Hi, everybody! I hope you’re having a wonderful March and that you had a wonderful St. Patty’s Day. Angus did–he is Irish, you know, so I put a green, shamrock-bedecked bandana on him that instructed everyone to “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” And, of course, everyone did. 🙂
Julie wrote me awhile back, and told me she enjoys Japanese embroidery. I asked her to share some photos with us.
So, Julie, tell us, what sparked your interest in Japanese embroidery?
Julie: Years ago…probably 12 now, I read an article in ‘Needle Arts’ magazine (the quarterly publication of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America) about Shuji Tamura. Shuji Tamura is the son-in-law of Master Iwao Saito, who founded the Kurenai-Kai Community in Japan (a community created with the sole purpose of teaching these ethnic techniques to new generations of Japanese people). Master Tamura and his wife Masa established the Japanese Embroidery Center in Dunwoody, GA to bring the tradition of Japanese Embroidery to the U.S.
Anyway, back to how I became interested. I read this article and they included photographs of traditional Japanese silk on silk embroidery…art that went beyond anything I had ever seen done with a needle. After reading the article I wanted to learn this technique. But our family budget wouldn’t allow regular trips to Dunwoody, GA for the ten phases of work required to be certified as a teacher. So I put that dream on hold.
Amazingly enough, a few years later, a group from our local Needlework Guild of Minnesota, also decided they wanted to learn this amazing set of techniques and now I am taking twice per year classes right here in Minneapolis with Kay Stanis. Kay has trained at both Kurenai-Kai in Japan and the Japanese Embroidery Center in Dunwoody (as well as being a National Teacher in many different types of needlework). She is an amazing woman with a comprehensive knowledge of needlework and specialties in silk and metal thread embroidery as well as Japanese Embroidery. I consider myself fortunate to be her student.
Marcy: You’re currently on Phase 3 of ten phases of learning, right? What have you learned during the first three phases?
Julie: I am currently working on a combined Phase II-III piece called ‘Sensu’. I am also finishing my Phase I piece. I was able to move on because I had done all the techniques necessary, but I will have Phase I finished and framed by late spring when we meet next.
What have I learned? I have learned 15 of 46 techniques (although I don’t claim to have mastered them as yet). I have learned how to handle (after a fashion) flat silk, to twist it into a thread that emulates textures found in nature. I have learned the difference between an S-Twist and a Z-twist and where each is used. I have learned how to take the core out of #1 gold thread. I have learned how to frame up a piece on my own and how to work on a technique before asking questions. I have learned patience and the value of silence as work is done. I have learned an ethnic symbology as translated into needlework. I have learned to stitch on top of other stitching without disturbing the threads below. I have learned that as much as I thought I knew of needlework, I have only scratched the surface.
Marcy: I understand you’ll learn more than 40 techniques. What is your favorite Japanese technique so far?
Julie: Actually the first ten phases teach 46 techniques. When I finish Sensu (Phase II-III) I will have sampled all of these techniques. The remaining phases are focused on learning how to perfect execution on each stitch.
My favorites? In Phase I, it was definitely the gold-tipped bamboo leaves. They are done in flat silk, laid so all strands are side by side and reflect the light in an amazing way. There is a small area of the tips of some of the leaves stitched in gold and in some areas the gold is stitched right over the silk. I love the way they turned out! In Phase II-III, well, I have twisted yards and yards and yards of foundation layers and am finally getting the hang of getting the threads to lie horizantally and not develop a slant. However, that part was not my favorite. I loved doing the white Tie-Dye pine tree which has a flat silk foundation, with an orange silk superimposed pattern. Right now, I am trying to stitch a Chrysanthemum…still working on that, still not my favorite.
Julie: In a word—yes. But it is hard because learning to stitch in the United States— how to execute embroidery—how YOU execute embroidery—is, in large measure, dependent upon who taught you. In Japanese embroidery there is a RIGHT way to do everything. Things we would consider unimportant as long as the end result looks good, ARE important in Japanese embroidery. Cases in point: Where you hold your hands (one above and one below the frame), the direction of your stitching and stitches which sometimes feels contradictory, but in reality gives a beautiful consistent sheen to the silk and gold, and using a laying tool correctly, so as not to damage the silk. Then there are the materials, which can be difficult to work with for a novice and even a not-so-novice. Just ask me how many times I’ve fuzzed strands of flat silk beyond recognition and we haven’t even started to talk about shell powder or VERY sharp, handmade needles—yes, we are talking bandaids. I used to think if it felt good and looked good, how I got there didn’t matter. Now it does matter and I learn something else: Discipline. Discipline to try and get it right….every single time.
So why do it? Because it is beautiful. Because the stitches are not only pretty motifs, but a language unto themselves. Because it is an ethnic embroidery which has been done in the same way for thousands of years and that is something worth learning in my world-view. Because in this very gray world we live in, this is something black and white—it is right or it is wrong and for some reason I find comfort in that. And because, at the end of the day, there is great satisfaction in knowing that my last bamboo leaf looks a whole lot more like a bamboo leaf than my first one did.
Marcy: Thanks so much for joining us today, Julie! We hope to see more of your work. If anyone would like more information on Japanese embroidery, check out the JEC. If any other readers have work or information they’d like to share, please pass it along!