Snowkyo ❅

It was a snowy day in Tokyo.

Most people here carry umbrellas when it snows, but my proud Minnesotan roots won’t allow it. I love when the snow hits my eyelashes.

But today’s snow was wet and thick, and 10 minutes after I left the house I was soaked. So I gave in and pulled out my flimsy pocket umbrella.

Two blocks later, a giant ice bomb fell from a nearby building and landed on my umbrella, destroying it.

I cursed the umbrella for its usefulness.

I still feel a little smug in my snow boots. You can’t beat me there, Japan.

Weaving // slide, clack, smack, switch

I love the idea of taking a pile of miscellaneous threads and turning them into something useful, like a piece of fabric. Consumers in the craft industry, like in most industries, can be a bit removed from the manufacturing process. Fabric and yarn stores are full of materials, and sometimes it is easy to forget how they got there.

For me, creating something from bits of nothing is a really satisfying experience. Sometimes it’s a pie, sometimes a table mat. My love of handmade can probably be traced to one or all of the following:

  • I grew up making things with my DIY-style parents and my thrifty grandmother, a woman with a sense of save! save! save! and a collection of every size and color of milk/egg/meat carton you can imagine.
  • A culture being overrun with cheap, wasteful, and uninspiring commercial goods — not just in Japan or the US, but the global commercial marketplace in general.
  • My growing Etsy community, where I’ve met artists and craftsmen who value and support handmade objects of all kinds. We’re internet friends, real-life friends, and all-around craft addicts.
  • The Walking Dead has resumed on AMC and inspired me to plot my post-apocalyptic lifestyle and skill set.

My friend invited me to try saori weaving and I gladly accepted. I wanted to learn to create a textile rather than simply embellish it. Unfortunately, I still have little grasp of how that actually happens because I didn’t understand most of the Japanese spoken to me. I could probably search the internet to find a clear explanation, but it’s more fun to bring you along on my craft adventure as I experienced it — as a mute copycat. Living abroad has taught me the fine skill of mimic.

When we arrived at Jota‘s satellite location in Ikeubukuro the looms were already prepped. I was instructed to pick a few colors from the yarn bin, and the shopkeeper showed me how to wind the yarn from a big bobbin to a little one.

She gave me a basic demonstration on how to work the loom. Slide, clack, smack, switch. I repeated that over and over while trying to keep the seemingly thousands of threads in front of me from tangling. A note of warning, if you’re a tall foreign girl in Asia, don’t wear heels to weaving class, because your knees will knock against the loom and you’ll feel like a giant in a little loom land. Slide, clack, smack, switch, knock. Ouch. Curse under my breath. The instructor claimed she couldn’t speak English, but I recognized the matronly looks of disapproval.

I got a few pointers here and there — literally, the instructor pointed and either smiled or shook her head — but for the most part I was left to my own devices.

Here is my takeaway:

Any questions? Good! Me too!

It turns out saori weaving really embraces the imperfect: don’t think about it too much, see what evolves. I love this approach to creating. Saori also emphasizes recycling old materials, reusing bits of yarn or threads from other projects. Both of these ideas are rather unique in Japan, a place where efficiency and perfection are often valued in a process.

Thanks to everyone for the kind words about my messy little table mats! I left the class thinking it was a one-and-done experience, but after learning more about saori and your heaps of encouragement, I might be convinced to give it another shot. Next time I’ll leave my high heels at home.

If you’re in Tokyo and interested in trying saori weaving, you can visit Jota in either Kichijoji or the Seibu department store in Ikebukuro (7th floor). Contact them in advance to schedule use of the loom or to inquire about a one-day course. info@jota28.com

Weaving a fine mess

A friend invited me to try saori weaving. Excited by new crafts and adventures in Japanese, I happily accepted.

I spent about 2 hours seated at a loom and came away with 2 table mats. Up close, I think they look pretty darn good.

If you step back to admire the view, you might think, “Eh! Not bad for a beginner!”

And then you step back just a little bit more, and … oh. Well. That’s quite a mess.

I’m not sure what happened. I’m a pretty handy person, usually. But weaving is hard. Well OK, the truth is it’s simple but I lack coordination. It also might have been useful to ask questions, which I couldn’t.

I wanted to ask the instructor why the edges were so wonky, and what could be done to prevent that from happening? In Japanese, I said: “It’s not cute! Why?”

Her response: “Nice job!”

And so, I trudged ahead and with plummeting expectations, finished my mostly-crooked table mats.

I was disappointed over my failed attempt until I started doing a little more internet-peeping. I learned that saori style weaving is known for its imperfections and celebrates the beauty that evolves from mistakes.

Perhaps I did get it right.

If you’re in Tokyo and interested in trying saori weaving, you can visit Jota in either Kichijoji or the Seibu department store in Ikebukuro (7th floor). Contact them in advance to schedule use of the loom, cost is 1000 yen for 3 hours plus 15 yen/gram for yarn used (my table mats were less than 500 yen each). More photos of my weaving adventure coming soon!

Snow Lando

Last weekend I took a break from studying and stitching to find snow.

I found it and then I crunched it under my boots. I rolled around in it. The feeling of snow inside my gloves is like an instant time-machine: back to the yard of my youth, to snow forts and sofas and dishes made of ice, to knocking icicles off the gutter alongside the garage even though I was told they’d stab my eye out, and to the ice rink my dad made that left behind dead grass the following spring and summer. (It was worth it.)

Something about a crisp winter day rejuvenates me. I look good in rosy cheeks.

We spent the weekend in the Southern Alps in Nagano prefecture. I pretend to snowboard, but really I end the weekend with bruised knees and a few good runs under my belt and call it a success. A day of snow sports in Japan always ends visit to an onsen, but you don’t want to see those photos.

Setsubun

As I mentioned in my New Years post, I went back to school. So far it has been great: Class is a challenge, but not too hard. Homework is enjoyable. I’m meeting funny new people, and they’re Korean and we’re forced to talk to each other in Japanese. I’m loving it.

They like Stevie Wonder and I like grilled meat, so we have a mutual respect for one another. We can’t say much, but friendship is more than words. Friendship is also teaming up against your teachers to pelt them with beans.

Friday was Setsubun 節分 in Japan, and being a student means I get to experience all holidays with the enthusiasm (and comprehension) of a 5 year old. Setsubun is the welcoming of Spring and the casting out of all things bad. According to tradition, you can keep the demons out of your house by throwing roasted soybeans at them out the door while singing おにはそと!ふくはうち!“Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!”

♫  Get out you bad things! Welcome in, good luck!  ♫

Another Setsubun tradition is to eat a giant makizushi roll while facing the year’s lucky direction. A compass is printed on the packaging to help you out.

We did our part, throwing beans and eating our lucky makizushi. Good thing, because I’ll need that luck for my test on Monday.