Event News for February, 2015

February 1 – Starting the month with a bang, I’ll be in the Campbell/San Jose, CA area for the monthly Bay Area Sashiko Workshop meetup. Sit and stitch with like-minded crafters ranging from absolute beginners to incredibly talented and experienced. All skill levels are welcome and light refreshments will be served. Fabrics, notions, thread, and assortment of other sewing goods will be available for purchase.

February 3 – I’ll be teaching sashiko and hand sewing in Alameda, CA with Upcycle Alameda at the fabulous Recrafting Co. shop for 6 Tuesday night sessions. Contact Joan at 510-913-2732 for more information.

February 19-21 – Come visit the Quilt, Craft, and Sewing Festival in San Mateo, CA. This is a fun, FREE show where you can try out new craft tools and find inspiration to actually finish projects you may have already started. Check out all the booths (including mine!) featuring beautiful materials and pick up supplies for your crafty ideas.

I’m in Stitch Magazine again – The Unofficial Downton Abbey Sews

This is a very yummy issue if you’re into historical and costume dramas in general and Downton Abbey in particular, which the editors at Stitch Magazine certainly are!


This very special issue includes instructions to make my tsumugi silk sashiko pillow. I do carry all the supplies needed, including the fabric, but not all supplies are currently listed because tsumugi is a pain to photograph and I need to get that dealt with. I did just find a stash of the Soie et silk thread #519 in the back of a cupboard (where I’d been hoarding it) and that is now back in the Kimonomomo Etsy shop.


They edited out some of my references to how Japanese silk works, assuming that most people don’t have access to tsumugi kimono silk anyway, which is sadly true. I chose to use tsumugi for this project because it behaves similar to cotton instead of the slippery (Chinese) silk most people are familiar with. Tsumugi fibers are untwisted and slubby, so it feels similar to dupioni or shantung. As it’s made for kimono, this fabric is typically 14″/36cm wide. I designed the pillow to use a 12″ pillow insert, easy to find at any major sewing or craft shop.

If you’re looking for tsumugi, I will have some listed later this week. In the meantime, here’s another project I did based on the same pattern, using indigo blue tsumugi and Soie et #501 silk thread. More photos later… the project is still evolving. But if you can’t wait to see how it went, check it out on Pinterest. 



Baseball and Sashiko

I’m teaching a few sashiko classes this fall, so I’ve been working on demonstration pieces to share with the students. I was working on one of them last night while Thomas and I listened to a baseball game on the radio. We cut off our cable TV a few months back to save money and our sanity, and the benefits have also included more time working together in the living room in the evenings. I’d say it’s been good for our relationship. :-)

This was made using pieces of vintage yukata cotton and Hida variegated sashiko thread #201 in the photo below.



Want to take the class? Live in the greater SF Bay Area? Check it out on Eventbrite. 

From Caterpillar to Kimono: a Journey in Silk, part 1

My brain is still on Tokyo time. I sit at the breakfast table with my tea and toast and contemplate the day ahead; only it’s almost noon and I’m still not really awake. Most nights I’m up until 1:00 or 2:00 AM, but I’m struggling to get back on a schedule the rest of the household can live with. Even the dogs want me to get to bed before midnight so I can feed them breakfast at a decent hour.

We learned so much on our Silk Study Tour in Japan. Ten days packed with information, travel, shopping, eating amazing food, and learning. I think my head is still recovering from all the new ideas I have to process. Going through my notes and photos I find there is so much to share with you, and so it begins.

Part 1 of the journey begins in on a sericulture farm in the outskirts of Tokyo, where we meet master sericulturist Koyota Okonogi and his wife. Along with a team of volunteer assistants and his English-speaking apprentice Noriko, the 90-year-old Koyota san showed us the stages of silkworm life from egg to caterpillar and pupa to cocoon.


Koyota san and apprentice Noriko san.

There are hundreds of types of silkworm, and Koyota san chooses to use the very best he can find. The variety he uses on his farm is a type more commonly used in the Edo era, and rare in today’s sericulture market. Today’s more readily available silkworm stock is often hybridized to produce stronger silk or larger cocoons, but this older variety produces a fine thread with a beautiful sheen.

Conditions for the silkworms are kept as stable as possible. Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillars are kept on woven trays in a small, dry, heated room where they are fed layers of fresh mulberry leaves. They eat and defecate as they grow larger, and the trays are switched out regularly to remove the fecal matter they leave behind. At all times the silkworms are encouraged to grow fat and happy. They do appear very content. The white powder is lime, used to keep the leaves dry and to discourage mold which might kill the young caterpillars.


The silkworms mill about, eating and growing larger, until it is time for them to sleep. The sleeping stage is evident when a caterpillar stands with his head aloft, gently swaying a little back and forth. This indicates the cocoon stage is next, and racks are put out for the silkworms to crawl into and make their soft little homes. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of those as they were not being used at the time we visited. The frames are made of wood, about a meter wide and maybe a bit longer, about two inches deep, and are an open, framed grid. the worms spin their cocoons, one to each square in the grid, and sleep again. Once the cocoons are harvested, the pupae inside must be killed or they will burst out of the cocoons, which spoils the thread so that it cannot be used for fine spinning. Some sericulturists steam the cocoons, others kiln-heat them.


Here Noriko san is assisting ShiboriGirl as she reels out silk from several cocoons at a time. The cocoons were put in boiling water for several minutes to soften the fibers, then a bundle of stiff rushes is brushed on each one to loosen a thread that can be used to begin reeling the cocoon out. Using this method, one person can reel up to 20 cocoons at a time, switching out the spent cocoons with the right hand while continuously reeling with the left. To stop reeling is to risk breaking the fine thread, and the work can be quite exhausting after a while.

silkworm4The silk filature is so fine it is almost invisible, until layers of it on a spool stand out as a testament to the spinner’s effort and endurance. I took the photo below with my right hand while turning the handle with my left. Some of the assistants found it amusing that I was juggling my camera in such a way, but I had been told not to stop spinning and I didn’t want to miss the shot!

The small arm with a wire loop moves back and forth to keep the thread spinning evenly onto the square wooden spool. The thread is a naturally beautiful, creamy white.


Another way to use the cocoons is to make mawata, layers of unrefined silk fiber. Boiled and softened cocoons are spread apart and stretched onto a wooden frame, layer by layer. Once dry, these layers make a single sheet of soft silk that weighs very little but has a great deal of tensile strength. It can be used as an effective bandage, as silk has many healing properties, or it may be stretched again to produce a thermal lining for a garment, or batting for a quilt.


As the mawata is stretched, one or more pupae (visible as a brown spot in the photo above) must be removed. In the first coccon I stretched the pupae inside had spoiled, leaving behind a nasty, gritty mess. I held it out to an assistant, who wordlessly demonstrated for me to scoop the muck out and keep going. I did, and found the next few cocoons I opened were fairly clean. Layer upon layer may be added until the frame goes from transparent to opaque.


When dry these handkerchief-sized mawata still retain their stretchability, and many of them may be expanded and layered to produce a comfortable quilt. It takes two pairs of hands to pull each mawata to the right dimensions, over and over again.


Apprentice Noriko san and Koyota’s wife add to the fluffy layers. Many of us started yawning at this point, as watching soft clouds of silk floating down onto the table was quite soporific. [I’ve always wanted to use that word in a story! It means sleep-inducing.]


Orange thread was used to tack the batting in place once the mawata was folded inside a cotton shell.

Koyota san’s hospitality extended not only to his farm and workshop, but into his home. Newly built in a traditional style by highly skilled carpenters, it shows the best of Japanese construction and refinement. Antique touches mix and mingle with modern accents.

Even the garden held a few surprises. I found this little saxifrage (“Yukinoshita”) hiding alongside a fence near the workshop. If only I could have brought it home!

Olympus Wagara cotton sashiko sampler project part 3


After completing the Persimmon Flower background, I felt the coat needed something. Referencing vintage firemen’s coats I decided to go with a plain stitch, echoing the technique of stitching together multiple layers of cotton to make the coats very thick. Historically, the coat would be drenched in water before the firefighter went forth to battle a fire. The soaking wet layers of cotton would be very heavy, but also protective.

The printed design is of an open coat viewed from the back. With a real coat the back would be two panels of fabric wide, the front two more panels wide. I lined up the ruler along one of the imaginary seam lines between a front and back panel, and started stitching in the area with Indigo thread. Click on any of the images to get a closer view.


Here’s how the work is going so far. I’m rather pleased with the effect. It’s not noticeable at first, but it does help with the puckering caused by all the Persimmon Flower stitches by balancing things out.


My stitches may not be even and tidy, but I prefer the handmade look of this project over some of the more stiff and precise projects I’ve worked on before. The Olympus preprinted kits area a wonderful way to get a feel for sashiko, but there are times I find it more fun to play around with ideas and make a bit of a mess, especially when I have no idea how the project will look until I’m done with it.

Part 4 is coming up.

Olympus Wagara cotton sashiko sampler project part 2

Here we go, on to the fun stuff.

sashiko_coat1The magic of Persimmon Flower — Kaki no Hana (柿の花) — is how it evolves. Like an actual blossom, it starts off simple and innocuous, then blooms into something wonderful. And it’s all about the math; if you want the blossoms to be bigger or smaller, you adjust your lines accordingly. This is where graph paper comes in handy because you can plot out your design in advance. Obviously I didn’t, because I’m spontaneous like that. Some might say “headstrong”, “impatient”, or “sloppy”, but I like “spontaneous”.

Sewing a straight line on this fabric is easy. Unlike standard Western quilting cottons, the weave is open enough that you can follow the weft. If you’ve never sewn sashiko before and were considering using embroidery floss and Western fabrics, stop now. Nothing beats Japanese thread on Japanese fabrics. They’re made for each other. Literally.

sashiko_coat2 Every sashiko book with tell you to allow enough slack in the thread so that the fabric won’t pucker, especially when turning corners. Do I listen? No. You should see how I knit, too. I’ve been told more than once that I could benefit from drinking a glass or two of wine before picking up my knitting needles because I knit like my project has to hold water. Tight tight tight. Be loose. Enjoy the flow. Be Zen.

Why did I start putting in my vertical lines before I’d finished the horizontal ones? Because I didn’t bother to measure in advance, of course. I could see my lines spreading out wider after I’d passed the sleeves, and I worried that by the time I came to the hem things wouldn’t balance out. And besides, I’m spontaneous. Yes I am. And honestly, I wanted to see how the blossom was going to look. Because I am impatient.


When I reached the hem area and could count the stitches to see they would not meet up as planned, I changed plans. This type of adaptation is evident on many vintage pieces, which gave me confidence to do what I knew had to be done. Persimmon Flower adapts to change so beautifully that it was almost a joy to revise my count and find that with just one altered vertical row I could make it work.sashiko_coat4
How did it turn out? Tune in tomorrow to find out… and see what I did next!

Olympus Wagara cotton sashiko sampler project part 1

Last year I stocked a single bolt of Wagara fabric. I wasn’t sure if it was worth the investment (they are pricey, even at wholesale!), but once I felt the fabric in my hands, I knew I’d made the right decision. Olympus, the Japanese company who makes all the sashiko supplies I carry in my Etsy shop, has been producing Wagara (traditional design) fabrics for some time now, and every year I see new patterns coming in while old ones disappear. It’s a case of get-it-while-you-can with these, and I will be snapping up several bolts this year.

firecoat1I listed this fabric with Firemen’s Jackets earlier this month, and cut a panel for myself to experiment with. It sat on my desk, taunting me for some weeks, until I decided to cut it up and stitch away. I like to work late at night when the house is quiet and I can shut myself away in my office undisturbed, with only the dogs to keep me company. Laying out fabric, thread, and needle, I pulled a sashiko book from my library and looked for image inspiration.

The white and off-white Olympus sashiko threads were too bright for the creamy unbleached cotton color of the fabric, so I decided to go with a contrasting color instead. The fabric is indigo with the design printed on the surface, not resist-dyed as it might have been 100 years ago, but this does keep the cost down so I’m not complaining. It also means the fabric is not reversible, but it makes great decorator fabric for something like a pillow or a quilt.

I decided to use Cranberry Red in a persimmon flower motif as a background to the single jacket I’d selected. Persimmon flower looks complicated, but it isn’t really. If you can count to four, you can do this stitch. It starts with horizontal lines in alternating rows, like laying bricks. After the fourth row, you reverse and mirror the previous row. I counted my rows, “one-two-three-four, four-three-two-one” as I went. It may be difficult to see in the images, but that’s probably because my stitches were too small. I figured that out later.

Here is my progress and hour or two later (who’s counting anyway? Thomas was upstairs in bed with a cold and I couldn’t sleep. It might have been 45 minutes or 3 hours. I have no idea. I did spend a while just staring at the piece trying to figure out what I was going to do, but that’s part of the creative process, right?). At this stage it’s layers of horizontal lines, nothing special. But wait until tomorrow when we bring in the vertical lines… then it gets interesting.



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