Happy Valentine’s Day ❤

In Japan women do the gifting on Valentine’s Day. Many make chocolates for their friends and sweethearts, which means that this time of year every 100 yen shop and supermarket is stocked with chocolate-making and wrapping paraphernalia. I’ve been ogling adorable, tiny, heart-shaped boxes for weeks.

The thing I discovered, however, is that for most people making chocolates means melting chocolates, then reshaping and decorating them with waxy sprinkles and frosting to make them all somewhat inedible.

I do not like frosting. Or sprinkles. Making chocolates is otherwise appealing, so at my local 100 yen shop I picked up a chocolate mold kit with foil wrappers, which I thought was a good compromise.

I used a double boiler to melt the chocolate then poured it into my mold. After an hour in the refrigerator they popped out easily. I wrapped them in foil, creating tiny hedgehogs, sheep, and cows. Gathered in the box, they look like they’ve been corralled into a barnyard.

chocolate molding supplies

pink sheep, hedgehogs, and cows

chocolate molding

Will you be my valentine?

chocolate barn yard

Happy Valentine's Day!

Then I added neon hearts and sparkle snowflakes to my photo, just in case it wasn’t sweet enough. Happy Valentine’s Day from Japan!

Harikuyou Needle Festival

On Friday I went to a local harikuyou 針供養 festival. February 8th is a day to pay respect to your old sewing needles by sticking them in tofu.

Needles stuck in soft tofu, their reward for a job well-done

The idea is that your needles have worked hard and have served you well, and so deserve a soft place to live our their final days.

My friend who is also a stitcher and I joined women in kimono and men in glimmering robes inside the small temple. We were ushered in and we kneeled on pillows. A box of incense passed our way and we were encouraged to pinch some into the embers and pray. We lined up with everyone and stuck our needles into the tofu. Then the temple ladies handed us sweet amazake. They reminded us it was cold outside, we needed to drink up, and handed us a second cup.

Needles in a bed of tofu for harikuyou

After the ceremony we went outside and noticed women were also dropping pins and needles into a large stone box. We peeked inside and saw it was filled up to the eaves. They told us it has been a resting place for needles for as long as the temple has been there. (I looked at their website, maybe since 1608?)

Needles of days past

We strolled around the temple grounds, admiring the ume trees in bloom. It was cold, but a lovely day.

森嚴寺

Just before I placed my needle into the tofu I accidentally pricked myself with it, and it drew a little blood. He (yes, he) wouldn’t go without a fight. I felt some remorse about sending him to his end, so I hope I did right by this little needle in finding him a tofu bed.

I bought a good luck charm from the temple to help me while sewing this year. I haven’t pricked myself since.

森嚴寺

Ps, I have updated this post so it no longer refers to my friend and myself as sewers. We are indeed people who use needles, not big holes of crap. 😉

Wool Winter Skirt

A winter skirt, just in time for spring. This lovely wool was given to me years ago and I finally felt confident enough to sew something with it. I used the new Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt pattern, which is designed for hippy ladies such as myself. A nice match, I think.

Sewaholic skirt, vintage wool

It reminds me a little of a skirt my mom used to have. Or the one Vera Ellen wears around the fire in White Christmas. You know the one.

wool winter skirt

I have a teeny confession to make, however. The hem is only basted. I don’t own a full length mirror, I usually reply on shop windows as I walk to the subway station. The barber is used to me adjusting my pants in front of his window, and we are both OK with that. I’m not yet sold on this skirt’s length (I added 2 inches to view A) and wanted help from these photos. So don’t look too closely.

I  completed this skirt as part of a Hollyburn sew-along. The pattern was easy to understand, but because it is wool I thought it was necessary to add a lining and it turns out I needed a little hand-holding. Thankfully Rachel at My Messings did a step-by-step guide. This was my first garment with a zipper and a lining so there is definitely room for improvement, but I’m happy with they way it turned out. Well, after it is hemmed, maybe in time for next autumn.

Pay no mind to the wrinkles.

The Tokyo Quilt Festival

This week I visited the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival. If you tell me something will be great, I am instantly skeptical. But this was great, at least for the few short hours I was able to withstand old ladies and their elbows. Don’t let those canes fool you, they are swift and deadly.Entering the Dome

Thank goodness I was at least a head taller than everyone, so getting a peep at the quilts was no problem. My view for most of the morning was something like this:

View from the top

In all earnestness, I had a lovely time with the old gals. My Japanese sewing vocabulary is well rounded, as is my ability to exclaim simultaneous astonishment and compliment with only mouth sounds (eeehhhhhHHHHH?!), so we got along quite nicely.

crazy triangle quilt

Occasionally someone would look over their shoulder to check for the Quilt Police and then gently lift the quilt to sneek a peek at the backside, and I’d crane my neck to catch a glimpse, too. We’d nod in understanding. You can always spot a fellow quilter or embroiderer, someone who is just as interested in the back as they are in the front.

tiny hand pieced

While most people were fawning over the traditional quilts, I really enjoyed the “wa” quilts category (和のキルト部門), described as quilts with a unique Japanese quality to them. Many were constructed from Japanese kimono silk and were quite vibrant, but I prefered the naturally-dyed blues and grays of old ikat cottons.

not so sexy hexy

My favorite was this double wedding ring quilt. I was lucky to catch a moment with no one between it and me and I snapped a photo — I’m standing straight in front, but notice how the rings are different sizes. I wish I could have taken this one home with me.

wonky double wedding

Another favorite of the day was the pudding quilt. Obviously.

pudding

You can see more photos of my favorites here on Flickr. This was my first quilt festival — has anyone else attended one? How do you think it compares? I’d love to hear!

Snow Day ☃

It is snowing in Tokyo!

snowday

I love snow days, and after a brief snowball-filled jaunt to the supermarket I am giving myself free license to sit under the kotatsu and watch movies and drink tea until it is an acceptable time to watch movies and drink whiskey.

Yesterday I ran into Tanaka-san while she was buying fried chicken, so I know she is set for the storm, too.

Maybe I should suggest we combine our efforts. It looks like the other neighbors already have the mixers on ice.

snowday

Out With the Old: 2012’s To-Dos

明けましておめでとうございます。今年もよろしくお願いします。

Happy New Year, my friends.

I am easing into 2013. My season of travels abroad, visits with friends and family, handmade gifts and home cooked meals is coming to a close, and I am settling in. 2013 promises many challenges and I am gathering the strength to face them.

Last year at this time I made a to-do list. I dislike resolutions, but to-do lists I can handle. Looking back, I feel good about the things I checked off the list. It turns out I cook a lot less than I thought I did but sew quite a bit more. I feel OK with a trade-off like that. Here is my list and how I fared:

Cook 12 new recipes, one per month. Not even close. Though, I probably ate 12 new foods, like natto, coffee jelly, and tom yum. I can’t believe I waited so long for tom yum. What was I thinking?

food

Read 5 books. I remember thinking this was on the low side, that of course I would read more than 5 books in a year. I read 6.

books

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, Ghostwritten by David Mitchell, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story by Glenway Wescott, The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

Visit 6 new places. Cities or countries, it doesn’t matter. And walk around these places without a map. 

travels

  1. Shiga kogen, Nagano, Japan
  2. Hijiori Onsen, Yamagata, Japan
  3. Kuala Lumpur & Malacca, Malaysia
  4. Singapore
  5. Sado Island, Japan
  6. Okinawa, Japan

Make a quilt for myself, for fun. I did, and it was fun. I also spent a lot of time learning to sew clothing. I made 6 new garments and 4 neckties.

sewing

Have a conversation with a stranger in Japanese. This really reminds me of how little I could, or would, say before I started my Japanese classes. I was a big chicken. Now I am often faced with having to speak Japanese with strangers, and I’m a little less of a chicken.

2012, I think you did alright by me. I visited lovely new places, I ate a lot and spent quality time with quality people, I learned some things, and even found my face on the Internet (like here and here). Nice work, 2012. Now, can you give 2013 the message?

How did your 2012 to-do lists turn out?

English Craft Club, Sunday December 9th

The last of the year, friends!

English Craft Club Christmas Quilting

English Craft Club will meet near Sangenjaya on Sunday, December 9th. We’ll be making the Ohio Star quilt block , the last in our quilting series. We’ll learn basic hand-sewing methods, and I’ll also review how to finish a quilt and binding techniques. Your quilt blocks can be saved for a larger quilt project, or made into a Christmas star placemat!

This English Craft Club will have a special holiday theme! While sewing, we’ll enjoy lots of  Christmas music, cookies, and cocoa for some fun holiday cheer.

In the spirit of the holiday season, the class fee is discounted to 3000 yen per person! I hope you’ll join us!

楽しく英語を勉強するクラブです!このクラスにキルトを縫いながら、様々な表現や英単語を楽しく勉強していきます。楽しく英会話をしませんか。

参加費には以下の内容が含まれます。

  • クラフトに使用する材料(型紙、布、針、糸、その他道具)
  • 英語の教材(ペーパー)、クラフトの単語集など。
  • コーヒー、ココア、紅茶、クッキーやケーキ

The English Craft Club に参加をご希望の方は、sakepuppets@gmail.comでご連絡下さい。ご質問もお気軽にどうぞ(英語・日本語どちらでも結構です)

参加費 : ¥3000 –> クリスマスの割引があります!
場所:三軒茶屋

Class Details

  • Class time is 13:00-14:30, though you are welcome to stay until 15:00 to finish projects or just chat for fun!
  • All craft materials and snacks are provided. No quilting experience is necessary!
  • Native English speakers and English students are all welcome. Vocabulary notes are provided for students if necessary.

Other questions? Email me at sakepuppets@gmail.com. Thanks!

ps. If this Japanese is atrocious, please forgive me.

Sashiko Gift Guide

The holiday season ’tis upon us again. Tokyo is blanketed in tiny LED lights and Colonel Sanders has donned his holiday Santa hat. The Christmas spirit and the smell of fried chicken are in the air!

My web shop will be offering Black Friday/Cyber Monday specials again this year, so I encourage you to take a peek! For all orders placed between Friday, November 23rd and Monday, November 26th use coupon code CHEER to receive 10% off your order and to receive a special little surprise gift in the package. It might be edible. It will definitely be weird. Orders will ship Tuesday morning and will arrive in plenty of time for Christmas.

Need a little help with your holiday shopping? I’ve taken the liberty of putting together a holiday helper guide. Friends, see if you can guess which one of these are you.

For the Crafty Teen :: Maybe they’re too smart for their own good, or maybe they just like to glue sh*t to other sh*t. Perfect for the girl who loves to mix and match accessories and colors and multi-color nail polish. Or for the full-grown woman who also loves these things, including dressing like a teen.

The DIY Brooch Kit, $15

For the Busy Mom :: They love to create but have troubling finding the time, because, you know, they are busy keeping tiny humans alive. These sashiko kits come with all the materials needed for a full project, and are easy to start, set aside, pick back up again, and finish by dim lamp light in the middle of the night.

The Genki Sashiko Coasters (Set of 4) DIY Embroidery Kit, $25

For the Friend Who Always Throws a Better Party Than You :: Wine parties, knitting parties, and impromptu I-just-threw-this-delicious-hotdish-together parties, she does it all. This friend enjoys creating a fun atmosphere for her loved ones and is very good at it, so the special touches really matter.

Traditional Sashiko Coasters, Set of 4, $40

For the Girl Who is Just a Friend :: You don’t want to give the wrong impression, like the time you gave her holiday-themed socks and you found yourself in an awkward position. You also know ladies love presents and you don’t want to take the heat the next time you introduce her to your new girlfriend, and she tells New Girlfriend how awful you are at gift-giving. Because you care enough to say you know she knows you care how she looks.

The Sashiko Pocket Mirror, $20

For the Inoffensive Coworker :: You like your colleagues but perhaps you don’t know much about them. Or maybe you do and pretend you don’t. A hand-stitched gift for an inoffensive coworker is the perfect way to say, “Have a fine holiday. But not too much fun that you run off and leave me with all this work.” Also, these ornaments are fun to make, so you might as well get something out of the deal.

Sashiko Starry Night DIY Felt Ornament Kit, $20

A Nice Rice

A few weeks ago we received a package of rice from a friend who lives and farms on Sado Island.

We met Matt when we went to Sado for the taiko drum extravaganza we attended in August. He was an amazing tour guide, showed us around the island and even revealed a few secret swimming spots. I left Sado with an incredible fondness for the place, thanks to Matt. He and his wife are rice farmers, and their region has a reputation for producing some of the best rice in Japan.

Rice is rice, you say? Oh no, my friends! It most certainly is not. Get that Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice business out of my kitchen this instant.

I used to dislike rice. I thought it was dry and boring, because usually it was. After we moved to Japan my friend Saki slowly showed me the way to rice nirvana. She brought us to rice restaurants. She emailed me instructions on how to gently wash and then rinse and then soak my rice before cooking. She was sneaky but persistent in her teachings. Maybe because she had tasted my very first attempt at onigiri and couldn’t bear the thought of me torturing any more rice.

I still have no idea what makes good rice good, but I know it when I taste it. It sticks but isn’t too sticky. It’s floral and eaten alone, not hidden under heaps of curry or meat. It is usually white, but not a crazy bleached white, more of a pearl white with hints of purple or yellow. It looks and smells like a plant because it is.

If given a choice between rice or noodles, I’ll go for the rice. A bold claim, I know.

Check out Daruma An Farms for some damn fine island rice.

Kotatsu warms by heart. And feet.

Exciting things are happening over here at Saké Puppets. I was interviewed by the Japan Times and I’m hosting an English Craft Club quilting class this Sunday. But most importantly, I got a kotatsu.

It is mine, wrinkles and all. I’m the kind of girl who puts on her clothes with the hope that the warmth of her body will undo the creases, so honestly wrinkles don’t bother me.

What is this contraption, you ask? A short-legged table with a small space heater attached to the underside. Come to think of it, it is bit like the daschund I had as kid. You stick your toes in its undercarriage and hope for the best. Then cover the whole thing with a big blanket, and you’ve got yourself a little winter nest.

I might let the kotatsu swallow me up to the chin. I’ll see you in the spring.