This summer I planted a few ramie plants in the hopes of being able to harvest some ramie fiber next year. Ramie is a member of the nettle family and has been used throughout Asia to create a beautiful and strong fabric similar to linen or hemp.
Here are some examples of ramie fabric from a small komebukuro. Komebukuro are small patchwork bags used for giving gifts of rice and beans to friends, family, or a temple. The fabric was woven using a double ikat technique and may have originated from the Ryukyu Islands located at the southern end of the Japanese archipelago. Here is a short Japanese video about how ramie plants are processed into beautiful fabric. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIGscKahEqY
This is fiber taken from the kudzu vine. Here in the South kudzu is an invasive plant that can take over entire tracts of land in a season or two. Despite being an invasive weed it is a beautiful lush green against the sometimes dry and burnt colors of late summer. Kudzu flowers give off a thick sweet scent, vines can be woven into baskets, and the fiber from the vines can be woven into fabric.
I took this kudzu fiber back in the fall last year. It is a delicate fiber that has a glossy sheen which I think was part of the reason it was such a desirable fiber for clothing of the upper classes in old Japan. I have it resting here in an Edo era lacquer ware bowl. The bowl has a beautiful uneven shape and thick deep red lacquer. I imagine that it was made by a rural lacquer maker as it has a strong rustic handmade feel rather than the delicateness of a more refined city made bowl. There is a long process of taking kudfu fiber from the vines. Vines are gathered and bound then boiled for about an hour. The bound and boiled rolls of kudzu vines are then left outside to ret under leaves or grasses for a few days. When a powdery white mold appears on the vines and they are slimy to the touch the inner vines can be stripped from the outer fiber. Then the fiber can be washed and scraped to remove the slimy outer coat. I have only attempted to make kudzu thread but this site http://www.ryukyutextile.com/kasuri/Weavers_studio_4.html is a great visual guide for processing kudzu fiber.
This tsunobukuro or horn bag was used to hold grain. It more than likely comes from Northern Japan and it is made from linden fiber or shina. The bark is removed from the linden tree then it is bound and boiled with wood ash. After boiling the fiber is washed and separated before being spliced together to form thread. The threads are then spun and woven into shinafu. As shinafu ages it darkens in color. This bag is a deep red/brown color and has the feel of very stiff course linen. It is patched with cotton thread, white cotton cloth and several other bast fiber patches.
The bag is resting in the shade of some lemongrass.
I don’t know what this patch states. I can only make out a few of the kanji.
This antique paper covered basket holds some of the yarns I have been making over the past few months. The basket itself is really special. It has been covered with a layer of hand spun cloth and then encased in multiple layers of paper taken from daifukucho or shopkeepers ledgers. some of this paper has been treated with persimmon tannin which turned the paper dark red/brown and made the basket waterproof. I think the basket is probably from the early Meiji period.
Here are some wisteria or fuji yarns. The blue has been dyed with indigo.
I dyed this fuji yarn with indigo that was past its prime. It has a gray quality I really like.
This paper yarn or shifu I made from part of a roll of washi paper I found. I cut the paper into a long narrow strip and then spun it using an Ashford spinning wheel. the thread is really strong and has a lot of elasticity. I would like to try dying shifu in the future but it seems like the nature of paper and water might cause problems.
This is yarn I made from scrap cloth cut into strips and spun. some of the cloth has been dyed with indigo.