October 12, 2020

An Interview with Spinning Teacher Yoshiko Nakajima 2/3

This is part two of the interview with Yoshiko Nakajima, who has lived most of her life with textiles as a homespun artist and full-time instructor at Kawashima Textile School. She talked about what is interesting about homespun, re-examining her relationship with objects, a simple way of life, hiking that she started in her 40s, and the unique sense of weaving she has gained from it. The interviewer is Director Kozue Yamamoto.

(Continued from part 1)

◆ Wool covers a wide range of use

-What part of homespun appeals to you?

The practicality and the variety of wool. In wool, there is a wide range of things that can be made since there are many types of sheep, from hard wool for rugs and such, and delicate, soft wool for things that touch your skin. In Japan, the conditions for keeping different types of sheep are not met due to such things as the climate and culture, but there is a wide variety of wool itself and it is interesting to be able to weave with a yarn that suits what you are making.

−Yes, that is the best part.

If you use ready-made yarn, you have to choose from a limited number of types, and we have to adjust to the yarn. If you spin it yourself, the best part is that you can spin the yarn considering various factors the yarn itself will hold, such as the thickness, twist, and texture. Even if you don't know if you have the ability to do it, you can try it. Whether it works out or not, you can still learn from the results of the challenge, so that still interests me very much.

−What do you want to try now?

I'm weaving clothing fabric now. What shocked me about homespun was the volume of the items and the usefulness of the fabric that I saw in Mr. Arikawa's exhibition of clothing fabric. It has all the necessary conditions for clothes, such as breathability, elasticity, lightness, and ease of wearing. It is interesting that the fabric is made into clothes and then used. I've always wanted to make that kind of clothing fabric, but it takes time to get started. Now I have more time than before, and I have material that I bought a long time ago. I am focusing, thinking that I should work now since there is a limit to my physical strength due to my age.

◆ Seeing materials, history, and social movements through textiles

−Do you think life and woven fabrics have a close relationship?

I think so, but nowadays, there are less natural fibers in things like the clothes you wear, and more jerseys and knits than woven fabrics. The speed of change is fast, and I wonder what will happen in the future.

-Do you create with the environment in mind?

Woven fabrics, especially natural fibers, are closely related to the environment, so I think about it very much. In particular, many natural products can only be harvested once a year, like rice. In Japan, sheep are sheared once a year. Hemp and cotton also have a harvest season. On the other hand, since chemical fibers are made from things such as petroleum, they can be manufactured regardless of the season or climate. While convenient, I have concerns of it dominating textiles. In everyday life, human beings are expanding their distance from nature, and I don't think that is good.

−I agree.

If people could really feel that all the clothing, food, and shelter they are involved in every day are all born from nature, and that they can only be made in a limited amount, I think they would be able to take good care of things, but I think the world is not like that nowadays. I think it is important for people to learn and feel the relationship with objects through textiles. For example, the material and feel of silk, wool, cotton and linen. If you have a chance to wear it, you would understand how nice they feel, but if they are distant, people would not be interested in it.

−Since the classes at the school mainly use natural fibers, I hope students will gradually feel how nice, and how valuable natural fibers are, and that it would bring them to reconsider their relationship with things. Did your awareness deepen while working in weaving?

Yes, In the process of making, I naturally become interested in the materials. Through textiles, my perspective expands from materials to history and society, such as how and what kind of people raise the sheep, and what the current situation is. Creating brings me joy and happiness. On the other hand, the difficulty also becomes apparent.

Clothing fabric which has just recently been finished

◆ Keeping belongings as simple as possible

−Is there a key point in why you have been able to continue weaving?

It's because I simply like it. And I try not to carry too many things on my back. Possessing things uses energy, such as paying attention to maintenance, so I keep my belongings as simple as possible. It's easy if you have your own values. I live in a traditional nagaya (row house) in Kyoto. There are only 3 rooms, and the largest is 6 tatami mats*. I have two looms, and I sleep next to them. Even if I live in a space like a workshop, that is enough for me. I am satisfied with it. If I didn't like that, I could save money and make an atelier, but I don't want to spend time working for that. I want to spend as much time as I can on weaving, so it's best if I can manage with what I have.

*about 11 sqm.

−When did you start to see your own values?

It was formed with weaving. Looking at the world through eyes of the time, as the fabric takes shape, I have come to think that in the midst of all the ways that people live, for me, spending my life this way, creating, is good. Making naturally teaches you. I am able to spend my time doing what I want to do, so I think this is good.

◆ Weaving and the mountains, from the smallest unit to the infinite

-The richness and leeway of spending time in the process of making, not the measure of the speed of time, all comes back to you. Weaving has that kind of principle. By the way, when talking about you, we can't forget about hiking. I heard that you started in your 40s, but was it from anticipating that weaving requires physical strength?

The motive was play (laughs). I just go to the mountains because it's interesting. Until then, I wasn't confident in my physical strength, and I think it was good as a result. Weaving is work and mountains are play, but I have continued both of them only because I like them.

−What is interesting about the mountains?

Forgetting about everyday life and concentrating on walking. Otherwise, there are dangerous places. Weaving is nerve-wracking, so it could be that I go to the mountains to rest my nerves.

−When weaving, we stay cooped up at home, so it's a good balance to have activities both inside and outside.

Woven fabric is a tiny world where the warp and weft intersect, starting from the smallest unit. The mountains are wide and the natural scale is completely different. When you look at the scenery, you will realize the immeasurable power of nature. The two are connected within me. Woven fabrics are physically finite because their width is determined by the size of the loom. However, the small, incorporated structure itself, which is constructed as a fabric, can sometimes feel endlessly expansive. I imagine fabric being a small part cut out of it. I feel that woven fabrics have an interesting aspect in being able to make people feel a sense of an endless expanse from a tiny world.

-You are very energetic, going to the mountains the day after a workshop ends. It's important to change your mood in that way, and I'm sure there's something beyond your tiredness when you go. Such a way of life is attractive.

If you continue walking in the mountains, you will notice that before, you could walk the same course faster, or you could walk in a place with poor footing without any fear, and you can see that your physical strength is decreasing. Physical strength is required for both the mountains and weaving. Especially so for homespun. You won't be able to go to the mountains when you lose your strength, but with weaving, as you continue, several little realizations pile up, and push you to do what you're doing.

Continued to part 3 (Oct. 20, 2020)