Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Old Needle Packets

Another thing I've ended up accidentally collecting is old Japanese needle packets. These usually turn up when we buy old sewing boxes and they're still full of  needles, buttons and threads. Some are sold in the shop but I usually keep a sample of different brands or unusual packets. Luckily they don't take up much space.
 Most of these first ones probably date to the early 20th century, some are older, some a little newer. The black writing is the type  or size of needle, for example, 'silk', 'tsumugi' ( a type of silk), 'small cotton',  '4-2',  '4-4'.  I'm not sure how the sizes work.

Some are held together with a little thread:
Some machine needles:
Clover  has been producing needles and other sewing accessories since the 1920's. I sell Clover needles in the shop. Here are three generations of Clover needle packets.  The oldest packet contains 25 needles, the latest only six, which probably says something about the changing place of handstitching in everyday life. It's interesting and a little sad to see how much packaging it takes now for 6 needles compared to a small piece of paper for 25. In the old packages the needles are first wrapped in a small piece of foil and then  simply folded in the paper.  (I package sashiko needles for the shop and use this method - it's easiest and most economical).
This is an old  shop display box for 'Clover top quality sewing needles' -  '1 packet 10yen,  futon needles 20 yen' :


Thursday, November 1, 2012

FAQ - What do you do?

Customers often ask me what kind of sewing I do and they're often surprised that I don't  make kimonos, that I'm not a quilter and that I rarely sew with silk.  The truth is that I do very little sewing!  I'm usually kept busy enough preparing fabric for the shop - and being a mum. I never use a sewing machine unless I really really have to. My taste  and temperament leans very much towards more rustic handstitching.  I'm very interested in all traditional Japanese techniques for re-using and recycling old fabrics but I'm not good at all with little fiddly things (like the oshie in my previous post  for example). I love and appreciate so many of these traditional crafts  and I guess I could become better at that kind of work if I persevered, but it's not what I enjoy making.  Here are some pieces that show what I do enjoy.

I made the first pieces some years ago for an exhibition that my sewing group put on in the shop.

This is a sashiko furoshiki wrapping cloth that I use as a table cloth in the shop. It's about  60cm square and is stitched on  a piece of old futon cover.  Some years ago I found an article in a Japanese magazine about an old lady from Kyushu  who was doing the most amazing random freehand sashiko . I've seen very few other examples of it but I enjoy doing it myself and like how it looks.  These coasters and mats were also for the exhibition:
This is a silk komebukuro (rice bag) style drawstring  bag that I finished  recently. I had started it years ago and purposely left it unfinished for  komebukuro workshops. It's quite big ( a useful size for storing things) which made my husband comment that I couldn't really call a bag that size a  kombukuro. I like this style of working with random sized  strips.
This is the first, much smaller,  bag I made for the komebukuro workshop, using antique cottons.
This piece of patchwork is a detail from a quilt (it will be tied not actually quilted) that I've been working on for years and will eventually finish one day  - maybe. The squares are about 5 cm square but you can see that precision isn't really my thing! Again,  I like the randomness of it.
Lately I've started working on some traditional sashiko cotton hanafukin cloths for a potential workshop. These dishclothes were the kind of  stitching that women would sit and work on in the evenings to recycle their  cotton remnants. The one on the left is hitomezashi stitching  which is a kind of sashiko done in straight lines of vertical and horizontal running stitch on a grid. But again my taste is always to the more simple and I prefer the simple lines of the second one.

I haven't run any workshops for a few years now. We don't have very much space and as the shop got busier it became too difficult to run them  when we're open. I'm thinking of starting a limited programme again in the new year. One  of the workshops I'm working on is Ainu embroidery.  The Ainu are an indigenous people of northern Japan and I will post about Ainu textiles again in future.  I still have a lot of work to do to prepare for this workshop  -  my embroidery skills leave a lot to be desired. These are some of my  first attempts  - they don't have the same flare as original Ainu pieces - and please don't look too closely at the stitching!