Pre-show chaos

Apologies for not having my next post up on Monday as I had promised! Preparing for Fanime is a bit like getting ready to run a marathon and I’m already feeling exhausted, but exhilarated as well.

The KimonoMomo Etsy shop will be closed starting Wednesday evening May 26 and will reopen sometime around Tuesday or Wednesday, June 1 or 2. There are several new items to list, including more vintage doll items, vintage fabric bundles, and updated sashiko stock. Bear with me while I do a twirl around the dance floor with many gorgeous kimono for a few days. I’ll be back soon!

If you’re on my Facebook fan page or Twitter feed, I’ll be posting there during the show. If you’ll be near San Jose, California, come by the show and say hello!

Book reviews: Sashiko books in English part II

Continued from yesterday’s post, here are four more excellent sashiko books in English. Once again, these are listed by publication date. Quick summary statements are underlined. Click on the title links to purchase.

Japanese Country Quilting: Sashiko patterns and projects for beginners by Karen Kim Matsunaga. Kodansha, 1990. 96 pages.

An excellent all-in-one sashiko reference, great for beginner and beyond. This book starts out with a basic history of sashiko in Japanese culture and moves on to more technical information including tools, materials and pattern drafting. Diagrams are small, but clear. Although it lacks any photographs at all, it is still one of the best sashiko general reference books available in English.

Quilting With Japanese Fabrics by Kitty Pippen. Martingale & Co. for That Patchwork Place, 2000. 96 pages.

Colorful and inspiring, this book appealed to me as so many beautiful yukata, kasuri and ikat cotton fabrics are used in Kitty’s quilts. Filled with colorful projects originally done in authentic Japanese fabrics, then broken down in the pattern section and shown made from fabrics readily available here in the US, such as Kona Bay prints. This book is more about quilting than sashiko, but it does meld the two very effectively.

Sashiko: Japanese Traditional Hand Stitching by Ai Takeda. Quilters Resource Publications, 2004. 96 pages.

This beautifully photographed, Japanese produced book is a handy reference for those who enjoy the blue and white look in a traditional setting. The first third of the book includes color photos of finished projects, followed by instructions and templates in black and white photos and line drawings. This book does not dwell on the origins or history of sashiko as many Western-written books do, but does showcase the historically important Museum Meiji-Mura to give each project more cultural appeal.

Paradise Stitched–Sashiko & Applique Quilts by Silvia Pippen. C&T Publishing, 2009. 80 pages plus pull-out paper patterns.

Kitty Pippen’s daughter Silvia has taken her mother’s blend of quilting and sashiko and pushed it even further into technicolor territory. A strong Hawaiian flavor permeates this richly colorful project book. Patterns and instructions for art quilts and embellishments are well laid out and easy to follow. The pull-out patterns in the back are on durable, heavy stock, not tissue thin paper.  Another good book for quilters looking to add sashiko to their projects.

There are still more books on my shelf to review, but I’m going to take the weekend to prepare for next weekend’s Fanime Con in San Jose, California. On Monday I’ll have more on the Indigo feature I’ve been working on, plus KimonoMomo shop updates.

Book reviews: Sashiko books in English part I

I’m going to take this in stages as there are so many books to choose from! Some of the more recent books that I will review tomorrow include those by Sylvia and Kitty Pippen, authors and textile artists who are comfortable taking sashiko and developing it into more than just the typical white-thread-on-indigo look that is so familiar.

The following listed here today are books written with the sashiko traditionalist in mind. These cover the basics and then some, usually a few easy projects such as placemats or bags. They are listed in order of publication date from the 1980′s through 1990′s. Look for these in your library, local secondhand book shop or on Amazon.

Underlined comments below give you my summary in just a few words my opinion as to whether it is worth it to buy a copy or not.

Sashiko: The Quilting of Japan from Traditional to Today
by Bonnie Benjamin. Needlearts International, 1986. 68 pages.

This book has a self-published feel to it, with none of the bells and whistles you will find in a more modern book. It has few photographs and none in color. Several basic and traditional designs are rendered one to a page so you can make copies. As this out of print book is difficult to find and there are so many better ones on the market, I’d give it a miss.

Sashiko: Traditional Japanese Quilt Designs. Nihon Vogue, 1989. 42 pages.

Filled with the sort of step-by-step color photos we all know and love in Japanese craft books, this thin little book starts out with basic drafting and moves on to how to stitch. The 59 traditional designs featured are crammed three to a page, but you can get at least an idea of what you’re working with. Includes less background text than most US published sashiko books, thus sparing a lot of words when what you want are more pictures anyway.

I was introduced to this book by a student in one of my classes earlier this year and have found it to be a fairly decent sashiko primer.  I’d recommended it for those with at least a background understanding of sashiko, but it is suitable for just about anyone. Once you have the knack for sashiko, you’ll be glad to have this around for design ideas.

The Classic Quilting of Sashiko. Ondorisha, 1990. 92 pages.

More of a craft project book than a primer, this is another Japanese craft book by Ondori, the publishers connected with Olympus sashiko supplies. Basic sewing techniques show up halfway into the book, somewhere after the featured projects have been introduced. Basic through intermediate projects include simple towels (fukin), potholders and placemats to cushions, tote bags and cute “mascot cats”. Not what I’d consider a “must have” book, it’s still good for some creative inspiration.

Sashiko and Beyond: Techniques and Projects for Quilting in the Japanese Style
by Saiko Takano. Chilton Book Company, 1993. 128 pages.

Of all the books in today’s review, this is in my opinion one of the better resources for a sashiko beginner, especially if you already enjoy quilting. Starting with the basics and moving on to more involved projects, it includes instructions on making decorative knots and tassels. Fifteen traditional designs are given two entire large pages each, one page with examples and one rendered large enough to easily to trace or copy. These are followed by several aplique and quilting projects.

Drawbacks include the lack of sashiko thread or fabric in the examples, which bothers me. Nearly all of the examples are done on plain cotton fabric with what appears to be embroidery floss that has a slight sheen. List price is $19.95 but it can be found on Amazon for less.

Next up, more sashiko books in English.

Book reviews: Japanese sashiko craft books

Japanese craft books, you gotta love ‘em. The bright, clear photos presented in an easy to understand step by step format and abundant diagrams. Never mind if you can’t read Japanese, the visuals alone will get you through the process. Also known as “mooks,” a hybrid of magazine and book, these tend to be smallish paperbacks printed on high quality paper with glossy covers. I covet them.

Buyers often ask which books I suggest for beginners. Sashiko is a fairly simple art form, yet there are many traditional patterns that range from super easy to mind bogglingly difficult. It all breaks down to basic geometry but if math makes your brain hurt, take comfort in the thought that a lot of the time it’s just a matter of counting and eyeballing your measurements. Actual historical pieces of sashiko typically aren’t all that perfect. Yours don’t need to be, either.

The following books are in very limited supply and increasingly hard to get as they are out of print. Those published by Ondori often feature Olympus sashiko supplies in their projects, which are the supplies I carry in my shop.

Quick, cheap and easy: This one I refer to as the “Little Blue Book“. That’s not the actual title, but it’s easier to remember when I’m looking for it on the shelf. Plenty of color photos, good small projects, pocket size so it’s easy to carry in a purse or project bag. Includes directions for a coin purse, apron, book cover, placemat & napkins, etc. and shows how to stitch. A nice pocket primer. Published by Ondori.

One project, many ways: Sashiko no Hana Fukin has 72 pages of color photos, line drawings and lovely small projects. A fukin is a small hand or wash cloth. These are similar to the preprinted sashiko kits I carry in my shop and are quite simple to make. Photos of finished projects and line drawings of patterns to copy make this a nice resource for projects you can use in your kitchen. Good for beginners. Published by Ondori.

Small book, big variety: Kawaii Hana Sashiko features a broad range of projects and ideas such as bags large and small, t-shirt decoration, book covers, and oven mitts. Kawaii means “cute”! Includes examples of advanced work and even kimono. Good for inspiration if you are beyond beginner. Published by Tatsumi.

My go-to project book: Sashiko no Hon covers the basics including fukin, pot holders, simple tote bags and small purses. Clear black and white line drawing diagrams in the back, full color basic instructions on how to start towards the front. Good for those who already know how to sew. Published by Ondori.

If you don’t see these in my shop, just ask and I’ll see if I have what you’re looking for on the shelf. I will be restocking a few this week and again in June after Fanime.

Next up, sashiko books in English!

Book reviews: ancient textile construction

Every morning after the dog has been fed and the kids shuttled off to school, I sit down at the kitchen table with a plate of last night’s leftovers, a pot of tea and a book or two. On occasion this leads to a loss of appetite, especially when dye techniques that involve dung or photos of dessicated corpses are involved, but it’s all in the name of improving my understanding of the long and fascinating history of textiles.  I reward myself with a bit of chocolate afterwards and call it good.


Over the past few weeks I’ve been pecking away at The Mummies of Urumchi by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. This is, of course, where the dessicated corpses come in. A section of full color photos add dimension to Barber’s narrative, giving us a glimpse of these stunningly well-preserved human remains and the clothing they wore three thousand years ago. Each chapter is crammed with information including history of language, migration, technological development, religion and even climate influences in the Ürümchi region of Central Asia.

This is not light reading, to be honest. I’ve read several other books in the time it’s taken me to get only halfway through this one. Each chapter takes a while to digest and settle, then I’m back for more, sometimes re-reading a chapter I skimmed through too quickly the first time.

Readily available on Amazon with used hardbacks even cheaper than paperbacks.

Initially picked up at a yard sale or used book store somewhere in Oregon over a decade ago, Cut My Cote
by Dorothy K. Burnham
of the Royal Ontario Museum has become, slim as it is, a valuable resource in my textile research library. The simple design layouts and brief descriptions mirror the basic construction techniques of the textiles featured in the book.

If you sew garments for SCA, Renaissance Faires or other historical re-enactment, this is particularly handy. Regional focus is primarily but not entirely Eurasian. Kimono construction covers two pages of the chapter “Coats of the Far East”.

First published in 1973, it seems to go in and out of print depending on demand.

I’m getting ready for Fanime Memorial Day weekend so there will be no new listings of vintage kimono until June. All other items including sashiko supplies, new and vintage fabrics and books will be updated throughout the week. If you’re coming to Fanime, be sure to check out my panels on kimono! I’ll post details soon.

Stay tuned: tomorrow I’ll review an assortment of sashiko books in English and Japanese.

An experiment in washing vintage indigo kasuri, part 2

(Continued from yesterday’s post, as promised)

So how did it fare after the second wash? The blue background color is sharper and clearer, but the splash areas that were once light blue are now white. This does not diminish its attractiveness in my opinion, but I had been hoping to retain the light blue on indigo look that first caught my attention when I viewed it online. The hand washed piece is still quite blue, but that tells me that it is also likely to bleed if subjected to moisture, whereas the bolt is far less likely to bleed on anything now that it has been so thoroughly washed in both cold and hot soapy water.

Another bolt I acquired in the same order, a lovely purple striped cotton, did not fare so well. It offloaded an abundance of fine lint, but no dye in its first rinse. So far, so good; but when I picked it up to wring it out, it ripped.

Fascinated, I picked at it in different places, ripping the poor thing to shreds along the warp with very little effort at all. Standing at the sink with dripping strips of purple and black cotton in my blue-dyed hands, I reminded myself that buying from Japanese textile dealers who do not speak English while I speak very little Japanese is perhaps more risky than I’d like to believe. I removed the fabric from the sink and plopped it down beside the first piece outside in the morning sun.

I may hold on to the purple bolt to use in weaving a sakiori project at some point. I can’t think of what else it may be good for, considering how weak the washed fiber is. The unwashed fabric is quite sturdy, so perhaps another use that does not involve immersing it water would be safe enough. I could always make a hanhaba obi out of it. If you have another suggestion, let me know.

Bottom line: if you plan to wash your vintage fabric at any time in the future, wash it carefully before you even get started on your project. This is good quilter’s common sense, but not for all fabrics on all occasions, I know. For example, it is traditional to sew a sashiko piece before washing the fabric to allow the fabric and thread to shrink together in the wash after completion (this works only if both the fabric and thread are of Japanese manufacture, I am told). If I had done that with the indigo fabric above it would have resulted in blue dyed thread, which may have been an interesting touch.

Next up, more book reviews. Yes, it’s true… in lieu of a social life, I have a library.

An experiment in washing vintage indigo kasuri, part 1


Along with shibori and sashiko, I am a sucker for kasuri (絣). Popular in Japan since the Edo era, kasuri (or gasuri) is a double woven ikat, meaning the threads are dyed prior to weaving and the design is in both the warp and weft threads.  Machine woven Bingo kasuri, which constitutes the bulk of 20th century Japanese kasuri on the market, originates from Hiroshima Prefecture.

When I first saw this bolt online I had to have it. Once it arrived I was quite please with it… that is, until I removed it from the cellophane package it was wrapped in. First off, the bolt smelled terrible. It likely dates from the early to mid-20th century (Showa era) and has been sitting in storage in a relatively humid climate for decades. Not good. Second, the color wasn’t as bright as I’d first assumed from the photos I’d seen. However, while I assumed it would be quite stiff as it is a machine woven kasuri, I was surprised to find it pleasingly soft to the touch. Unsure whether or not the dye was natural indigo or synthetic, I decided to find out what would happen with a bit of washing.

I cut a a piece 13.25” x 13.5” from the bolt end to experiment with. First, I rinsed it in plain water. Already you can see quite a bit of dye bleed.

Next, a wash in Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap (a very mild and pure castile soap, not detergent). Another rinse, then more soap. There was still more dye bleed, so much so that I decided to just wring it out and put it outside to dry while I worked on other things in the studio.

Once dry, I compared the washed fabric with the rest of the bolt and found that not only did it smell better, but the color was brighter, clearer and more vibrant. There was some shrinkage, as was to be expected, but not too much. At no point was the fabric subjected to heat… mainly because my iron was still missing from last week’s painting endeavor.

After confirming that washing was indeed an improvement, I crammed the rest of the bolt into the washing machine, added at least a half cup of Borax and a dose of Seventh Generation liquid detergent and set the machine to “cold” and “extra rinse.” Here it is hanging in the afternoon sunshine. The weave is quite broad and the fabric dried quickly.

In the process of hanging the bolt, my hands were again dyed blue, which told me that one wash in cold water would be the beginning of a longer process. Sure enough, a search online for dye setting solutions showed me that vinegar, commonly suggested for setting fugitive dyes, would probably not be as effective in this case as a simple hot water wash. Back into the washer with Borax and detergent went the bolt. By the time the second wash finished and the fabric was ready to hang, the yard outside was no longer in full, direct sun. I left it out until dark, mainly to give it more time to air out.

Part 2 will post tomorrow. Seriously! I’ve already written it and everything.

Clearance sale on fabric yardage

Please do me a kindness and snap up these fabrics before new ones arrive as I’ll have no place to put them! These are out of print bolts from Kona Bay, In The Beginning and Marcus Brothers, all with Asian/Japanese themed prints. Beautiful stuff, just yearning to be put to creative use. As it is a clearance sale, these prices will not be going back up.

While it does appear that Geisha Panel IV is no longer available through Kona Bay. A new series, Geisha Panel V, will be out this summer and it looks gorgeous. If you like the current series, order it now while I still have it in stock.

get ‘em while they’re here

First, some not-so-good news: I put in a call yesterday to reorder some of my best selling fabric bolts from Alexander Henry, only to hear that the bolts I want are no longer available. Despite being good sellers, some bolts just don’t have quite enough demand for reprints, which means the warehouse won’t restock them until enough back orders pile up. All of the companies I’ve contacted lately are feeling the effects of the economic downturn these days, which will limit our choices as consumers for quite some time to come.

Currently affected by this are the very popular Thunder Flower (all colors), Kitty Kokeshi (cream will not be reprinted, but turquoise and black will be available), and Zen Charmer by Alexander Henry (my mistake! I contacted the warehouse and it’s still in stock). The Geisha Four Seasons panel by Kona Bay appears to be out of print as well. I cannot reorder these bolts until there is enough demand for them to be reprinted, so get them while you can. If you don’t see the amount of yardage you’d like in my shop or if the fabric appears to be sold out, contact me. I usually reserve some of each bolt for custom orders.

Now for the definitely good news: Kona Bay has some gorgeous new fabrics available this month, including the newest Nobu Fujiyama line, Cherish. I have already reserved a few of these bolts but would like to hear from you which colorways and designs you would prefer to purchase, or if there are other bolts on the site you would be interested in. I know what I like, but what do you like?