Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sweet & Sour September, Part 4: Yoshiko Wada Workshop - Recap

*** Warning: Much Self-Pitying (OK, some) and Confusion (Much) and NOT a Lot of Dye Stuff ***

Where do I begin, to tell you about my experiences in this workshop. In retrospect, I might have lived in a quasi-panic-attack for the entire duration. I have only impressions and feelings and hazy mind-pictures to recall, as if I wasn't really there. And I found dichotomy everywhere.

Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada ran a Boro workshop in Nelson from September 20 to 22, 2010. She is a petite, elegant woman who appears and speaks exactly as she did in some of the video clips discussing Boro. For someone who teaches dyeing, she was immaculately dressed in interesting textiles, and from time to time we all were very distracted by what she wore.

Yoshiko is an overwhelmingly-lovely person, someone who finds joy, discovery, and praises for others easily. But inside there is also a fireball who works tirelessly to convey the correct information, to preserve what she sees worthy, and to promote the vanguards in fashion and textiles, and not just things Japanese.

The first morning, I walked into the classroom almost late, as usual, and soon afterwards Yoshiko approached me to introduce herself, and to tell me she saw some of my pieces at the Suter the previous weekend. Needless to say, I was completely floored by her kindness, but I think she had something nice to say to everybody, and every student took away from the workshop something personal, a moment or a few words, that each of us will treasure for a long time. Which is amazing considering how busy we all were, and how chaotically the workshop progressed.

Our Boro workshop started with a brief discussion on the history and definition of Japanese Boro; that it is not only stitching but includes mending and repurposing; but that in our own making, it doesn't have to have anything to do with Japanese or Indigo, but everything to do with the history of each piece of cloth, and sometimes, the maker. So, my understanding of how Yoshiko uses the word "boro" is more a philosophy/mindset rather than a style, specific to material, technique, or even aesthetics.

Something I found conflicting (??) was this: Yoshiko emphasized the original boro quilts having been textiles of necessity, of make do, as many quilts used to be. There was never much aesthetic intention in the making-process. I think she even spelled that these makers were not "artists". Almost in the same breath she insisted "beauty" was an integral part of (art/craft) objects.

I wasn't sure if she meant the lack of intention by the makers in the making of boro made them (automatically) beautiful; if she used the word "beauty" to point to a specific, visual characteristic; or the aesthetics of these unintended quilts coincided with a type of critical... umm... criteria; or something else entirely. Since I've always held the same ideal about beauty in (art) objects, I found to my surprise greater difficulty in understanding someone with whom I was in agreement!

She briefly discussed Yanagi and Mingei (folk craft), but not Tanaka, some background to Yanagi, Hamada and co's battle on behalf of craft art, and her experience of art education in Kyoto in hte '60's, (all fine, no craft). If interested, any of Yanagi's books, but "The Unknown Craftsman" in particular, may be a good place to start, as may writings on the subject by Bernard Leach, but I haven't read anything by Leach yet, so don't hold me responsible.

What fascinated me, however, was the Japanese word "asa"; though it means linen now, for a long time it pointed to bast fiber, such as hemp, remy, nettle, linden, wisteria and mulberry. This was a eye-opener, since all my adult life, I saw tags pointing to exhibits or captions under photos with this very word, even though the fiber seldom looked like linen, and, strangest of all, I have never seen mass planting of flaxes in the Japanese country side, (though there may be some, you never know!)

Then there was some discussion on natural dyes, most of which went over my head because of my lack of dye experience, but I resolved to read a bit about the chemistry of fibers and dyes, at least what I use. Names to Google are Michel Garcia of Lauris, France, for natural dyes, and Joy Boutrup from the Chemistry side.

From Monday afternoon to Wednesday night, we were allowed to work on whatever projects we preferred. Some started Boro piecing-and-stitching, while others concentrated on shibori techniques. If you so wished, Yoshiko was available for individual consultation.

The best part of the workshop for me was when she discussed Boro projects with students individually. It was quite a simple process: Yoshiko asked the story/history of individual items, she might have commented on them, she might have asked what the student intended to with them, Yoshiko might have had some ideas. And I could see that in this subtle toing and froing that the student was formulating a concept of her own and translating it/them into a visual and examining the techniques and additional material she might use to realize the picture.

It was such a loving and encouraging environment I hesitate to call it brain-storming, more like coaxing and hand-holding. Because I had thought I had to do something with boro, I followed Yoshiko and listened to her conversations, and it took me a while to realize she was helping students work concepts into their stitch work. And it was so easily done, apparently, by both parties. And I wasn't worried that clearly this process entailed a whole lot of intentions, as opposed to the original boro quilts.

When my tern came, she looked at what I had brought: Ben's old pair of jeans, a torn flannel fitted sheet I loved, some calico pieces, some of Jill Alexander's offcuts, and some of my woven samples and swatches. Yoshiko might have picked up that I found any of these, or the thought of boro, none too interesting, and she suggested I concentrate on some shibori techniques I can use on handwoven scarves. And she named some techniques she wanted me to try, and chose pieces that would be appropriate for the purpose.

This is also where things got chaotic and stayed there. Yoshiko would be speaking to a student, think of something that may be of interest to others, and would address the whole class, lilting "Excuse me, excuse me." And before she finished one subject, she would see something someone else was working on, and start another lecture on the second subject. And so on, and so on. I cannot stitch and listen or look at the same time, I was ever afraid of missing a vital information or a fabulous inspiration, so at an early stage I began to mentally follow Yoshiko around the rooms and listened to her as best I could, whether she was addressing individuals or the group, and put my projects on the back burner.


  1. Meg, so far you make it sound wonderful. I'm so sorry you were ... traumatized. But I'm glad to hear you took away some lovely moments.

  2. Just glad to get the posts done and dusted, Sunny. It's quite a big load off, as I worked on several posts at the same time over several days, this being the hardest in trying to remember good things.

  3. I found there was a lot of listening and looking during the day so ended up doing a lot of stitching at night ready to dye first thing in the morning (along with half the class).


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