Agujas

The Art of Knitting

Category: Common Threads

Weaving in Ancient China

After a three-month stint in Beijing, I went home for a month. It’s funny how being away makes you appreciate every little thing. Of course there is family – my husband, sons, my mom, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues. Then there are blue skies, clean air, the sound of quiet, driving my car, air conditioning, clean bathrooms, ice …

A month later, I am back in Beijing. It’s different this time. While it is still a fabulous adventure, it was much tougher leaving home. The first time, there was the mystery of Asia and the challenge of the new business venture. We still have challenging work to do but I miss the rhythms of home.

While here, I continue to explore the city. My first free day, I went to the Summer Palace. It is 20 subway stops from where I stay and took almost an hour to get there.

Summer Palace 1

The property is huge like most everything else here. It covers an area of 2.9 square kilometers (720 acres), most of which are bodies of water. It is kept immaculately groomed and landscaped. I walked for five hours straight that day, up and down steep stairs and around the lake.

Summer Palace 2

I enjoyed …
The walk.
Being out in the fresh air on a cool day.
The rich vegetation of the gardens.
The earthy smell of the pine trees.
Seeing families camping on the grounds, having picnics and taking naps.
Watching ladies dancing under gazebos.
Listening to an old man playing his flute by the lake.

Summer Palace 4

Summer Palace 5

Summer Palace 8

Summer Palace 6

Summer Palace 7

Along the corridor of the Studio of the Jade River (Yuhe Zhai), there was a series of stone carvings. According to the placard, the original scenes were painted on woven silk by the painter Cheng Qi during the Yuan Dynasty (mid-1700s). The scenes portray men farming and women weaving in ancient China. I selected the ones showing women’s work.

The stone carvings were framed and the bright day cast reflections on the glass.

Farming and Weaving 1
Farming and Weaving 2

Farming and Weaving 3

Farming and Weaving 4

Farming and Weaving 5

Farming and Weaving 6

Farming and Weaving 7

Farming and Weaving 8

Farming and Weaving 9

Farming and Weaving 10

It was a beautiful day but there is still no place like home.

Hanazono Shrine and Antiques Market

The Hanazono Shrine was founded in the mid-17th century. It was the only shrine we saw in a vivid color.

Hanazono Shrine, founded mid-17th century

Hanazono Shrine - roof detail

A male and female lion flank one of the entrances. Here is the male.

Hanazono Shrine - lion

I saw several people walk up this path to pray. They would drop coins in a box as an offering, pull on one of the ropes to ring a bell, clap twice and then hold their hands together silently.

Hanazono Shrine - path to altar

Hanazono Shrine - close-up

On Sundays, there is an Antiques Market on the grounds near the shrine. This particular market had old kimonos and sashes for sale.

Hanazono Shrine Market - old kimono sashes

Hanazono Shrine Market - colorful kimono sashes

There was scrolled artwork …

Hanazono Shrine Market - scrolled art

… a box of wooden dolls …

Hanazono Shrine Market - wooden dolls

… old prints …

Hanazono Shrine Market - old prints

… and all sorts of interesting items.

Hanazono Shrine Market - random objects

After a day of sightseeing, we had a wonderful dinner at Kurosawa Restaurant in Roppongi Hills. They walked us into a cozy room with sliding doors covered in thin white paper. One by one, they brought us beautifully presented dishes like this shrimp and vegetable tempura and chicken teriyaki.

Tokyo - Kurosawa Restaurant - Tempura

Tokyo - Kurosawa Restaurant - Chicken Teriyaki

It was a nice way to end the day.

Of Yarn and Kimonos

It was almost time for my 60-day visa to expire and I had to leave China to renew it. So off we went to Tokyo. My first priority was yarn. I googled yarn stores in Tokyo and several blogs had recommendations. I made my list and went in search of yarn.

My first attempt was a fail. We took a long circuitous route in search of Mother Earth supposedly located at 3-3-39 Minamiazabu Minato-ku. We strolled through some very interesting neighborhoods, but no Mother Earth.

The second attempt was also a fail. I was in search of Avril, which is known as Habu Textiles in the USA. From examining a Tokyo Metro map, the stop was somewhat off the grid. Given that I had some lovely yarn from Habu Textiles in my stash already, I decided to forego Avril.

Attempt #3 was a home run. We took the Tokyo Metro from the Roppongi Station to the Shinjuku Station. According to Wikipedia, “the station was used by an average of 3.64 million people per day in 2007, making it … the world’s busiest transport hub.” I believe it.

Finding the yarn store required navigating the streets with our smart phone map. It isn’t too far from the station, but it is tucked away on a busy pedestrian street. Okadaya is an arts and crafts store. Different floors house sewing supplies, buttons, ribbons, wigs, and yarn. Photos are not allowed but just imagine yarn nirvana. There was Noro, of course, but I selected Japanese brands that I had not seen in the United States.

First I found Sonomono in this natural color. Each ball is 40 grams, 64 meters of 40% Alpaca, 30% Wool and 30% Linen.

Sonomono Yarn 1

Sonomono Yarn 2

After my husband checked on me to make sure I had not suffocated in a crate of yarn (I guess I was up there a long time), I picked up two of these cotton cupcakes by Nicotto. Each cupcake is 30 grams, 50 meters of 100% Cotton.

Nicotto Yarn 1

Nicotto Yarn 2

We also took some time to visit a couple of museums. The Tokyo National Museum was a highlight with its display of beautiful kimonos from the Edo Period (17c-19c). The garments were in glass display cases so the photos may have reflections.

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Gifts from Southeast Asia

My wonderful, amazing, sweet, gorgeous husband not only took photos of places that would interest me during his trip, he also brought back a few mementos.

Woven Baskets 1
The woven tube contains a sample of raw yellow silk. He picked up this souvenir at the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT) in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Raw Silk 2
The small woven box contained these small pottery bowls. These came from a ceramics factory in Chiangmai, Thailand.

Small Pottery 3
This yarn is made in Thailand. My husband found a yarn shop in the Farong District, the old part of Bangkok. The original Mandarin Oriental Hotel is located in the Farong District. Around this area are countless craftsmen specializing in silk, silver, gems, antiquities and other items.

Yarn Made in Thailand 4
This is a beautiful silk scarf from the museum shop at the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok.

Jim Thompson Silk Scarf 5 Silk Scarf from Bangkok 6
Even the packaging it came in is beautiful. The paper envelope is imprinted with scenes of the silk-making process.

Silk Scarf Packaging 7
He picked this up during his visit to Chiangmai in northern Thailand. This silk scarf is from Jolie Femme, a Thai silk factory.

Butterfly Silk Scarf 8
This crumpled silk scarf is from the Old Market in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Crumpled Silk Scarf 9
Finally, he brought these two illustrated books that tell the history of the Thai silk industry. The Thai Silk Sketch Book contains beautiful watercolors depicting the reeling, spinning, dyeing and weaving of silk textiles. The House on the Klong is a lovely picture book about the art collected by Jim Thompson over his lifetime and which is now on display at his home turned museum.

Jim Thompson Books 10
I may not have been there but he made sure to give me a sense of the place through photographs, retelling what he saw, and bringing these lovely things to make me smile.

Tie-Dyed Textiles in Cambodia

During his trip to Southeast Asia, my husband purposefully visited a couple of textile factories knowing that I would be interested in knowing about local crafts. The first place he toured was the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT) in Siem Reap Angkor, Kingdom of Cambodia. There, he walked the shop floor and took the following photographs of local women artisans spinning, dyeing and weaving traditional Cambodian textiles.

IKTT 5

IKTT 1

The raw yellow silk is reeled from cocoons of the same golden color. I initially thought the golden silk thread had been dyed but it is actually in its natural form. You can read more about yellow raw silk here.

IKTT 2

IKTT has also embarked on preserving and regenerating a natural forest in Siem Reap. The undertaking includes cultivating plants and trees that can be used as natural dyes.

IKTT aims to restore the art of creating traditional Cambodian textiles and has established a village project called PROJECT OF WISDOM FROM THE FOREST where 140 IKTT staff currently live growing trees to be used in silk-worm raising and the natural dying of fabric. We offer job opportunities to disadvantaged women and are working to preserve the national heritage for younger generation[s].

IKTT 3

These scarves are hand knit out of 100% pure silk and sold at market.

IKTT 4

His next tour was at the Angkor Silk Farm located approximately an hour outside of Siem Reap. Run by Artisans Angkor, they cultivate Mulberry trees at the farm and continue the traditions of Khmer arts and crafts such as weaving silk textiles, stone and wood carving, and silk painting.

Here, a young woman heats up the cocoons as she reels the silk threads from them. I will spare you the photograph of the platter of silk worms my husband shared with me.

Artisans Angkor 1

The ikat technique, or tie-dyeing of the silk threads, requires meticulous attention to detail. The term “ikat” means “to bind, tie or wrap around.” This young woman is tying a pattern onto the silk threads. My husband tells me that they would work off a picture or another textile to create the pattern.

Artisans Angkor 3

After tying the knots, they would submerge the textile into large dye pots to pick up the desired color. Once dry, they would untie the knots and dye the fabric again. This process would continue until they achieved the pattern and color palette they wanted.

Artisans Angkor 4

Artisans Angkor 2

Apparently, some of the textiles are so beautiful that they are displayed as art and even framed in glass to protect them.

Artisans Angkor 5

I would love to spend a month or two in one of these factories and sit next to these women reeling, dyeing and weaving. Perhaps one day …