Showing posts with label Workshop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Workshop. Show all posts

Friday, 29 September 2017

Japanese Floor Cushion - A Sewing Lesson

I just spent almost four weeks in Japan. I really enjoyed the holiday and my, I could show you 800 plus pictures of the marvels I have seen. Don't worry, I will refrain from doing that.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


Whilst in Tokyo, I booked a sewing class (obviously =) to make a Japanese style floor cushion. My hostess Akiko picked me up at the train station and went fabric shopping with me. After I had picked the fabric for my cushion cover we went to her apartment for the class. As professional kimono maker Akiko had a lot of knowledge to share. The floor cushion was to be hand sewn using techniques that had been passed on from mother to daughter in her family for several generations.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


We started by folding the fabric once right sides together and measuring the fabric from the fold to create a rectangle of 42 x 44 cm, no overlap. I cut the fabric to size and was then tasked to sew two sides together by hand with a simple running stitch, the third side was the fabric fold. Apart from securing the thread at the start and end there was no stitching back. Once that simple envelope was created Akiko produced what looked like a huge wad of organic cotton. Not the well behaved stuff but the kind that immediately sticks to other fabrics and commences shedding and bearding on contact.


Puppilalla, Japanese Style, silk worm cocoon, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


To prevent that effect, with the view to wash the cushion cover on occasion, the women in Akiko's family have taken to wrapping the cotton into unspun raw silk threads that they gained from unspooling and widening a single silk worm cocoon.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


The wonky netting is placed around the cotton fibres before the the filling is put into the cushion cover. The thus silk netted cotton should now no longer stick to the inside of the cushion cover. Fascinating. I wonder why they did not sew an inlet instead but it forgot to ask at the time. Considering that her family were farmers, they probably had no money to spare for extra fabric that would only be on the inside of the cushion.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


Next we layered the cushion cover, still inside out, the cotton wadding and a random sheet of paper onto each other. Akiko picked the lot up, placed her arm on the paper on top of the pile and folded the entire stack in two across her arm, while I was to turn the cushion cover inside out to trap the filling inside. The paper merely, served to prevent the cotton wadding to stick to itself upon momentarily being folded in half. The paper was then removed and the cotton fluffed in shape and into the corners of the cushion.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


Then I displayed my cultural ignorance by asking a silly question, namely, whether we would put in a zipper next. Akiko regarded me for a moment and then explained that there were no zippers in Japan until World War II. That makes total sense and therefore putting in zippers could decidedly not have been amoung the sewing techniques handed down in her family. Instead the last two edges were folded inwards and I hand stiched them together with a ladder stitch.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


Here I was to use a single thread ragher than the double used earlier, the reason being that double threads are considered uncouth and are never used in finishing garments etc. Akiko explained that she only ever sews with single threads when she constructs her kimonos.

Once I had closed the last seam, Akiko showes me how to make Japanese style tassels at the corners of the cushion. Technically, a floor cushion has a fifth tassel in the middle of the pillow but we decided that the fabric was busy enough and did not need another tassel to overload things.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY

And that was that. Three hours well spent. According to Akiko, the pillow, being all cotton and silk, is good to last 50 years. One is supposed to air it regularly in the full blasting sun. The latter goes aginst all fabric (colour) preservation advice I have learnt so far but the reason might be another one. The humidity in this country is very high with Tokyo having only marginally less rainy days than London and putting the cushion in the sun might be a way of drying it out completly.


Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


Of course if you wish to wash the cover, you have to open that last seam and peel out the filling that may not ever be washed but only aired. Afterwards, you have to put it back together and sew it shut again. That is a lot of work all things considered. Nowadays, the Japanese do not go to that length. As such cushions are cheap, though filled with polyester insted of organic cotton, they are being thrown out and replaced rather than maintained.

My floor cushion remained in Tokyo and was a Birthday present to my friend's husband who kindly looked after me during my stay. I sure hope he likes it. I chose the fabric because he likes to read Manga and I like pops of colour, so the fabric is to represent both of us. I thoroughly enjoyed that sewing lesson and learned a thing or two.




As for myself, of course I treated myself to a few things from the fabric shop. I am most proud of the Japanese made iron fabric scissors I got for myself. What a treat! And I went for a few choice pieces of fabric.

Puppilalla, Japanese Fabrics, stash building

Considering all the goodies, I could have bought, I think I have excercised a lot of restraint.  =)





Thursday, 29 June 2017

Dyeing Fabrics with Botanical Dyes - A Workshop

Having taken a two week break from social media and from sewing, I think it is time to get back into the flow of things. So let me share with you what I had been doing Sunday about five weeks ago. =)


Puppilalla, dyeing fabrics, botanicals, organic, dye baths, dye plants



My friend Conny, who knits and sews garments asked me if I wanted to attend a workshop on dying fabrics with botanicals with her. Yeah! Dyeing fabrics, which quilter would not want to? The workshop was given by a Berlin local creative co-op called ‘Driftwood Fashion’ that makes very pretty things and sells them too. So how did it go?


Puppilalla, dyeing fabrics, botanicals, organic, dye baths, dye plants

A classic case of frustrated expectations


On the day, I was so dissatisfied with the experience that I was grumpy for the remainder of the afternoon, although objectively this was hardly justified. The workshop was very lovingly prepared (check the pictures) as in: hot and cold drinks were offered along with biscuits and fresh strawberries, the material was lovingly arranged and the workshop owners were happy for the participants to go all mad around the dye baths to the point were we overrun time wise.


Puppilalla, dyeing fabrics, botanicals, organic, dye baths, dye plants



What annoyed me was that I expected a different sort of workshop with basic knowledge being conferred first to allow a structured approach to the experience later. If you are more of a forget-the-rules-just-go-for-it person this would have been your dream workshop. I just felt cheated for if I had just wanted to splash about with colours I would not have needed a workshop to do so. My frustration stemmed from the feeling of not having learned a single thing. (which is never true of course =)


From the beginning:

The table had been laid with fabric samples of cotton, linen-cotton, silk, cotton jersey, wool and others that had not been pre-treated with a mordant in contrast to further samples that had been submerged in a mordant for more than an hour. The idea was to give us the chance to see how differently the treated fabric absorbed the colour from the fabrics that not been treated before.


Puppilalla, dyeing fabrics, botanicals, organic, dye baths, dye plants


We all got a notebook and slips of paper to mark down the details and colour coded clothes pegs so we would not confuse our dyed samples. On the paper slips you could note down details like type of botanical dye, type of fabric used or whether the fabric had been treated with a mordant or not etc.



Puppilalla, dyeing fabrics, botanicals, organic, dye baths, dye plants




There were plenty of pots and pans and hotplates to warm up the dye baths, rubber gloves the botanicals used to make dyes and mordants and modifiers. Having said that, the dye baths had of course all been pre-prepared.

Dye stuff: Blackwood, Birch, Camomille, Dyer's Woad...

Modifier: Lemon, Vinegar, Iron (?)

Mordant: Alum


Puppilalla, dyeing fabrics, botanicals, organic, dye baths, dye plants


And there then it went kind of pear shaped for me. I would have expected a basic rundown on how to go about dying fabrics.

I would have imagined touching on the following themes:
  •  a short list of common plants used as source of botanical dyes? 
  •  how to collect, store and treat the botanicals you wish to use as dye?
  • which mordants exist?
  • which modifiers exists?
  • in what order to use the dye, mordant, modifiers and why?
  • health and safety precautions (fumes, chemicals, what not to mix and why)
  • how and why fabric absorbs the colours and what are the differences among the different fabrics?
  • what ratios of mordant, fabric, dye plants, water to use to create an effective dye bath?
  • what different dying techniques are commonly used?
  • techniques to make the dyed fabrics colourfast and lightfast?
  • how to care for your fabric in order not to stress it too much during the dying process?

And all this basic information was not in any way conveyed. Instead it was more like. 'Yes, we prepared here a few dyes and here are bowls of modifiers so grab some gloves and just get going.' I guess, had I had all the basic knowledge down already, I might have been able to make informed decisions about what effects I wanted to go for, but as it was, it felt utterly random to me.


Puppilalla, dyeing fabrics, botanicals, organic, dye baths, dye plants


So I have now got a pile of prettily coloured fabric scraps, which I do not currently dare use in any project I care about, as I am not convinced that the pieces are colourfast. And I also feel I have not gleaned much knowledge of dying process per se.


Puppilalla, dyeing fabrics, botanicals, organic, dye baths, dye plants


Still, as far as it went, it was nice to have access to the workshop space and physically haven gotten through the process of dying fabrics. It is a basis I can always build upon. Also I should have checked what I was getting into beforehand. My bad.

Now five weeks later I feel it might not have been such a bad workshop after all.  =)