman’s Hour Craft Prize exhibition at the V&A runs until Monday 5 February.

Galapagos-inspired tablet cover

When we were on holiday in the Galapagos, S, one of the other passengers on the boat admired the felt tablet cover I had made for Ever Supportive Partner (ESP). So I agreed to make her one when I got back.

I was delayed working on this because of all the Christmas markets and other activities on my return, but while ESP went back to work between Christmas and new year I finally had the time and headspace to think about it.

S hadn’t expressed any preference about colours, leaving it up to me, so I thought it would be good to make a piece inspired by the Galapagos. Looking back through the hundreds(!) of photos of the trip prompted various ideas, but I finally went for the landscape around Lake Darwin, on the largest island of Isabela.

Lake Darwin is a seawater lake in the caldera of an old volcano. The surrounding lava folds and ridges are covered in incense (palo santa) trees, with ghostly silver bark (in the wet season, a few weeks after we visited, they would burst into leaf, transforming the landscape).

Other trees were covered with beautiful lichens of grey, bright orange and pale mint green.

And here is the tablet cover inspired by this scenery.

I started with two layers of orange merino (to represent the volcanic interior). Then came two layers of grey Norwegian wool, to provide robustness, then two layers of Finnish wool (blue at the bottom for water and brown at the top for the lava). I laid pieces of darker brown yarn on top of this to represent the lava folds. There is also a faint strip of yellow between the brown and the blue.

The tree is made up of two layers of prefelt (white on top of grey), plus prefelt lichen in orange and very pale green. Using prefelt also gives a more textured effect more like bark. Let’s hope S likes it!

Felting get together

Every few months my partner Woman of the Cloth, Carol, organises a felting day with a few friends where we all bring a pot luck dish for lunch and catch up with news and gossip (and occasionally manage to make a bit of felt in between!).

I used the opportunity to make myself a new phone case, as my last one was wearing through. You can see it here in the centre, along with a nuno felt case made by Carol (above).

felt phone case

Happy new year to everyone!