Thursday, November 15, 2012

Each weaver's path is a different journey and destination

Last year we welcomed Yukiko Amano into our weaving classes. She had been studying weaving, kasuri and shibori for several years. This past summer, she studied with nationally reknowned masters of these crafts in Japan. The training is rigourous and physically demanding.
While there she studied and practiced picture kasuri/ikat. The above example was not woven by here but illustrates the complexity that one can achieve with these methods.
Kasuri is usually plain weave, often with silk. Like tie dye, one wraps either or both the warp and weft in certain pre defined intervals to create a pattern.
 This requires time consuming preparations of wrapping the warp in precise ways, then using clippers as shown above to remove all the ties once the warp or weft has been dyed. Yukiko says that the scissors at the top are called 'grabbing' scissors because they were created to grasp without causing an injury.
 What I love about kasuri is that in principle and theory it is a simple technique like plain weaving and yet it clearly demonstrates how complex plain weave can be by incorporating other elements. There are at least a dozen different kinds of kasuri in Japan alone, and different areas of Japan specialize in a kasuri technique. Above the kind of shuttle used in Japan to weave kasuri.
 While in Japan Yukiko also studied shibori and indigo dyeing. She showed me how she was able to achieve this exciting design . Below the cotton plain weave fabric was pleated, then hand stitched in waves, creating the areas that resisted the dye. The effect is one that is reminiscent of fish scales. So simple yet so effective.
 A linen like fibre called ramie, is much prized in Japan and is produced in many east Asian countries. It is a flowering herbaceous perennial in the nettle family that grows 1 - 2.5 metres tall and has heart shaped leaves.
 The type shown below is called green ramie or rhea, which has smaller leaves. It is believed to be one of the oldest fibre crops, used for at least 6000 years. Used primarily for fabric production, it is considered a bast fibre. The bark or stalks of the plant are processed. It is usually harvested 2 to 3 times a year. Ramie does require chemical processing to degum the fibre, unlike other bast fibres, like linen. It is usually harvested before flowering.
Ramie was used for the outer layer of mummy cloths in Egypt dated 5000-3300 BC. Researchers found that the compounds in the material  are toxic to bacteria and fungi. Ramie is one of the strongest natural fibers. Like linen, it exhibits greater strength when wet and has good absorbency. It is often mixed with cotton or wool because it is not that durable, and does not absorb dye very well.  
Despite its strength, ramie has had limited acceptance for textile use. The fiber's extraction and cleaning are expensive, chiefly because of the several steps—involving scraping, pounding, heating, washing, or exposure to chemicals. Some or all are needed to separate the raw fiber from the adhesive gums or resins in which it is unsheathed. Spinning the fiber is made difficult by its brittle quality and low elasticity; and weaving is complicated by the hairy surface of the yarn, resulting from lack of cohesion between the fibers. The greater utilization of ramie depends upon the development of improved processing methods. That being said, the 2010 Toyota Prius introdcued ramie into their new range of plant-derived bioplastics instead of using pertroleum based products.
Other info
Barbara Aikman writes to inform me of a good place to visit in Tuscany, Italy to see linen weaving: If you let them know you are a weaver, they'll give you a tour.
Erin Lewis  is an instructor at OCADU and has been taking the weaving class with us this session. You can see her incredible work  on this video:
Congratulations to Judy Hardy who won the spinning wheel in the Silent Auction. A VERY BIG thank you to Susan Abrams who donated it to our class to raise money for our expenses!

The One of a Kind show...we'll be there in booth R-07. Go to for details.

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