Kimono Classes – early research drawings

I have been researching a new course to run at Heart Space Studios for the autumn and winter months – making a kimono, well a shortened version of one really – more of a jacket but using several techniques found in traditional kimono. Many years ago, I visited Japan on a Royal Society of Arts bursary to study kimono design; my way of seeing the world was never quite the same again and my textiles changed radically. I adapted several of the dyeing, stencilling and embroidery techniques for my own work but I never made an actual kimono.

my freshly made bed

From the start of my stay, with a Japanese family of  Atsuko and Sumio Morimoto  in Osaka, I was aware of the wealth and variety of textiles everywhere. I was lucky to live with this family as Atsuko’s mother, Fusako Kubo, was the historian of the Japanese royal family’s costume collection. I decided to keep a day book, drawing whatever was interesting and novel – so the first night I drew my bed, after I had been instructed how to make up my futon  – which by day lived in a cupboard behind shoji screens in my room. However, looking now through the sketch book, which became the main reference source for my subsequent embroidery, screen print and drawing exhibition, A View of Japan, at the Francis Kyle Galley in London, I seem to be obsessed by the food.

Everywhere, everything I was ever served to eat was a visual delight, which more than made up for the fact that I first found the food bland and boring to eat; everything looked so -well – Japanese!

I eventually got to like some of the food, particularly the lunch boxes of Sushi…now a regular food everywhere – but in 1981 I had never seen a roll of rice and fish and seaweed before.

When my Japanese family saw my drawing they thought I could write and therefor speak Japanese, and when later that evening I drew the recipe for Tempura, they were sure I was fooling them with my non existent Japanese vocabulary… I began to see the difference of the Western style of drawing and the Eastern ways of seeing and recording.

They simply could not understand that I could perfectly copy the label for the leeks and not be able to read it. And when I drew their daughter Kyoko asleep under the table and it LOOKED just like her, they thought I was an artistic genius. I tried to explain the difference between the Western art education – educating the individual to draw directly from life as opposed to the traditional Eastern way,  learn from a master the key symbols for each item and emotion……

Kyoko asleep under the heated table

And that is when the bartering started, wherever I went I drew a picture of the people I visited, they gave me something or even better demonstrated a technique for me – I went to Kyoto almost daily to study traditional textiles, meeting with designers, weavers, spinners, embroiderers of kimono, I swapped these stencils for a drawing of the artist who cut and made them.

The only rustic ( and now the most fashionable) fabrics I saw and recorded, so unusual were they, are these dolls in a museum, dressed in shibori patterned rustic clothes of the 19th century.

rustic dressed dolls from a museum

So looking thought the day book now I am intrigued by what I  eventually did make with all this information. I will try to show some of the results in further blogs, but right now I think that the visual mind has a strange way of making connections between disparate stimuli, because I made work for a patchwork book from this study trip….

and now some 30 years later I am eventually giving classes in making kimono.

3 thoughts on “Kimono Classes – early research drawings

  1. I so enjoyed reading about your Japanese experience. It must have seemed so strange because when I went there a few years ago I had met lots of Japanese here in Wales and though strange it wasn’t so alien. I loved it! Easily the most interesting foreign country. I enjoyed the food but wasn’t sure what I was eating! I would love to return but the long journey daunts me. Lovely to keep up with you Janet!

    1. Hi Mary,
      well I became fascinated myself by my old work book which I haven’t used for a few years – and even though I now take for granted the ways of working developed from the experience I am revisiting it for new reasons, which goes to prove my long held belief that it is worth while to make in-depth and personal research and not rely on just photographs – of which I have scads from this one journey.

      I am looking forward to digging out the old images from the Francis Kyle Gallery exhibiition, they are on large format sides……wish me luck with the scanner,
      yours, Janet

      ps come and view new premises and see at first hand my return to stitching.

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