Sunday, May 15, 2016


After wet-finishing, Mom's two pieces of fabric weren't as different in softness as when they came off the loom, but different enough we have to rely on the knowledge and skills of her friend who will help Mom design something, and sew it for her. I still like to see a vest with stand collar is nice, but they could up up with a mindblowing geometric something. Who knows.

I wove another fabric using a merino bouclé in the weft, thinking it would absorb the different elasticity of the warp yarns. (Both above and below, the red looks to pale and pink; they are saturated deep blue red, deeper than the top pic.) It did; every time I advanced the warp there was a skinny wedge-shaped gap on the right, but after the piece rested off the loom for a couple of days, they were almost invisible; after wet finish, the difference appears to have been absorbed.
I had thought another bouclé or otherwise uneven textured yarn in many colors would be best, and had chosen the middle yarn in variegated blues/purples/orange I saved for a special project. But after I finished the bouclé, I wove an inch of plain weave as I do with all my fabrics, and goodness, I liked the look of untextured cloth. So, even though I knew it probably wasn't the best decision, I started the last piece using possum/merino/silk mix in darkish burgundy with charcoal flecks. (Probably less blue than the above pic.) The special yarn looks better with cooler colors in the warp, I think, that doesn't bring out the orange so much, as seen in this warp-end swatch.
* * * * *

I've been feeling boring; not bored, but boring. My mind is dull, I'm boring, and my pieces are boring.

I find stash-busting projects I design around yarns uncomfortable, mostly because I'm not used to yarns as a starting point and can't seem to shift to the whole cloth smoothly. I find making interesting designs on four challenging, mainly because I have this prejudice four-shaft projects should be quick and easy. And these expose my technical weaknesses and this is so aggravating/discouraging; without good technique, I can't fathom weaving those simple but sublime pieces. Some of the latest show I'm getting technically suckier and I wonder what I'm lacking: mental prowess, dedication, concentration, or if it's aging, mental or physical.

I envy the ease, with paper or needlepoint, I could start on/move between project; I don't have to work serially but can revisit/revise. The best I can do with weaving is to have multiple looms dressed at all times, but it's not the same.

My life has been work-friendly where I have been free to engage in multiple long-term or in-depth projects, but I can't seem to settle on topics/subjects and instead spend a lot of time on casual reading, mostly online. As if my heart isn't really in it, although I so want it to be. I'm mildly but constantly tired. I wonder if I'm mildly depressed, but because I've learned how to distract myself I've managed to float above it, without it completely going away. Whatever, it's been frustrating and not productive in a proactive way; I've managed to weave on good days, for a while, but somehow frequently enough.

I also feel this weird almost symbiotic relationship with Mom, where we talk, then I unconsciously adopt her characteristics/complaints. I've noticed this once before after some weeks in Japan, but this time it's been overwhelming. I know this is not me because symptoms like a) not being able to concentrate/dig deep, or b) not sampling enough before selecting wefts and then discovering they were so wrong and I knew it if I thought about it, are so not me but totally her. It's as if her characteristics/complaints have taken over me.

I remember, a decade ago, every project was a big deal and I went through the design process, reinventing the wheel for each. That was my default way and it still feels "right". Then Ali suggested I not reinvent the wheel for every piece, so I started to look into series/variations; usually one warp/three pieces came out of a project/idea.

I must have also started thinking about "production", as in making pieces quickly to sell. In doing so my relationship with each piece became diluted, while my focus unintendedly shifted to simplifying/systematizing, (making easier,) the making; which I guess implies there is a "standard" and every piece is reviewed with a checklist. I was always unattached to my finished pieces, I couldn't wait for them to walk out the door, but now I feel uninvolved in the making.

I've been thinking of a standard size or three for online shop pieces so I have standard packaging; developing a pattern or three for cute bags to make with warp-end swatches; and as ever, the visual cohesion. I know some of this make sense, and they may save cost, but yikes, that's exactly what I hate and have been screaming about, the bottom-line/accountant-led society of the last 30 years, right? Moreover, do people want Scarf#2 from a set of six when buying directly from a weaver? Do you know what I mean?

I think series are still good; it provides a chance to stay with the project and see it from different angles or delve in different ways. I think focus on unique characteristics of yarns is good if I could stop see them as locking me in a certain way of designing. I have many interesting ideas and concepts, although I've noticed I'm not as partial to some but feel they are equally interesting, and I can't decide if this is a good or bad because it's not me. I can't decide if I get more excited about successful color combinations or drafts. And there is no one idea, material, or mental picture jumping up and down for attention. Luckily I'm not too tired or old, yet, to quit; I still have the desire to get back into the game.

I've been itching to work on a gray project deserving of some contemplation. I hope I get my brain juice back next week.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Dad died three years ago tonight. He was 85.5. It's not true the loss of a parent gets easier; it got worse for me because I don't remember much about our tenuous relationship, (and how that perturbed/irritated the rest of the family,) how strict he was, but only the funny, happy stuff, and how I should have been a kinder daughter, especially in the six or seven weeks I was home weeks prior to his passing.

Mom is now 85.5, and is having a hard time sticking to weaving projects, because her concentration wanes and her body aches, but has no problem socializing. In fact, she hasn't got enough friends to socialize with, because, I swear, given the choice, she'd be out lunching eight days a week. My extremely active Mom started to slow down dramatically at around 80; Dad probably a few years younger. Provided I stay as active and healthy as my parents, (yeah, about that... ) I can count on weaving for another 8003 days, to my 80th birthday, although I st'd still like to die at my loom in my 90's just after I finally finish weaving a most fabulous piece of cloth.

Dad's mind was as sharp as anything until the moment he told Mom he's going, (he did!) but the body started limiting his activities perhaps a decade ago, (he didn't say much unless it was serious,) and began seriously failing at 84. It had a good run, though, because it went through tuberculosis and one lung collapsing before 30, and yet played baseball with 20-year-olds until shortly after 50. Dad was a heavy smoker and drank a bit, but Mom's insistence on healthy food since the early 1970's and is living in a house on top of a very steep hill helped. (Except when my sister had a few awkward pubertal months when she kept falling, sometimes daily.) So well-done, Dad's Body!

Dad was a thinker, although outside of his work, he was mostly an armchair thinker/student/critic, which is why I tend to remember him in terms of his ideas/opinions/intentions, his voice, not necessarily requiring his physical body. Although he thought he was one fine-looking man, and told us every chance he had.

Mom, on the other hand, is a jock. Although she's complained about her minor health woes as long as I can remember, I see her as an energetic blur, always trying to get through housework as quickly as possible so she can plunge into her hobbies, of which there were many: hiking, tennis, exercise class; English; interminable phone conversations with her friends while we were young and now lunches and trips; and a myriad of fiber crafts. She read as little as possible before she could jump straight into the doing, and has certainly woven a much wider range of items/techniques using any natural fiber she could get her hands on. Though she's always had terrible memory, she can recite instructions to a technique, and many other things she is interested in, decades after she learned them. So Mom, for me, is her body, which figuratively leaned slightly forward because of excess energy and her forward-looking nature. Aging has been harder for her, and she hasn't stopped complaining.

Of the three off-springs, I'm most like Dad in temperament, in hoping logic can solve all problems, in sitting around and thinking a lot. I probably read/study the most, I was the best student of our lukewarm, restless bunch, but I could be wrong because the other two don't boast. But I've noticed a change, I'm doing more like Mom, these last few years, since I decided no amount of thinking about great weaving was going to get me anywhere and I needed the practice, which hopefully would lead to a "body of work", which would show me some options/directions/hints, and I'll have fulfilled Randy Darwall's suggestion of 9.5 years ago: be my own apprentice.

Having passed 58 a month ago, I have 698 days left for the big stash reduction attempt. (See, observe the language. It's now an "attempt", like a "challenge", not a "plan".) Although I've been making steady progress for a little over a year, doing well when I don't bother with the garden, there is so much yarn, and I'm dreading having to revise my goals from "everything except the cottons on cones and cashmeres," to "all wool and anything else I can manage," because I know it isn't gonna cut it. Yet everything I saved are nice, so for now, keep on keeping on is all I can do.

The focus on stash reduction frustrating me. Because I have the yarns in front of me, there's not enough pre-weaving mulling or indecisiveness, which I've come to think of as my design process. Productive, but careless, uninvolved. Nothing prevents me from indulging, but for example some of Mom's wools and silks are so interesting themselves, I fear my preference for fussy patterns may ruin the yarns. And I realize there is that further step where I can design to show the yarns in the best light, I haven't reached that point.  

The rest of the family is gathering at a pub with great fish dishes this evening. Dad's going to have to split his time tonight.
This was my parents with a few of Dad's alumni at the parents' 55th wedding anniversary party, 2010. Between 30 and 50 of them get together every few years, the last partying being a year ago today. The "gakusei" (university students) are now between 50-ish and 75-ish.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Ten + 1 / Cultural Appropriation

Yesterday was Unravelling's tenth birthday. I intended a special post and for a few months auditioned topics/projects/giveaways, drafted posts and looked at photos, but nothing stood out. Because in a weaver's life, I feel, ten years is nothing but an "approach run". (Really? There is not the one word to describe the few steps athletes takes before they do the deed, that short run; or are my online Japanese-English dictionaries bonkers??) By the afternoon not mentioning the birthday looked to be the best option, but that felt... dishonest, so here I am. Thank you for your presence in the last ten years, be it for most of it, since last week, or here and there occasionally.

That taken care of, I want to record a mishmash of thoughts I've collected in the last few months/years which seem to belong to one category/direction, which in the current parlance, could loosely be labeled "cultural appropriation".

Warning: I'm going to consider race and other potentially offensive stuff because I lack the latest appropriate vocabulary but am still interested, also because I believe people involved in "arts" are open to discourse and expressing opinions over politics and being the smartest guy in this tiny room. But if you are sensitive, you might want to walk away.

Let's see how many I can remember:

1) Cultural appropriation in New Zealand art education; I don't know how it is now, but basically the word then was, if you're not from that group, don't use it. This was my first introduction to the concept although it makes the news here from time to time. How about newer, more "international" stuff, though? Hip hop/rap?

2) Before I went to Japan in February, I looked up exhibitions and bookmarked a bunch, the most interesting being one of textiles/garments used in or related to superstition/voodoo and protection. I didn't read the details then, but from memory the exhibition was to be held in a fashion/art school gallery, showing items from Asia or "The Third World". When I finally had time to go, the link was invalid and I could not for the life of me find anything, but the idea of garment as protection and/or infused with magic intrigued me. It also tied in nicely with my pet peeve of textiles (other than symbolic garments/fragments,) not being represented enough in ethnological/history museums because they are often not seen as valuable. (I know, they don't last as well as hard stuff.)

3) General lack of knowledge/research/care of places/people/cultures/things we are nevertheless sincerely interested in/inspired by; what's the right way, how much is enough, and if/when we learn, what's the right balance of sensitivity vs. change/innovation/creativity? Were, for example, cave paintings available to everybody in the respective communities or only to a subset? I've been a fan of Torres Straight Islands' carvings/masks since 2001 but they were hard to find in Australia; do they have tribal/ritual/spiritual/(religious) meaning and/or simply should be hidden to outsiders? I know some West African masks are hard to see for this reason. Is it OK for outsiders to take them out of context/place, be shown far away/traded for money vs educational benefit? How do we reconcile today's technology with knowing what is accurate; who do we ask and who can approve of what we do? How do we know when we've appropriated if something magical was embedded in our subconscious way back?

4) This weekend a couple of issues popped up on Facebook, one being Beyoncé's new video and the other George Takei's objection to Tilda Swindon being cast as a "Tibetan/Nepalese superhero" hat-tipping to the Chinese government/market. I don't know much about Beyoncé nor about yet another superhero film, but I read a few op-eds and free-for-all comments. Is it appropriation, (i.e bad,) when the majority ("Whites") take from minorities but adaptation (i.e. good,) in the other direction? Is it OK if the borrower pays the originators, if this possible? Is there a societal norm/standard to which every member is automagically exposed? Oh, what about all the food we all appropriate and adapt? (Do you know how many neighborhood eateries serve "curry" in Japan??) I tend to favor political correctness because I think it propels us, but re. "art", does it also hinder, perhaps unnecessarily, and if so, where do we place import?

5) My struggle with my own lapsed-Japanese-ness. I loathe "Western" oversimplification: of samurai; of feminine (sexual) submissiveness; of kimono where authentic is more appropriate; of our presumed penchant for minimalism; of haiku, et al; and the recent boro craze. (Likewise I cringe at the entertainment/media/political take on Arab=Muslim=terrorist, including lumping Kiwi and other darker actors in Arab roles, Russia=bad, etc.) Yet in many cases, I don't have much information, I haven't researched enough, and can only tell you, "Because it's not true/it's just wrong or in bad taste/you have to be Japanese to understand." In other words, sometimes it's only my gut feeling. But don't we trust gut feeling of others when their culture is involved? On the other hand, I appreciate the seemingly less-filtered appreciation of Japanese art by 19C Impressionists, or aizome/indigo-dye works and techniques shown together with techniques and aesthetics from other places. I've thought about by feelings but they're feelings and I don't have good answers.

6) How Japanese am I? How anything? Can I, from urban Yokohama, speak for or take part in preserving, (by way of talking about,) say, Ohshima Tsumugi, an ikat tradition from Okinawa? When I "talk" about it, for the most part I look research online, books if I have any, and translate, with emphasis on conveying meanings and nuances rather than accuracy of lexicon, but I'm seldom if ever reviewed by others. (I do correct when I find I've been wrong or misleading.) How responsible am I as a Japanese talking about things Japanese, vs. how important is it for anyone to keep traditions alive any way possible?

How about other people who move around, or have mixed heritage? I'm thinking not only of the ease of travel and ever-handy technology, but also of Japanese who immigrated to Brazil three-to-generations ago, who maintained the culture better than us; Japanese linguists studying Okinawan dialects which has maintained more from Japanese of the Tale of Gendi era, or Swedish scholars who came to Minnesota to study older versions of their language. Is older always more authentic?

7) Japan has, in spite of claiming a whole lot of things as "traditionally Japanese", an astonishing history of bringing in foreign concepts/technology/aesthetics and molding it to our liking. The indigenous population of Japan were Ainu, of whom a handful remain in Hokkaido; the rest of us, we don't exactly know where we came from; a mix of people by land from the Korean peninsula, by sea from around Taiwan and the Philippines, and even up north from Russia, is the going theory. Influences first came from China/Korea, India and Persia, (rice production and Buddhism being two biggies,) and then from the West after 1548, (Catholic Christianity and medicine are of note,) and a whole host of others since 1868. After WWII our education system and contents were dictated by the Allies, so that sped things up considerably. in all facets of life and from a young age. I'm astounded Confucianism stayed, but then we are secular in the main and religion as philosophy doesn't really stick, just the rituals. As a Japanese, am I careless in adopting/stealing? How does this relate to my feeling I never have an original thought?

8) I prefer inclusiveness, so when some NZ schools banned hot cross buns before Easter some years ago, my take was, keep the buns but celebrate other significant celebrations also and get them started early. I used to enjoy the annual Dewali party started by a few Indian families in Nelson, but when I read this year that Passover feast has become a thing among non-Jews as well, I wondered how Jewish people felt, how many people that one label covered; I felt sad for them without knowing why. How would Maori feel about making Matariki, their New Year, an all-of-New-Zealand celebration, how many do we ask, who do we believe?

9) I am also for authenticity, at least for the old stuff to remain alongside the new. Even when Bamiyan's Big Buddha was destroyed, even while museums in Bagdad and Cairo were ransacked, I thought treasures should remain close to their origins, should be actively and quickly repatriated, rather than stay in London, Berlin, Tokyo. Syria of late has shaken this belief: I was working at the Syrian embassy in Tokyo as a translator in '83/'84 when an NHK (Japanese public broadcaster, now government mouthpiece,) documentary team got the first ever permission as as a Western/international (?) team to show Palmyra, even from air with the help of their military. (They even covered the paved highway with sand for us so the approach by car looked more dramatic, er, "authentic".) Everybody was under Assad Senior then, so there's that, but goodness, I learned about the scale and condition of the sites and have intended to visit one day. And now I can't help wondering if someone had pillaged the city even in small parts...

10) What am I allowed to do? And should I change or maintain traditions/styles/aesthetics if I claimed to be inspired by something? How much?

I'd really like to hear from you. Ask me anything you want, tell me anything you like, but if you do, it'd be great if you can give us a little of your background. And let's not take personal/political offence, but feel free to express our honest thoughts. I really would appreciate hearing from you.