Friday, May 31, 2019

Late Spring Check-in

It's been a fun year so far.  I'm turning 70 (yahoo as far as I'm concerned!) so I decided what I wanted was more travel and more classes/retreats/time with sewing buds.  You might say, if you know me, really Gayle you already do all of that.  Yes, that's true but this year so many opportunities have come along I felt the privilege of saying yes to all of them.

I will fill you in on everything soon but first I want to tell you about the highlight.  A month in Japan with two wonderful friends...who also sew.  

The trip was conjured up last year at Shakerag Workshops while standing in line to get lunch.  Two women in front of us had been to an indigo workshop on a farm outside Tokyo the previous year and were raving about the experience.  They mentioned that the class they would love to take there was a two week hantan making class.

My friend and I looked at each other and said, "Two weeks?!"  No way.  But, not three days later we were signing up.  And what a lucky thing we did!  This experience was one we'll never a very good way.  

Bryan Whitehead is the founder of Japanese Textile Workshops in the mountain village of Fujino, about an hour and a half outside Tokyo.  There is so much I could tell you about him, his knowledge, experience and the class but I'd have to write a book.  I'm just going to highlight my favorite bits and hopefully you'll get a taste.  Here he is on our first day whirling us around Nippori, the Tokyo fabric district, with armloads of Japanese denim.

We arrived at the farmhouse late the first night.  Rounding the corner and walking up the steep driveway I saw the glow of the house in the distance.  It literally drew me to it.  I was mesmerized from the moment I saw it, radiating with warmth and spirit.

It's going to be very hard to pick out just a few photos of this experience.  Every element of the home is handmade by Bryan or one of his artisan friends.  

Hiro, his business partner, does so many things to make the home and experience incredible not the least of which is that every single room (and I'm talking hallways and bathrooms!) has a gorgeous flower arrangement.  The one above was outside our sleeping room.  You can't tell from the photo but it was about 6' long X 5' high.  Simply incredible.

Hiro also made all of our meals.  Every one was better than the last, they were all so delicious and gorgeous, yet super healthy.  We ate from large earthenware bowls his friends have made, each one different.

And for every meal there was something that had been pickled.  I LOVE PICKLED ANYTHING!  So I was in heaven.  These are pickled (very) young ginger shoots.  Oh....

One of our lovely classmates, Melissa from Pennsylvania is setting the table for dinner.  There were 7 of us in the class those two weeks.  A perfect number for the space and allowed for time to really get to know everyone.

The farmhouse has four floors.  The second floor is a workroom.  Here you see Bryan's collection of new and vintage hantans.  OK, I guess it's time to tell you what a hantan is.  Here's what Wikipedia has to say about them.  
Hanten (袢纏; also半纏,半天, or袢天), a short winter coat, is an item of traditional Japanese clothing. ... The shape of the hanten bears a resemblance to the haori and is worn by both men and women. The facing and lining are padded with thick layer of wadded cotton for warmth. The collar is usually made of black sateen.

All of that is true but also true is that they are traditionally worn by workers.  They are not always padded, our's were not.  And our collars were not made of black sateen.  Our's were made entirely by hand, no machine stitching.  I made two.  My first was of denim for my husband and my second was a lighter fabric for myself.

Our main workroom; here with Michelle.  This class was hard work.  It encompassed learning about hantan and other traditional Japanese garments, designing the ones we would make, learning the ancient Japanese textile traditions of painting, stenciling and indigo dyeing and applying each to our own garments.  We generally worked from 9-9 each day with breaks for meals, bathing in the wooden  hot tub, cocktail hour and generally squeezing in fun whenever we could.

I know that several in the class could tell you the Japanese names of each technique and so much more than I can.  This, for me, was a time to absorb the beauty and let many details fall away.  I didn't even take notes, and that's something for me.  It was really a dream state for me.  Something I crave as I get older.  Less about how to and more about just experiencing things visually and emotionally.

And you can see why.  Everywhere my eyes rested gave me a sense of inner peace and joy.  This was the hallway outside our sleeping room.

And this was our view!

Here's Bryan is stirring the indigo dye pot.  Mesmerizing.

In addition to everything else he did for us and in the house, Hiro could also create one of a kind garments.  Every one wowed me.

It was an exceptionally cold spring so we each got a "turtle" to sleep with.  They are large metal canteen-like things that are covered in Bryan's handmade felted sweater scraps.  Those things were lifesavers!

Cloth just out of the indigo dye pot oxidizing in the air, ready for another dip.

Here is my second jacket, just finished with the design work and ready to start sewing.

The expert hands of Kieko, a master kimono maker.  She came in several days to teach us the traditional way of sewing our jackets.  

One of the hard things for me was learning how to read a Japanese yardstick!  No numbers, using metric...oy...

Here Keiko is using a kote, a heated tool that marks several layers of fabric at once.

And there were animals, how good can it get?!  Here is White Boots, son of Julie (who was never around long enough to take many pics).  They were very good mousers...I'll leave it at that.

Morning walks with a chance to get a glimpse of Mt. Fuji.  Something that is not all that common.  

Gardens and laundry along our walk.

Our chopstick holders.

Keiko and me upon completion.  Whew!

The last day in Tokyo we stumbled on Vivienne Westwood's shop.  Cool door handles.

There will be other posts about Japan.  We visited Kyoto and Tokyo with LOTS of fabric and clothes shopping.  More soon!  I'm off to Shakerag Workshops.