I recently taught a class in Richmond, VA about making thread from wisteria and kudzu fibers. Here are some photos of my preparations. Wisteria bark fiber and hardwood ash.
I’ve been spinning cotton for about 3 years now. I started by using a drop spindle and then moved to a spinning wheel and charkha. I have experimented spinning short staple, long staple upland and naturally colored cotton. Its really rewarding to dye upland cotton thread with indigo. Because of the luster in upland cotton the resulting color is bright and picks up different levels of color due to how much oxidation occurs. The process of spinning my own thread has allowed me understand the huge amount of patience and talent held by spinners dyers and weavers in the past.
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 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.
This is the second year in a row I have attempted to grow my own upland cotton. Last year it failed due to the cold spring weather of the Pacific Northwest, but this year in North Carolina I have had much better luck. I started the cotton indoors back in April and transplanted them in May. Now that the weather is hot and dry the plants are flourishing.
The stems and young leaves of these cotton plants are deep red. The leaves become green as they mature. I have them growing with basil, tomatoes, and Amish cockscombs.