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.)