We met in Kuroha sensei’s shop, Nuno Space, hidden away in the Tokyo suburb of Chiba. The shop is tiny and we sat at a table in the middle of it, sipping green tea for an hour or two before she was scheduled to teach a class. Kuroha san (as she is fondly known throughout Japan) spoke rapidly, softly, and with vigor. She was a gracious host.
Shizuko Kuroha (黒羽志寿子) works primarily with vintage fabrics, especially indigo-dyed cottons. Her work has been shown internationally, including an exhibit at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the Spring of 2016.
Masterful piecework, strong geometric design elements, and an incredible eye for color and shading make Kuroha san’s work a delight to behold. Her work is often featured at the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival, where she also serves as a show judge. In January, 2017 she will have quilts in the TIGQF special exhibits New Works by Japanese Quilt Artists: Log Cabin Sensation and William Morris: Paradise on Earth.
Kuroha san first discovered traditional Western quilting while living in the United States. Her husband worked as a newspaper journalist in Maryland in 1975, reporting on the US Bicentennial. During this two-year assignment, Kuroha san found antique quilts, and she chose to focus on learning more about quilting, rather than learning English! The next 40 years have been spent in perfecting her technique, building on her intuitive grasp of light and movement, finding new ways to bring 3D perception into a 2D artform.
Kuroha san works on several quilts at a time, typically completing only two quilts a year. Although disciplined and focused on her craft, she has also found time to publish magazine articles and books, including Indigo & Sarasa (currently out of print) which was originally published in Japanese, and later published in French and English through QuiltMania. Her Patchwork Basics book published in 2014 is in Japanese, but the photos are very clear and helpful.
[Note: copy and paste the ISBN number into your browser to search for this book. Kinokuniya is a good place to start.]
This tiny square is a sample of her attention to detail. It also looks somewhat approachable. I think I can do this. Goodness knows I have enough tiny scraps. But do I have the patience?
This quilt was shown at a previous TIGQF and photos cannot capture the full effect of this piece. The textures bring so much more to the sensory experience. This is a quilt not just meant to be looked at and admired, but touched as well. I count myself very fortunate for having had the experience of handling it (after carefully moving my teacup out of the way).
Note the variations in tone from dark, almost black indigo to pale, sky blue. The tea-brown hue of vintage Sarasa (trade cottons from India) peep here and there. Woven stripes give a sense of structure, while wispy florals soften the edges. Even a small scrap of precious vintage fabric can be used to great effect.
Always searching for more efficient and faster ways to sew, she works with two thimbles – a metal “tortoise shell” thimble on her middle finger for pushing the needle, and a rubber thimble on her index finger for pulling it – and no hoop. “Move the fabric, not your hands,” she instructs. Keep your hands close together, fold the fabric over the needle, and keep your thread tension even, not tight. On her sewing hand she wears a black, fingerless compression glove to prevent fatigue.
Kuroha san found Japanese sewing needles of better quality than those she could purchase in the US. She also cautions against using cheap pins, as they can snag or otherwise damage delicate fabrics. “Poor quality pins cannot hold fabric well. Japanese pins are finer, smoother, sharper. Pin placement is important or the next step will not work properly.”
Her advice to those new to Japanese quilting: “Look beyond Mt. Fuji and Geisha. Japanese quilters use color, light, and shadow. It’s more than using beautiful fabric; express the potential of fabric that is simple. Express what you want to say with quilting.”
Many thanks to Mr. Takahashi and Mr. Utsugi for making this possible. ご助力ありがとうございます.
For more information about the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival go to http://www.tokyo-dome.co.jp/e/quilt/.