November 17, 2008

Antigone Lentzos

My Study at Kawashima Textile School (13 May – 11 July 2008)

Having spent five and a half weeks travelling in southern Japan, I arrived at Kawashima Textile School to begin eight weeks of study. I was a little apprehensive, as I can’t speak Japanese and knew relatively little about the school or what to expect, but I had soon learned the ease at which one can communicate and learn during my travels, due to the exceptionally friendly and helpful nature of people in Japan.

Kawashima Textile School is situated in an extremely peaceful, tranquil setting, backing onto the forest-covered hills of Northern Kyoto. Whilst being able to look out at monkeys in the trees from the school, Kyoto city is only a short bus ride or train journey away.

Kawashima Textile School has fantastic facilities, and enough equipment to ensure every student has access to materials and equipment at any time. I stayed in the school’s dormitory rooms, which were very comfortable and spacious and was given a very warm and comfortable welcome by students and teachers alike.

I began my first course, a Basic Weaving course the day after my arrival. The class was a comfortable size of six with a diverse range of ages and experience amongst the students. My teacher could not speak English and classes were taught in Japanese. Despite the language barrier, I learned how to weave by a process of observation and did not find myself hindered by the limited verbal understanding. If anything, it added to the authenticity of my experience. We covered a wide range of technique in a short space of time and I thoroughly enjoyed the process and learning.

Further to my introductory study I took a Dye Course. I had the aid of a translator for this, due to the technical nature of the dyeing process. I learned chemical and natural dye processes applied to wool, cotton, ramie and silk. I thought this course and department was exceptional. Although I had my schedule at KTS, what each day held in store was always something of a surprise and I ended up learning far more than was outlined in my courses. I arrived one morning to study chemical dyes and found my teacher preparing fresh indigo leaves (which are grown on the school’s grounds together with a range of other natural dye stuffs) to dye silk, as it was the right time apparently. This was fantastic as I was able to observe and learn the dyeing process. Having showed an interest in Shibori and Itajime processes, I consequently learned and practised them during the Indigo dye part of my course.

The course that had urged me to attend KTS was the Tailored Course. For this, my mentor was Suzumi Noda, the School’s director. She advised me to learn Japanese textile processes to take advantage of my being in Japan, and alongside this, to realise my concepts and ideas in a project which would defy tradition, by manipulating found objects to suggest and inspire textile technique. The experience was truly enlightening. Individual tutors were immediately booked to teach me Kasuri, Katazome and Basketry, along with visits to artists’ studios, who were successful practitioners using these processes. I set about fashioning items I had found and collected whilst in Japan with passion and enthusiasm. Whilst training my hands in technique, I was also training my creative mind in approach and interpretation of ideas and concepts, and learning about the industry by meeting working practitioners (my mentor included) and gallery owners. I came to Japan having been inspired and interested in Japanese textiles. Particularly the artists’ and designers’ use of traditional techniques when combined with contemporary materials and concepts. This deep-rooted sense of tradition coupled with the contemporary is embodied at KTS, and was throughout my Tailored Course.

During the last week of my stay, I was invited to join the students specialising in the Kimono and learned how to make an Obi. The teachers at KTS are experts in their field and I felt such a willingness from them to share their knowledge and experience with me at all times.

I went on to meet designers in Tokyo as a direct result of my study at the school. KTS exceeded my expectations of gaining a textile experience in Japan. As the website rightly explains, ‘all in all if you're passionate about textiles and interested in Japan, KTS is unlikely to disappoint you.’ It is certain to immerse you in a world of knowledge and creativity for you to absorb at your will.

Antigone Lentzos (U.K.)

June 3, 2008

Ziva Epstein

Studying in Japan

I arrived at the Kawashima Textile School -KTS- on Saturday morning. Quiet all around, the peace of the weekend in a Kyoto suburban neighborhood surrounded by green mountains. The quiet continued until Monday morning, ending with a buzz of activity, the rhythm of shuttles and beaters in the spacious workshops.

I met my teacher, Ms. Kozue Yamamoto (called “Yamamoto Sensei” in Japanese, meaning “Teacher Ms. Yamamoto”),and thus began five weeks of study of the traditional Japanese weaving technique, Kasuri. The technique involves tie-dying of the undressed warp or weft, to create patterns and images. KTS is a school of textile design attached to the textile company “Kawashima Selkon Textiles Co., Ltd”. The school offers a variety ofprograms, including Advanced Courses (one year to three years), Technical Study Courses (short-term and six-month), and workshops ranging from a day to a week or more in weaving and dying.

The company is a story in itself. Working side by side are some of the world’s leading textile designers creating designs for manufacture, and hand craftsmen working in traditional techniques to weave obis (the broad kimono belt) in superfine silk threads. These hand weavers sometimes weave only three centimeters in a day.

Adjacent to the company is a museum, with a collection of breathtaking antique cloths between the 5th century and the 18th century, and designs and samples woven in the company over the past 140 years. Those antique cloths were the foundation of the Kawashima’s design sources, and the products woven basing onthese samples decorated the halls of the Imperial palace and the homes of the aristocracy.The museum and the school are an expression of Kawashima’s commitment to the weaving history of Japan, past present and future.

I found KTS by an internet search. I was looking for a place to study traditional Japanese techniques. When I arrived I knew almost nothing about the place, but I quickly found myself at home in this “Disneyland” for lovers of fiber.

Yamamoto Sensei showed herself from the start to be a very professional teacher. Only later, when we had learned to communicate in fractured Japanese, English, Hebrew, hand signs and drawings, did I discover her sense of humor and enthusiasm.

Ms. Suzumi Noda, the director of the school, is a Japanese fiber artist and textile designer of renown. She appeared daily at the school in clothes of her own unfettered imagination: jeans with red Lego bricks sewn in, pink hats and bracelets of colored pig suede.

Ms. Kimiko Kawamata was my translator and chaperone. One of the only people on campus who spoke passable English, she helped me whenever I needed, translating teacher’s instructions and helping me find my way around Kyoto’s beautiful sites.

I quickly became immersed in work. I learned to tie-dye warp and weft. I spent hours trying to create the traditional Japanese designs of crescent moons and birds. The technique involves wrapping groups of warp or weft threads with a dye-repellent plastic thread, then dying the whole skein. Then, when weaving, the undyed patches must line up exactly to create the design. I worked from early morning until workshop closing at nine or ten at night, alongside other students weaving kimonos from superfine threads, spinning and dying.

A week after I arrived, I joined the class for a tour of Hiroyuki Shindo, a fiber artist whom I had longed to meet. Hiroyuki Shindo lives in a remote village, two hours from Kyoto. He told us that he says a prayer to the god of indigo before he dips his threads in the dye-pot in his workshop.

Another field trip was to the “Gallery Gallery”, a textile gallery in the heart of Kyoto. There we saw an exhibit of damask weaving by a Japanese fiber artist who uses a weft of polished stainless steel rods to create designs of pattern and reflection.

During my free weekends, I wandered about the galleries of Kyoto, where I saw examples of Japan’s textile tradition – an art anchored in the past but with sites to renewal and the future.

After five weeks of work at KTS, I began to understand the concept of “the art of Zen” in the fibers – the art of deep concentration and attention to every single thread, dedication to work and the sense that the fibers of the warp and weft are an extension of myself. I learned the passion of the thread and the fabric.

Ziva Epstein Moshav Magshimim, Israel