textile conferences

11ISS in Japan: Part 6 – Nagoya, Tokyo + beyond

Plenary Sessions were held at Nagoya Congress Center.

July 1, Day 3 of the 11th International Shibori Symposium involved Plenary Sessions, lectures and presentations at the Nagoya Congress Center. Notable to me were Jian Liu’s discussion of analysis of natural dye identifications in Qing Dynasty Silks. New technology is allowing for exciting discoveries of dye colors from Safflower, Sappan wood, Indigo, Pagoda tree, Amur Cork, Young fustic and Turmeric dye sources; their research is involved with developing a Japanese dye database. Prehistoric textiles from 500 BC were the first to use resist dye techniques. The first Biennale of Natural Dyes will take place in China in 2019.


Below, a monument oddly scaled to the architecture of the Center. I had to read more, and this is what the plaque said:  Sforza Monument (Reconstruction). Leonardo da Vinci… was commanded by Lord Ludovico of Milan to create the world’s largest statue, a work which was to depict General Francesco Sforza mounted on horseback. By November of 1493 Leonardo had completed a clay model of the horse alone which measured 7.2 meters in height. Unfortunately, war interrupted his work at that point; the planned bronze casting was discontinued, and the clay model was destroyed. The reconstruction of the “phantom statue” began with the construction of a two meter clay model based upon the study of Professor Tanaka of Madrid, manuscripts discovered in 1967 as well as a number of preparatory sketches. The model was enlarged using computer technology, and the final version of the statue molded in plastic (FRP), as the legs would not be able to support the weight of a bronze casting… Displayed in the Tokai Bank Pavilion at the World Design Expo ’89 and donated by the Tokai Bank, Ltd.

 Another interesting presentation by Juxin Zhen of the China Academy of Art showed the process and development of carved wooden blocks that served as clamp resists, but with holes inserted that could be plugged or open for direct spot dyeing.

A reception and celebration that evening provided ample food plus an exciting performance of puppets and music by an Arimatsu performance troupe, and a demonstration of imperial kimono dress from earlier times. The governor and mayor attended the event.

 Above, the puppetry curtains were drawn back so we could observe the inner workings, in which a puppet dips a brush in ink, then paints a character on paper.

On July 2, we traveled via bullet train and bus to Tokyo, making a stop at Shibori: Fusion and Diffusion, the ISS2018-organized contemporary shibori exhibition and reception at Tama Art University Museum. This was a stellar show of contemporary work featuring primarily Asian artists, but also work by Westerners. We also had lively mini-presentations, “Pecha-Kucha” style, by selected attendees. Then we traveled to Tokyo.

Although I found out later we were not encouraged to photograph the exhibition, I found the installation and lighting so compelling that I am including a few shots. A catalog is available. Shown: Nagai Hitomi, Iyanaga Yasuko and Tanaka Takaaki (foreground)
Ushio Takumi
Yashiro Rieko
Left to right: Jiang Kinor & Xu Rui, Bamba Masae, and Tsubaki Misao

Our final day in Tokyo allowed for individual exploration of exhibitions and shopping opportunities. Our group started with the Amuse Museum, where we viewed stunning Boro textiles from an impoverished area in northern Japan. We also visited PIGMENT, the wonderful store selling pigments, brushes and more in a beautifully articulated setting. Then we visited NUNO fabrics and stores for Issey Miyake and other designers. We crisscrossed the city via subway. The day ended with a buffet dinner for attendees, a way of welcoming attendees for the second half of the Symposium. It also offered those of us leaving the Symposium a chance to wrap up and say goodbye. Most attendees continued on to Yamagatsu in northern Japan. A number of us continued on home, including me.

Coming up to PIGMENT, the shop. 




 Our last impression was the upcoming Star Festival, set for July 7. We all wrote down our wishes on this bamboo structure.

It was all such a fabulous adventure. My thanks goes to everyone who spent time organizing and thinking through this stellar event.

11ISS in Japan: Part 5 – Shibori + Boro Fest!


Continuing my visit to Japan for the 11th International Shibori Symposium: on the start of a very hot day, we toured the popular Nagoya Castle, with its remodeled living quarters, screens and beautiful ornamentation. In it, we were able to visit an outstanding exhibition of traditional Japanese Kimono, in Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu – Narumi Shibori.

from Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu - Narumi Shibori, 11ISS from Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu - Narumi Shibori, 11ISS from Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu - Narumi Shibori, 11ISS from Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu - Narumi Shibori, 11ISS

We also visited Nagoya City Museum, where Arashi Master Hayakawa Kaei demonstrated how he creates arashi shibori using updated, automated tools. Again, he is another example of someone who attended art school in painting and returned to his family with its long dyeing tradition, to become a master dyer. And finally, we visited the Furukawa Museum, located in a beautiful Japanese home, displaying fragments of ancient fabrics. It was here that fifteen of us attended a lecture and showing of a 1630 book displaying textile patterns that included both dyeing and embroidery. Next to me sat Catherine Liu, who, it turns out, is from Iowa City, attending the Book Arts Program in University of Iowa’s Center for the Book. We both met for the first time at that lecture. Very small world.

And finally, in Tokyo, we visited the Amuse Museum, where we viewed stunning Boro textiles from an impoverished area in northern Japan. Also shown are boots made from salmon skin. The fins served as traction in icy conditions.

11ISS in Japan: Part 4 – Kyoto + Beyond

Again continuing my adventure at the International 11th International Shibori Symposium, 2018, on Monday June 25 we traveled to Kyoto via train, where we briefly explored the compelling contemporary architecture of the Kyoto train station. It seems that many contemporary architects take visual risks to create sculptural buildings in Japan. After that, we traveled by bus to Kitano Shrine monthly market on this very hot day. Some bought vintage kimono and other things. Others bought green tea ice cream and more than one bottle of water. Then, we visited the Nishijin Textile Center, where a kimono show showcased contemporary kimono made by the factory and a loom was in operation for visitors to see.

Kyoto Train Station

Contemporary Yukata for summer in the Kyoto Train Station 

at the Kitano Shrine Market, grower, gatherer, spinner, dyer and weaver of hemp
Kitano Shrine detail
Kitano Shrine visitors gathered dried grasses, decoration for a festival

Above and below: Nishijin Textile Center, with contemporary cloth shibori designed by Hosotsuji Ihee, hereditary owner of Eirakuya, Japan’s oldest cotton fabric business (400 years), who started its first storefront, and hosts solo exhibitions.

On Tuesday June 26, we started at Ryoanji Temple (above), with its famous Zen garden and other beautiful gardens. Arriving early allowed us to avoid crowds. The screens and other sumi screens were outstanding. We also visited the Ginkakuji Temple, a heritage site that’s archtypically Japanese for western eyes. Near “Philosophers Row”, with all its cherry trees, we ate a “monks lunch” at Daikakuji Temple, consisting of all vegetarian delicacies and taste treats served Japanese style at low tables. After that, we moved on to visiting whichever stores in Kyoto we were able to manage in 4 hours. Moving as a group via taxi proved challenging, but we visited galleries, supply stores as well as boutiques by the contemporary designer Sou Sou. A traditional dinner in Pontocho followed.

A man sketches, above. And a fashion shoot below.

The famous Philospher’s Walk, with its cherry blossoms in spring.

Above, Monk’s Food Lunch at Daikakuji Temple. Below, ancient trees at the Imperial Palace.


Wednesday June 27, we left Kyoto for the Miho Museum via the artist studio HeieDaira, a private home studio of a well-known textile designer whose home inspired us. The Miho Museum features antiquities from around the world in a monumental structure designed by I. M. Pei, housing the collection of the Shumato family. We had also started our day visiting a wonderful exhibition of weavings by Fukumoto Shihoko, a colleague of Yoshiko Wada’s from her days at design school and herself a very well respected artist. That evening we returned to Nagoya.

Stellar exhibition of weavings by Fukumoto Shihoko

Visiting the lovely HieieDaira artist studio. In the tradition of Japanese hospitality and welcome, she makes tea for all of us. We feel gratitude.


Miho Museum

On the road to Tokyo.

11ISS in Japan: Part 2 – Inland Sea

Continuing my adventure at the International 11th International Shibori Symposium, 2018, early Saturday morning we traveled by bus, then ferry, to the “art site” islands of Inujima, Teshima and Naoshima. The day was foggy and cloudy, making it perfect for photography. The mix of nature, sounds of sea and birds, smells and contemporary art was powerful. One could easily spend a full day on each of these islands. Inujima is the site of the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, set in a former copper smelting plant, one large art installation involving perceptual tricks from mirrors and shafts of light in low-light situations. The island also houses 5 Art House projects by leading architects, nestled in and around traditional village houses. Visiting them took you on well-marked trails through the villages, which became a visual experience in and of itself.

Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, exterior
Art House Projects on Inujima
Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, exterior
Art House Projects on Inujima
Art House Projects on Inujima


The next island, Teshima, is home to the Teshima Art Museum and other art houses. Like most of the larger museums, the Teshima did not allow photography, but it was a deeply felt experience in an amazing outdoor space. Some of the many island visitors rent bicycles to visit it and the other art spaces.

Benesse House

Finally, we traveled to Naoshima, where we stayed at the well known Benesse House for two nights. The Benesse is an upscale hotel within a museum. Naoshima has a host of other art sites: the more informal Art House Projects in the town of Honmura,  and the monumental Lee Ufan Museum and Benessee Art Museum up the hillside. I was particularly impressed with the Lee Ufan Museum, with its particular combination of art, video, sculptural stone. Installations at the sea along the road completed the experience, which for me also included some drawing and photography of one of my pieces on the pier. The smell of the sea along with the kelp beds and small fish was evocative. The plastic trash caught in the tides was sad. We ended up the evening with another really long, big meal at Benessee house.

This is actually a Shrine, an Art House project with thick cast glass steps
Lee Ufan Museum. Interior photos not permitted.
Cai Guo-Qiang, Cultural Melting Bath: Project for Naoshima 1990
Shinro Ohtake, Shipyard Works
Testing some of my own scrolls
More of my own work
Works by Karel Appel and Niki de Saint Phalle at the Benesse House
Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin, 1994

Another iconic pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, at the harbor

11ISS in Japan: Part 1 – Inland Sea

In June and early July, I attended the 2018 International Shibori Symposium or 11ISS, in Nagoya, Tokyo and Yamagatsu, Japan, sponsored by the World Shibori Network. The 11ISS itinerary was an ambitious and content-rich exploration of the robust dyeing traditions of Japan in the shibori village of Arimatsu and in the safflower dyeing of northern Japan, plus contemporary shibori exhibitions, workshops and studio visits. It also had options for 5- or 6-day pre-conference tours to the Inland (Seto) Sea and Kyoto, to view contemporary art and architecture, temples and shrines on the pilgrimage route, and heritage sites in Kyoto. With the scope of the itinerary, participants could choose to attend the full symposium, or either the first or second half. I feel so fortunate in that I was able to attend the Inland Sea Tour and the first half of the Symposium before returning home due to other commitments. Participants came from 125 international countries, with another equal number from Japan. Because of proximity to Asia, there was a heavy concentration of participants from that part of the world. With such a sensory-rich trip, I’ve divided my experience into 6 blog posts here on this website.

Flying over Alaska

With a 14-hour time difference, I arrived in Nagoya a day early to acclimate. My first adventure was to locate cash (7-11 stores are ubiquitous and were the suggested choice for ATMs with international options, but I discovered others as well. Where we would be traveling, credit cards were not an option.) Next, I scouted out the large AEON department store located opposite the large train station. AEON housed groceries in the basement, plus endless varieties of takeout at the street level, giving me time to look at and understand food options outside of scanning a restaurant menu. It was clear from breakfast that morning that fish and rice are staples three meals a day.

Breakfast view from the hotel’s 9th floor. The Kanayama Train Station is just below.

  Then, I visited the local Tokugawa Art Museum, showcasing the extensive artwork from this shogunate family which was centered in Nagoya. At the Tokugawa, I discovered their holding of the famous Tale of the Genji scrolls, one of three still extant in Japan. A facsimile was on display; I had studied it in college. Also on display were beautiful examples of Noh and Kyogen Costumes. Because of devastation from World War II, much of Japan is now large concrete apartment housing, not particularly pretty. Nagoya is the third largest city in Japan, with little green space. Visiting the Japanese Garden adjacent to the Art Museum was a welcome respite on a hot day.

Japanese Garden, on the grounds of the Tokugawa Art Museum. Also shown in first image.

That evening, I attended a Symposium welcome dinner at Oaje, a local restaurant that served us nine courses including sashimi, tempura, Japanese rice, salad and more. We had no idea that so many courses were coming and were blessed by an overabundance of food.

11ISS co-coordinator Yoshiko Wada worked tirelessly to make sure that her international guests had an authentic and quality experience of Japan. She introduced us to important rituals of greeting and leaving hosts, of entering a Shinto or Buddhist shrine, and of navigating the train system.

We departed Nagoya for the Inland Sea Tour on Friday, June 22 via local, then bullet train.According to our Guide, Japan has 7000 islands, 3000 of which are located in the Inland, or Seto, Sea. It was interesting to see things like rice paddies next to car dealerships. The Inland Sea has a strong sea current with a depth of 38 meters, making it very good for fishing and oyster farming. The climate is similar to the Mediterranean, with citrus and olives widely planted. Long ago, the area had pirates. On our ride, we saw tiny, rocky islands and jelly fish. We continued by bus and ferry to the island of Shodoshima, where we visited 4 out of 88 Buddhist Pilgrimage sites, as well as Yamaroku, a fifth generation artisanal soy sauce maker, who used decades-old wooden barrels encrusted with “starter” to ferment the soy beans. Only 1% of soy sauce is made this way. After the concrete of the city, I enjoyed seeing gardens and trees, with an explosion of green, abundance of summer vegetables and flowers and heavily pruned trees.

Docking in Shodoshima, Japan
One of the 88 pilgrimage sites on Shodoshima.
After Nagoya, vegetable gardens were a welcome site.

Yamaroku, the artisanal soy sauce brewer that has been in existence since the Meiji Era.
These medallions located on the ceiling actually depict donors to the temple.


We stayed at Hotel Green Plaza Shodoshima, a traditional Japanese hotel that looked like it was built in the 1970s. I slept in a room with traditional tatami mats and no shower. We showered in the hotel’s women’s bath/spa, soaking in the bath that was located outside with an awesome view of the sea.  After that, we dressed in Yukata, the summer kimono provided by the restaurant and sat down to a huge meal featuring traditional Japanese food. Visual effects were important: tempura vegetables resembled a flying bird. A small whole fish was curved on the plate, garnished by some of the abundant hydrangea flowers and small red sprouts.

Continue reading the other 11ISS 5 blog posts here.

11ISS in Japan: Part 3 – Nagoya + Arimatsu

The Symposium started with a reception of the stunning Takeda Collection of Kimono in its headquarters in Narumi (see photo above). The next two days, we all traveled the 30 minutes to Arimatsu by train, to tour this historic center for shibori production, attend 3-hour workshops, shop and dine. Arimatsu is home to shibori practitioners still in production, with approaches to shibori and clothing designs ranging from traditional to more contemporary. Many use indigo and other natural dyes; others use chemical dyes.

Our workshops often involved 3 languages. Shown here, our Japanese to English, Chinese and our Japanese master, Kaiichiro Okamoto, far right

My first workshop was Kaki-shibu (Persimmon Tannin) shibori dyeing with Kaiichiro Okamoto, a master dyer who also packages the persimmon compound for sale. I wanted to explore its use for paper and fabric as a natural alternative to polymer medium. According to what we were told, persimmon is more of a coating than a dye, but in a dilute state, can be used to dye silk with a color that develops and deepens over three months and is darker depending on the number of dippings. We used it in a thickened state for shibori-tied washi paper, which was then dried and ironed. There is an ancient history of this in Japan. With 500 kinds of persimmons available, the ones that have the most tannins are used. In Japan, up to 60% of green persimmons are taken off the tree in a green state to preserve the remaining 40% as the best fruit. The paste is made from these green persimmons, which are crushed, then naturally fermented for 1-3 years. No heat is needed, and no water is added. The paste does smell strongly while fermenting; it was not so while using it in class.

working on tying shibori knots on washi paper
Concentrated persimmon paste ready to brush on our shibori-tied washi paper
We were given silk scarves with these lovely shibori ties, ready for dipping into the persimmon dye solution. Below, washi paper has been coated. Right, using fans to dry the silk scarves following dipping, on a humid day. Below that, examining samples dyed with persimmon by the family
My samples of washi paper and silk scarf will darken over the next few months.

  Then it was time for a luscious looking bento box. The perforated vegetable is thinly sliced lotus.


Fantastic contemporary indigo-dyed shibori examples by the Yuusokai.

Typical traditional buildings devoted to shibori production or now, as restaurants, in Arimatsu. Clockwise from upper right below, examples from the History of Japanese Shibori at the Tamesaburo Furukawa Memorial Hall in Arimatsu,  a woman demonstrates shobori knot tying, and another great little shop.

Below: even the grates have shibori patterns. Flower arrangement and shadow on tent of pop-up sale. Australian artist Barbara Rogers sells her clamp resist silk scarves at the pop up sale.


Sylvia Riley, from Australia, exhibits her hand-printed Yukata garment in Kimono Inspiration Challenge: Yukata from Abroad exhibition. Detail shown below.

My second workshop was Itajime (clamped board resist) Shibori with Masatsugu Hamajima. This technique is one I was already familiar with, although the workshop taught me some additional tips and provided ideas for more elaborate clamp designs. It was interesting to learn that boards made from wood ended up superior to plexiglass, as they can float in the dye bath when dipping the bundled packet. Plexiglass tends to make the bundles sink, not allowing for multiple dippings. It was enlightening to see more complex wooden clamps that were also described in our later plenary presentations. It was also interesting to learn that this family had supplied dyed indigo shibori to Africa after World War II, a project developed under the Marshall Plan, designed to assist the Japanese economies ravaged by war. In addition to the War, shibori villages had also been affected by changes in the feudal system, which had created more infusion of funds into local villages than what came later.  In Arimatsu, dyers had developed shortcuts and technological improvements to make the process faster and more consistent. And contemporary approaches to shibori textural alterations also made use of the physical transformations of the cloth, creating expandable garments, bags and other items.

Selection of clamps used two sided by Matsatsugu Hamajima.
More elaborate clamp resist by Masatsugu Hamajima.


Artist Amy Nyugen (right) and husband and business partner Ky, and Kim Eichler-Messmer all explore the foundational roots of shibori as they relate to their own work.

Below: the train is always an experience, but they are clean, punctual and well run. Plus, images of Nagoya Castle, which has recently been restored. The large white tower will come next; it was once restored in concrete and will now feature original materials.



Teaching: Anilinas Montblanc, Santiago

Recently, I was honored to be invited to teach a two day workshop at Anilinas Montblanc, the almost 70 year old Chilean Dye Company that supplies not only industry but also artists working with wool and felt. They also have an awesome program, Colorearte, to support art education in Chilean schools the length of the country. I first learned about Colorearte in a presentation by the company’s owner, Patricia Reutter, at the World Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca, Mexico, in November, 2016. When I returned to visit family in Chile in March 2017, I visited Patricia, and we made plans for this workshop.

left to right: Astrid, with Patricia Reutter and Tomas Clemmons in front of Anilines Montblanc’s sales area for artists. Shown: roving for felting in a luscious array of colors.

The reason for the workshop was to introduce the local textile community to surface design techniques using fiber reactive dyes. In February, I learned that these are Remazol dyes (not Procion MX, which I use). Mont Blanc imports Remazol dyes to industry but they are not well known in the local artist community, which is more accustomed to felting and immersion dyeing of wool. The workshop was set for March 7 & 8, 2018. It would be conducted in English, and although most understood some English, would require some translation.

I had a wonderful class of 10 participants including professional artists, teachers, studio owners, textile lab managers and two clothing designers. They include Ximena Bravo-Cuadra, a studio artist and workshop teacher who has also studied shibori with Karrin Brito in the US; Rocio Gomez Zalazar, a felter who also teaches at Anilinas Mont Blanc; designer Carolina Raggio; screenprinter and designer Patricio’s Sago Estudio; Paulina Figueroa Dumay, an artist with the Chilean arts and crafts store Manos del Alma and others whose contact information I didn’t receive. Media represented include shibori, felting, screenprinting, clothing design, immersion dyeing and stamping. These were good, intense workshop days. Working in 2 languages with translations going on plus materials I didn’t know fully, those were challenges. But the group was great and the facilities ample and well supported. Students dove in to play, to try mixing dyes, activator, to work on steamer prep, rinse and washout, and every other aspect of this. I could not have asked for a better group.

Carolina Raggio, with her own handmade wooden stamps.
Carolina and Patricio discussing their separate clothing lines. Here: Patrico’s from Sago Estudio.

Carolina Raggio, with her own stencils and stamps




Remazol Dyes

With my dye suppliers in the US, these are the liquid fiber reactive (Remazol) dyes and are no longer sold. Here in Chile, Remazol dyes are in powdered form and are imported by Anilines Montblanc for the textile industry. Uses by artists for surface design painting, printing, etc, are relatively unknown. When I consulted in the US on dye procedures for Remazol, I was told that they do need steam for setting, and that baking soda alone can be used as the activator. Downloadable instructions included being able to store activated dye for up to two months (ie with baking soda added.)

Here, at Montblanc, an outside Sales Representative told me they should be treated just like Procion MX dyes. My real experience was that they seem more intense than Procion MX. So, my usual “medium” range color amounts of dye, actually resulted in “dark.” (The approach is to mix stock solutions and then dilute according to hue and depth desired, adding activator.) Since color preference is so personal, I counseled using less dye in those stock solutions.

Another interesting finding is that when we went to pre-rinse after steaming, there was only mild color loss in the water, which seemed remarkable. I wasn’t sure if this was also due a different sodium alginate, or is somehow the alginate got “trapped.” Subsequent hot wash and rinse in pH neutral soap left no unwanted extra alginate thickener, except at times in the silk samples. If this mild color loss is the pattern, this is good news for Chile, which is a very dry country with more limited water reserves.

Sodium Alginate / Print Paste

This centerpiece supply is critical to the concept of using fiber reactive dyes in multiple applications. Local Chilean sources came up with highly processed sodium alginate in fine powder form, not the more granular, less processed form I am accustomed to. On the day that I worked on setting up the workshop and testing unfamiliar materials, managing the sodium alginate was by far the most challenging and worrisome. Would I get it to be the right consistency (thinner for painting, thicker screen printing, and even more for monoprinting?) Would it be easy enough for students to manage?

This form jelled very quickly, more so overnight. It had to be thinned down and remixed for a painting consistency. And yet, it was lumpy for screen printing. Cooling the temperature and letting it sit overnight helped.

In the process, one student and seasoned workshop teacher, Ximena, introduced her electronic stirring tool, which makes use of a magnetized “stone” in the bottom of the solution placed in a glass container on top of a hotplate. The stone starts to percolate and mix the solution, breaking apart any clumps of dye or alginate (the yellow is particularly hard to make smooth.) We were all fascinated and coveting it. We tried using it with sodium alginate dye solutions.

Patricio, one of the students who screen prints a clothing line, was very concerned about having additional water change the consistency of the thick alginate. He tried mixing the baking soda directly into alginate thickener, and this worked well. He also had successful results mixing the dye powder with alginate solution using the electronic mixer.

My assessment at the end is that we made the sodium alginate work, but that it is more difficult to manage than the sodium alginate or print paste available to textile artists in the US. (To clarify: print paste is sodium alginate, with the addition of urea and ludigol, which mitigates hard water.) And it is only one type of consistency. In the US, you can also purchase print paste or sodium alginate specifically for silk (lower viscosity, higher solids) that gives finer edge detail on silk and, in my opinion, washes out better on that fiber. If the sodium alginate or  print paste for cotton and for silk were available in Chile, it would be preferable to the sodium alginate we received.


Montblanc assembled a great steamer from existing equipment using very simple plans I sent them. A larger than average pot with a custom-made rack accommodated two rolls of fabric rolled in pelon for steaming. We also cut rounds of paper to deflect dripping water, and rounds of old towels. The customary bottled gas was used, first with two burners, and later, we decided to use only one. The “vapor” was intense enough that 22 minutes did the trick. Even if a little earlier than I usually do it, unbundling was not a problem in results.


The company also had its in-house industrial soap, pH neutral, but not called Synthrapol. Since we just had a small quantity, I put it in the pre-rinse water, especially since there were many fabrics with white or light backgrounds that could backstain. For washing out we used a local commercially available soap, “Popeye,” that is used for children’s items and is pH neutral. I think it is also used for washing wool. Both of these, including the Popeye, were successful. The only exception were some forms of thin silk, which did backstain a little. Perhaps they needed a more acid bath.

Washing Machine 

Also new to me is a “spinner”- a small unit just used for spinning out handwashed items so they can dry with less moisture. Of course at home, I use my washing machine for this, but in situations without a washing machine, it would be great.

We did our pre-rinse, which really only required 2-3 water baths, if that. Then we washed in very hot water with Popeye. We rinsed by hand after that, and I could tell there were felters among us! Their water bath fabric processing techniques were awesome. Spinning in the spinner, then the pieces were hung to dry. In this dry summer climate, they were dry in no time.

A “spinner” used to extract excess water from rinsed or washed fabrics before drying.


After two days, everyone was had really explored and enjoyed themselves. It was an awesome experience for me as well!

Oaxaca Tales: The Textile Museum, Weaving with Duck Down and other textile tales

More textile discoveries at the 10th International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca, Mexico. Several exhibitions of historical and indigenous textiles were featured at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, with spillover exhibition areas in the San Pablo Cultural Center.

Perhaps the most intriguing exhibit centered around a mystery textile discovered by at a flea market in the 1980s. Entitled The Plumed Weavings, its centerpiece is, quoting the Textile Museum signage,  “the ‘tlamachtentli de Madeline’, thus named in honor of Madeline Humm de Mollet, as it was she that discovered it in a Puebla flea market towards the end of the 1980s. The tlamachtentli is only a fragment of what must have been a most extraordinary huipil; notwithstanding, among its threads we were able to discern the technical sophistication and the aesthetics of indigenous art from over 300 years ago. Only five other textiles with similar characteristics as this weaving have been documented; three of them are located in Mexico, one in Rome and another in New York. All six are Mexican… and share a very special peculiarity; each one has different varieties of cotton thread that have been twisted or spun with duck down.

…While it is possible to find the use of feathers in other regions of the world (like the Andes, the Amazon, the islands of the Pacific and even in western USA) all indications are that plumed threads are exclusive to Mesoamerican culture, and in particular, to the cultures that established themselves in what we now know as Mexico.”

The research into these textiles was then shared with current day weavers from Puebla, Guerrero and Oaxaca. The exhibition displays examples of modern-day pieces resurrecting these almost long lost techniques. An excellent set of videos documented the process.

Additional exhibits focused on the use of resist dye techniques globally. Here are a few favorite pictures. Many other pieces were just as sublime.


The Studio Day: Creativity & the Great Balancing Act

Last September, I engaged in a much-needed weekend in my studio. Looking upon my upcoming role as Surface Design Association President, I knew I MUST prioritize making time for balance and creative work, so critical to making the rest of  life function well. In that,  I am just like 99.9% of our SDA members and all my other colleagues I know outside of SDA. All ages, all stages.

Suddenly I had an idea: talk about the importance of a studio day.  A day later, I read that I’m not alone in my thinking. Here’s the piece in the New York Times.

What follows are the closing comments I made at SDA’s Made/Aware: Socially-Engaged Practices Intensive at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. (Read a wonderful summary of this event, written by Tamryn McDermott for SDA’s NewsBlog.) I appeared in my studio garb, my SDA “uniform” —apron, t-shirt and torn jeans, rubber gloves in my pockets. I spoke to this gathering of artists, educators, students, makers, who among them have amassed an impressive list of accomplishments and inquiry, with dedication and enthusiasm.

This is what I said, illustrated here with photos from my past:

We are first and foremost, a community of makers. Many of us working in textile and new media do this as a tactile antidote to our increasingly digital world. In whatever stages of life you find yourself—longtime artist, recent college grad, juggling paid employment, or retired but wanting to rekindle a longtime interest —creative work is never an easy fit into a busy life. The quest for work-life balance challenges all of us and increasingly is part of a national conversation, as recent media articles have pointed out.

Four friends at the Surface Design Conference, Kansas City Art Institute

SDA helps us to promote connections with our fellow makers. Our group of largely textile-centric makers is the most diverse of any national textile organizations available to us. The SDA Journal, Blog, and our members show us a broader way of thinking about what we do, as do SDA’s tools such as exhibitions, grants and fellow aficionados to talk shop with.

How do YOU make time for creativity? No one path fits all. Creative success is rarely about being secluded and monastic, — it’s about living fully within our lives, a frame of mind. Often, it’s about enjoying the ride, the process rather than the final outcome.

My own life confirms this. I joined SDA as a recent college grad and worked in my studio in addition to jobs and new motherhood. I always referred to my studio work as my fourth child. If I didn’t pay attention, it screamed and hollered. There was a time when my creative moment coincided with Mr Rogers Neighborhood on Public Television.

looms are great jungle gyms for toys

Archive photo: Astrid finishing handwoven ikat wall piece

learning fold and dip dye

Later, I saw firsthand how the kind of creative thinking that artists employ brought new ideas to the table in our  Downtown District, where I worked as a long time manager for Iowa Artisans Gallery, a 4000 square foot business with 200 artists, and served on committees for community initiatives. And it wasn’t just me. For a time, the interim head of the local Area Chamber of Commerce was a graphic designer who injected new life into the organization. As a business manager/owner, I hired artists with both retail and creative abilities, or others who simply wanted to be creative, encouraging them to pursue and fulfill their own personal life destinies as artists of all stripes.

Iowa Artisans Gallery staff, 2015

Throughout this time, I always tried to guard my studio day on Fridays.  Make no mistake: work-life balance is an issue for everyone I know.

I invite you to join me in making time for creativity during a weekly Studio Day, whether it’s by learning/contemplation only, or by active doing, —for an hour a day, a day a week, or many days every month, whatever fits. And wouldn’t it be great if SDA, as an organization, took a “studio day.” (Mind you, I’m not saying we should shut down our website  for a day a week, just that our Board, staff and members can commune together in that great notion.) We share the importance of creativity to the structure and balance of our lives.  Let the community of SDA members inspire us to be more than who we are working alone. It is not selfish. It is about good self-management practices that make us more meaningfully productive in all of life.

Lastly if you believe in SDA and its community, here are a few easy things you can do to help strengthen this organization. First, invite a friend to join the SDA community. Our membership numbers are crucial to publishing our robust, quarterly Journal. And there’s more, but that’s for a future discussion. Second, thank our advertising partners and suggest new ones. (I’ll do it here for the ones I have used for years in my own work: shout-outs and thanks to ProChemical & Dye, Testfabrics, Dharma Trading.) They wonder if their ads are unseen, down some big black hole. WE NOTICE!

So, I’ve come to the end of this little talk, and on behalf of the SDA Board, Staff and all of our volunteers, I wish you a safe and inspired journey home, to the heart of your creative work and life and your very own SDA uniform! Ciao!

Gallery staff having a painting day

Astrid teaching at Penland School of Crafts

Cat learning screenprinting at Home Ec Workshop

SDA Confluence Conference, part one

Tim Harding’s Exhibit at the Nash Gallery

In June, I had the opportunity to attend Confluence, the biennial International Conference of the Surface Design Association. As an SDA Board member, I knew that my tasks at the Conference went beyond mere participation, —I am in charge of all the “state” or Area Representatives — but I had a wonderful time. What I’ve always appreciated about the SDA Conferences is that they provide not only a forum for networking and sharing of technical information, but they are also a rich snapshot of what’s currently interesting in fiber art. Not all fiber art gets covered, of course, but participants on all levels of expertise return home with food for thought on many levels.

one third of the Members’ Show, Merge & Flow, sandwiched between other stellar exhibits at the Nash Gallery

 Add to that, participants have the opportunity to see more than thirty exhibitions of contemporary fiber art, which alone would make the conference worth attending. Other events included a stellar fashion show of members’ work, dynamic speakers and demonstrations, a members’ trunk show, a vendor fair, regional members’ meetings, and special interest gatherings, for example, for educators or batik artists. The beginning of the light rail expansion  directly in front of the hotel caused some traffic complications in being able to see all the exhibitions, but most participants did go with the “merge and flow” and used the time to get to know one another.

members’ meet & greet started our day of Gallery hopping

Now in its 36th year, SDA came to pass in the time when local and national craft organizations were encouraged to add the work “design” or “designer” to their names in order to distinguish the kinds of work their artists did from folk and hobby craft. The Surface Design Association was born. Despite its longevity and history, the phrase “surface design” still causes some confusion. Here’s how it is defined on SDA’s new website:

Surface Design refers to any process that gives structure, pattern, or color to fiber & fabric. These include spinning, felting, papermaking, weaving, knotting, netting, looping, dyeing, painting, stitching, cutting, piecing, printing, quilting, & embellishing.

And here’s something about the organization:
The Surface Design Association is an international community engaged in the creative exploration of fiber & fabric. Our mission is to promote awareness & appreciation of the textile arts. Through member-supported publications, exhibitions & conferences, we inspire creativity, encourage innovation, & advocate excellence.

Confluence is co-sponsored by the Textile Center of Minnesota. Director Margaret Miller tells us that the Center is comprised of 900 members in 35 member organizations. Now located in what was once a car dealership, the Center contains meeting rooms, gallery areas, a sales shop, a 23,000 volume library, and a well-equipped dye kitchen.

What follows is literally a snapshot my own personal view on the conference. It is not complete, but it reflects my experience and available photos. The exhibits appear in the next post. Bodies of Water Fashion Show, Trunk Show, workshop photos and member pictures appear here. What’s missing? All of the provocative speakers, like India Flint, Pat Hickman, Barbara Lee Smith, Stephen Fraser, Faythe Levine, Natalie Chanin and Jane Dunnewold, plus a wide array of panels and demos. And, all that camaradie, hard to capture. You just had to be there…

Awards Judges Leesa Hubbell and Lynne Pollard examine Penny Collins’ Gown for Great Pacific Garbage Patch Ball, made of recycled plastic bags and winner of the SDA Award of Excellence
examining the Fashion Show entries

talking with Fashion Show Coordinator Anna Lee

Chunghie Lee’s Pojagi-making demonstration
At the DIY fair: altering a T-shirt, fundraiser for the Textile Center of MN (above), TCM lacemaking demo, plus impromptu “fashion show parade” by 17 year-old fashion designer, shown in black suit & glasses (below)

Trunk show & Vendors’ Fair, above and below

Faythe Levine discusses Handmade Nation, which was also shown
international conferees viewing a beaded piece while waiting for Conference buses
one conferee on her way to the Fashion Show finishes the crocheted embellishment on her altered SDA T-shirt

SDA President Candace Edgerly with new American Crafts Council Executive Director Chris Admundsen. The ACC recently moved to Minneapolis from New York City,