Sunday, October 23, 2016

Postcard from Japan: Thursday, October 20, 2016

Woven banana fibers (ito bashofu) with kasuri (ikat) sections
dyed in indigo.

This is the day that Caroline and I spend traveling all over northern Okinawa and the small islands nearby that are connected by bridges.  My camera is only working on rare occasions....
Ito bashofu (fiber banana) used for creating woven banana fabric.

The first weaving center we go to features cotton fabric that's woven with a combination of kasuri designs (ikat), usually dyed in indigo, and small overshot patterns of a different color than the main cloth.  We aren't allowed to take any pictures.

Hana bashofu (flowering banana plants)
We then go to a weaving studio that is famous because of it's use of banana fibers.  Most of us wouldn't realize that there are three different types of banana plants.  We know of the fruiting banana trees that produce all the yellow bananas we get in the grocery store.  (For those visiting Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan, you can see fruiting banana trees in the Conservatory.)   But there is also the flowering banana (the Chinese one shown here has red flowers and is only about 6' tall).  Then there is the fiber banana, here in Okinawa called ito bashofu (ito means thread).  These plants grow much taller, maybe 8'-10' tall..

Toshiko Taira is credited with the revival of this ancient Okinawan technique.  Taira-sensei (sensei means teacher) is now 97 years old and a Living National Treasure of Japan having been presented with the tribute by the Emperor this year.  (A link to her tribute with excellent images:  Her village of Ogimi is the only place remaining where this type of weaving is still produced.  The entire process, from harvesting the stalks to the final woven fabric, takes months.

First we watched a short documentary about the entire process and then went upstairs to view the studio where students of Taira-sensei weave the final cloth.  Taira-sensei sits off to the side joining the individual lengths of banana fibers with a weaver's knot.

A tiny, very sweet and generous woman, she came all the way downstairs (she broke her hip last year but then was climbing up and down the stairs after a very quick recovery) to show us the tribute book from the Emperor with her photograph and those of her family (one of her children is married to an American and her grandchildren attended the ceremony also).  She also answered questions about the technique and then gave Caroline and I a booklet explaining the technique with sample fibers and fabric included.  (Caroline took pictures of Taira-sensei and I since my camera wasn't working--- hopefully to be added soon.)

Upstairs near the studio are the indigo vats she uses to to dye the bound and resisted banana threads for kasuri.  A pattern is first designed and measured, and then bound with plastic strips in sections.  
Ceramic vats containing indigo for dyeing the banana fibers.
A weaving with some abstract portions. (The glare from the glass
and lights unfortunately distorts part of the image.)

A $500 purse (about 15" long) from banana fibers.

Banana fibers produce a somewhat stiff and smooth surface.  The very inner fibers are used for kimono fabric, the middle fibers for obi and table runners, and the outer stiffest fibers are used for anything needing a very stiff fabric.  

What a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable visit!  (I later asked Caroline to choose some of my handprinted coasters to send to Taira-sensei as a thank you for all the time she took to talk with us.)

No comments:

Post a Comment