Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Sew into Fashion, Lincoln

I was chuffed to be asked to attend a super fashion event at Lincoln's EPIC Centre last week. Not only did I have a stall selling vintage and contemporary Japanese fabrics, my kits and other goodies, but I was also asked to be the judge of the 'Japan' themed fashion collections!

This meant I got a front-row seat right at the end of the catwalk and could see the students' fabulous designs up close.

The winning schools received amazing Janome sewing machines, so it was important to judge them carefully. In the end, the final collection - featuring interpretations of Japanese street fashion and a back-flipping model - was a clear winner and thoroughly deserved their prize.

More images from the night can be found here (I was too busy judging to take pics!) http://thelincolnite.co.uk/2011/07/kids-sew-into-fashion-at-show/ 

It was also good to meet the lovely Mich from MyFuroshiki in person. We've each bought each other's goodies in the past, so it was nice to put a face to the name at last. Check out her Folksy shop for Japanese fabric gift-wrapping loveliness.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Tiny Treasures

So this was some of my recent stash of kimono fabrics from Japan, but what to do with them? There's some real beauties in there, from children's kimono, formal and informal designs, as well as some lovely old pieces. I love to try and imagine who has worn these kimono, when and why...

In Japan there is a philosophy called mottainai. It's a bit like 'reduce, reuse, recycle', and it applies to anything really, including kimono that have been damaged or stained so can not be worn any more. They are cut up and given a new lease of life, perhaps as a handbag or cushion. The leftover scraps are made into small toys and decorations. Nothing is wasted. Hence why my little warehouse is bursting at the seams (bonus points for haberdashery metaphor!) with vintage kimono fabrics, ready to be made into, er, something.

Usually I make kanzashi brooches from these precious scraps, but after 2 or 3 years I decided it was time for a change. So, now I present my new range of jewellery: Tiny Treasures!
Small but beautifully formed, each pendant contains a piece of exquisite, vintage kimono fabric, encapsulated in shiny, clear resin. They are all handmade by me and are available in round...
or square...
Obviously, each piece is absolutely unique!
They come on a waxed cord thong with a silver clasp, and are presented in a dinky lilac organza bag, like so:
I'm envisaging most of these will be sent to galleries and shops, so I'm not going to put them up on my website as it's too difficult to keep on top of what's in stock (what with them being unique and all). However, if there are any that grab your fancy, give me a shout at katie@japancrafts.co.uk. Even if that particular one is no longer in stock, I may have more of the fabric that I can make another from. They are £10 each, + £2 P&P (P&P is the same regardless of your order size, so why not pop over to www.japancrafts.co.uk while you're at it and let me know if there's anything else you'd like!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Lights, Kimono, Action!

When people ask me what I do for a living, I usually say I teach Japanese arts and crafts. But this doesn't really cover half of what I actually do from day to day. I have to juggle all sorts of balls to keep the business going, and sometimes I end up in quite bizarre situations!

 So yesterday I was in Sheffield, in a kimono, with a camera in my face...

There's a wonderful and completely fabulous art show in Sheffield each September, called Art in the Gardens. It's been going since 2004, and I've been there each year - how old does that make me feel?! The show is set in the beautiful grounds of Sheffield Botanical Gardens but because I have a tendency to hang a few wedding kimono from the ceiling, they let me exhibit in the glass pavilion (plus that's the home of the Japanesey plants). Over the years I've made some firm friends there, so it's a bit of a social event too. Plus, my ancestors hailed from Sheffield as early as 1377 and built the still-standing Bishops House! (my maiden name was Blyth, from 'de Blythe'). We moved from Sheffield in 1982. So, it's a joy for me to go back there every now and again.

Anyway, back to yesterday...

Some weeks ago, Organiser Howard asked if I would be 'the face' of this year's event! 'Oh, it'll just be a few posters', I thought, so I agreed. They wanted me to wear kimono too. No problem. All we needed was a nice, sunny day for the photos, but at the end of May that's a safe bet, right? Hmm. So the date was set, but when it came, the forecasts said 70mph winds and rain. Weather warnings in place throughout the UK. OK...

Not to be defeated, we agreed to go ahead regardless, but I decided there was a greater chance of arriving in one piece on the train than in the car, plus I could get my makeup on, en route. Organiser Howard even gave me a lift from the station so I wasn't too wind-swept upon arrival. Of course, the minute we got to the gardens, it started raining! Undeterred, I changed into my kimono, in someone's office, with one foot against the door to stop anyone barging in, and no mirror, in 10 minutes flat. Oh yeah! To my great delight, the lovely Kitty Kanzashi battled the elements and arrived before the photographer, so she was able to straighten me out where necessary, and take some snaps for you guys.
Cue cheesy grins for half an hour and that was about it. 

Except I asked Organiser Howard what exactly the photos would be used for. Apparently it's not just a few posters. It's about 75 of those 8 foot tall JCDecaux billboards(!), banners on every park railing in Sheffield, ALL the flyers, posters and programmes for the event. Ohhh... So if you live, or happen to be, in Sheffield over the next few months, I'll be watching you!!! 

But most importantly, please do try and make it to the event. It's a real family day out with tons of art, performances, stuff to see and do, you may even see some Victorians wandering around, plus loads of the market traders from Sheffield with stalls of handmade goodies, and of course there are the gardens themselves to admire. And don't forget to come and say hello to me!!!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A Manic Few Weeks

OK so I've been useless and not posted on here for a few weeks. But believe me, I've not had time to catch my breath since we got back from Japan. I've done more talks and workshops than you can shake a kendo stick at, plus a fundraising day, all of which involved a lot of preparation and travelling.

At the fundraising day I was genuinely surprised, but very happy, to be presented with this gorgeous bonsai tree! 
I've also written 2 magazine articles; one for Creative Crafting on Japanese traditional crafts, and one for the Beadworkers Guild Journal which involved devising a project using kumihimo braiding with beads, and an interview about me and my work. It's amazing how much work went into the project. The easy part was designing the bracelet, but then I had to make lots of samples, take step-by-step photographs (not easy when you need 2 hands to braid with and you've no tripod!), edit said photos, write instructions linked to the photos and then package the lot off to the Guild. Apparently, everyone in the office is coveting the bracelets so I'll have to count them when I get them back! Both articles will be published next month, for the July editions.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, I made a baby's quilt. This was a commission which I got before Japan, so I was able to get some lovely waffle-weave fabrics from Kyoto. I've grabbed an hour here and there (usually in front of the 10 o'clock news) and it is finally done! The technique I used is Japanese Folded Patchwork (NOT Cathedral Windows as some people think when I teach it!). Although I machined some of it, there was a lot of hand stitching involved, which I love doing.
This is how the back looks
I've also been busy arranging workshops with several craft shops who stock my kits. So, you are welcome to come along if you want to learn! Here's the dates:

May 26th The Paper Lane, Northallerton KANZASHI BROOCH MAKING

June 18th Lythe Village Hall (Gillmot Crafts) FUROSHIKI GIFT WRAPPING AND NEEDLE FELTING

June 25th The Paper Lane, Northallerton ORIGAMI with KIMONO DRESSING DEMONSTRATION

These days should be great fun as you will meet other crafters and learn something completely different and new. Please contact the organisers through the links above to book a place.

And last, but probably most importantly, I can now announce an event that my kimono teacher and I discussed when we were in Japan. Emiko is going to come to the UK in November especially to work with Japan Crafts to raise money for Japan. Much of the country is still devastated and will need help long after the disaster disappears from our news. So, although November is a way off, money raised then will be as much needed as it is now. Details of Emiko's visit (and the other stuff Japan Crafts has been doing for Japan) can be seen here

If you have any questions or ideas for Emiko's visit, please do get in touch x

Monday, 25 April 2011


Since the weather forecast gave us a "0% chance of rain" today, we were fully prepared when the first big rains/thunderstorm came at 8.30am. We were even treated to a hail storm! Didn`t see that one coming, did you, weather forecasters?

During a break in the rain, we walked to Kitano Tenmangu shrine (about 30 mins) for the huge monthly market there. It was great fun to browse around the stalls - loads of second hand kimono and fabric, yum! I even worked up the courage to negotiate a couple of discounts, and it worked. Result! I remember this old lady from 3 years ago when I came to this market. She is so sweet, we had a good natter while I bought stuff from her.
We were accosted by a group of very sweet school girls whose task for the day was to grab foreigners and `interview` them with a few set questions, in English. We obliged, and of course photos were taken on both sides. The whole market was buzzing with people and we had a great time.

Lunch was typical street market food; okonomiyaki for Boyf - a pancake with egg, cabbage, noodles and lashings of mayonnaise. I went for the safe veggie option of dango - rice on a stick, grilled with a sticky soy sauce until the rice is crispy. You can`t beat getting served by an old guy with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, can you? By the way, the tea came free from a boiler in the corner of his stall, but bleugh!!! Tasted like he`d been dropping his cigarette ends in it! We chucked it behind the bench.
For dessert we picked up some warabe mochi from one of the stalls - jelly-like pounded rice, covered in a special flour (it`s nicer than I just made it sound!)
With a full suitcase and lots of heavy bags, we just had time to catch a bus home to drop off the shopping, then were straight back out to meet a friend in town. As we left the house, we heard the biggest, longest rumble of thunder ever...and grabbed our umbrellas in readiness. Sure enough, the rain (and this time it was RAIN!!!), thunder and wind tried their best to prevent us getting to the bus stop. Undeterred, we made it into town and met our friend, who`d made reservations for us to try making `otabe` sweets. If you`ve been to Kyoto, you`ll have seen otabe everywhere. Every other shop sells the stuff, because it`s delicious and makes a great present to take home. We were so excited to make our own otabe!

At the workshop, a table had been prepared for us.
First we made a dough from rice flour, sugar and water. We kneaded the dough slighly until it was smooth, then put it in a special cooker. While the mixture was cooking, we watched a film about the otabe factory.
We each made 3 pieces of otabe, and could choose flavours; matcha (green tea powder) or cinnamon. The large jar held `kinako` flour to coat the dough in so it didn`t stick (same as warabe mochi, above).

We could choose our fillings too - sakura, adzuki bean or black sesame. Mmm.
The lady who taught us even took a photo and turned it into postcards for us before we left. Oh, and she made us delicious houjicha tea to enjoy with our sweets. What a wonderful experience! Of course, we tried lots of samples before buying some otabe in the shop too, which came in a gorgeous box and swanky gift bag.
We went back to the veggie restaurant with cats from the other week, for our evening meal. Can you imagine a Japanese restaurant that looks like this? Stuff everywhere! But relaxed and cool. We got 6 dishes each in our dinner sets, with variations between each person`s food so we could share. This was mine, for example.
I couldn`t tell you what each dish is...but it`s soooo reassuring as a veggie, to know there`s nothing`dodgy` in it! Despite the Thunder God`s best efforts to spoil the day, we had a really great time today.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

3 Weddings and a Thunderstorm!

We walked the two miles or so to Kamigamo Shrine as there was a market there of handmade goods sold by the artisans who`d made them. Just as we arrived, we saw a bride getting out of a car dressed in full Japanese bridal kimono. See the white covering on her head? That`s to hide her `cuckold`s horns` (it used to be customary for Japanese men to have many mistresses).
Here`s the happy couple after the main ceremony.
We saw another bride in similar costume, and also a bride in a Western wedding dress. Although the shrine was busy, nobody else seemed to take much notice of the weddings going on all around.

Kamigamo is a shrine to the God of Thunder. As the trusty weather forecast had said there was only a 10% chance of rain, we thought we`d be safe but by now had learnt to do as the Japanese do and take umbrellas everywhere regardless. We`d only just learnt to love our umbrellas yesterday, as it poured all day so we had to take brollies wherever we went. After 30-odd years in the UK, it was the first time I`d really appreciated their functionality.

So we were glad we`d brought them when it started to rain...then came the thunder and lightning! It seemed the God of Thunder was smiling on us in the only way he knew how!
The entrance to the shrine has a lovely big torii gate, with an enormous cherry tree which was still in bloom even though most in Kyoto have fallen by now. We felt lucky to see it in its prime.
There were also lots of horses and riders, practicing for their annual race/horse archery festival on 5th May. This festival has been held for over 300 years and we saw how the men had worn the same costumes then as they do now. A wooden horse showed original tack, which doesn`t fit modern horses as they are much larger than the old ones. Look at the traditional stirrups - we saw some of these at the antique market the other day too.
Some buildings in the shrine had lovely, thatched roofs.
In the afternoon we met our good friend Wakako, who introduced us to her fiance. We were moved to see how much in love they are, as well as being very touchy-feely which is rare in public in Japan. It was also nice that she came up and gave us all a big hug too!
Unfortunately, Tetsuo san couldn`t stay long, but we went round the market with Waka, then walked back to our house for a drink (beer for her, as usual!) and some rice balls I`d knocked up earlier. On a side note, this is the first trip where I`ve done cooking in Japan, and I`ve really enjoyed it as well as saving us some cash!

We gave her some mini eggs as it`s Easter Day today, and it`s a tradition for me to send her some every year. Here we are having a relax in the house. She could only spare a few hours to be with us, but it was a precious time as we weren`t sure we`d be able to see her at all this trip.
Oh and by the way, the rain did EVENTUALLY clear up!!!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Climb Every Mountain

Before we set out each morning, we check the weather forecast and plan our day accordingly. So today`s "20% chance of rain" seemed a safe enough bet for a day of hiking. Back in England, I`d scoured the internet and found a lovely, scenic but quite strenuous hike up the mountains, starting from Fushimi Inari shrine which is a great place to visit in itself.

We arrived at the shrine in time for an early lunch. I had a speciality of the area - oinari-zushi - pockets of fried tofu stuffed with rice. Another local speciality on the menu was grilled sparrow on a stick; apparently in the olden days there were too many sparrows around the shrine, so people started eating them to keep the numbers down. Although Boyf was tempted, nobody from our group tried this particular delicacy.
The others had cucumber sushi...
...tempura donburi (rice bowl)...
...and nishin soba (smoked herring and noodle soup).
Just as we finished our meal, we found ourselves on the wrong end of the "20% chance of rain". It was pouring! We decided to take a leisurely walk around the shrine and see what happened.
There are thousands and thousands of red `torii` gates all over the shrine. This tunnel of gates was featured in the `Memoirs of a Geisha` film. It was great to get a shot withot tourists in!

It was apparent that the rain wasn`t going away, so in true British style we decided to hike up the mountain anyway! After all, we had my printed route to follow...until SOMEBODY thought it would be a great idea to follow a random little path instead and see where it led...

...well, it led up. And up. And up. Up concrete paths, forest floor, neverending steps, up and up and up until our legs could take it no more. And all the time it rained good, old-fashioned, proper wet rain. As we`d taken a random path, there were none of the views or resting places from the proper route, just neverending upness. There were shrines dotted around near the foot of the mountain.
And pretty flowers to see. We were also accompanied by the sound of nightingales, which was lovely.
EVENTUALLY we reached the top and there was absolutely nothing to be done but to come back down. By this time we had the added hazard of slippery wet scree to negotiate - it really was a wonder we got down with our ankles intact! But what an adventure!!!

When we finally reached the bottom, we realised we`d climbed right round the other side of the mountain, so instead of being in Kyoto we were now somewhere in the outback of Fushimi, in the rain, lost. I looked back to take a quick shot of the mountain we`d conquered.
After much broken Japanese and gesticulating with several kindly-looking old ladies, we found a bus which took us back to the safe environs of Kyoto.

Not quite the day we`d planned, but it`s given us another tale to tell nonetheless. But by heck, our legs will be feeling it in the morning!