Saturday, January 27, 2007

pottery class in itami

yesterday was my first class at the itami craft center, part of the museum of arts and crafts in itami, hyogo prefecture, japan. it's a really cool combination of museum, teaching facility, gallery spaces, and even a little shop. all in a compound of buildings that include traditional japanese shophouses-some of which are open just to walk through and see, and some are used as the shop space, where teachers and students at the craft school have work for sale.

i dont know very much about the city of itami itself, (it's not included in my japan lonely planet) but wikipedia tells us that it was the only city in japan built within a castle (which was since torn down). from my architectural preservation friends, i know that itami also is an example of townscape preservation, which means that historic areas were preserved instead of just isolated buildings. and from my firsthand experience, there are good maps/signage including clear pedestrian access through the city.

the craft center offers a stunning array of craft classes: jewelry-making, spinning and dyeing, feltmaking, etc. i would love to take a spinning class, and one of their seminars about using natural dyes... this is one of the reasons i am excited to take a class there, as it seems like an excellent place to find out about all sorts of crafts and crafty things happening throughout the region. but first, i was excited to get back into ceramics, something i did back in high school, and then also when i was in japan last time (three years ago in yokohama).

the ceramics class was fun, very mellow and laid back, with a distinctive community class feel. there were about 10 students total, a couple other younger people, but mostly middle aged/retirees. the woman across from me was there with her elderly mother, i think they have been enjoying classes there for a while, and they also know the woman next to me, who was hilarious. she was probably in her 50s, and very chatty, with a thick kansai accent. constantly talking about how whatever she was doing wasn't good, and that she didn't want the teacher to see it, but in a totally light-hearted and funny way. there were a couple of older gentlemen, with their aprons (as this is japan, most people had smocks or aprons-one grandpa had a christmas teddybear apron on, which was quite cute) who were quietly making pots. everyone was mostly coil-building on small handwheels. a couple of the older men also were obviously not novices, as one used all his 2 kilos of clay to make a huge vessel, and another threw a piece on the electric wheel. the teacher did a demo of the wheel, and encouraged people to use it for trimming/finishing their coil work. i've done wheel work before, and i'd like to get back into that, but i want to wait a few weeks and not be demanding!

the teacher was really nice, very positive and interesting, and has been to walla walla, washington, as part of some kind of sister city program. there was a moment when i was explaining my situation (i.e., what is the white girl doing in this class, and where is she from?) when everyone was listening, and some discussion of seattle included me having to look up a japanese word that i didn't know, which turned out to be 'slug.' which was funny, because in the guessing game of what it might be, i had guessed 'is it food?' based on the explanation that 'you put salt on it'. but anyway, apparently there's a rumor that there are slugs in seattle that are the size of tiny dogs (!)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

craft resources in kyoto

here's the kyoto art center from the outside (they don't allow any pictures inside).
this is a great store/gallery, actually a cooperative of over 40 artists/craftspeople. the displays are lovely, and there are an impressive range of crafts, including paper, ceramic, lacquer, wood, metal, fabric, cards, prints, etc.
most techniques and materials come from japanese craft traditions. however, the individual craftspeople's aesthetics and styles are clearly visible and create a very contemporary feel to the space.
there are lots of affordable items in the range of $5-20, as well as more expensive art objects.
here's my local wool shop in kyoto from the exterior. they sell a lovely variety of corriedale and merino rovings, as well as spinning, felting, and dying supplies and books, both in english and japanese.
hitsuji wool store homepage

displays outside the chirimen museum. chirimen fabric is traditionally used for japanese kimonos, but also to create a huge variety of tiny crafts.
and finally, here's a resource that lists lots of craft activities that you can try in the kyoto many crafts so little time!

Monday, January 15, 2007

hyakumanben tezukuri (handmade) market, kyoto

on the 15th of every month, there is a handmade market at chionji temple in kyoto, called hyakumanben tezukuri market. (te means hand, zukuri means to make, so it literally means handmade). their website is here, buts it's all in japanese.this banner says 'handmade market' in japanese.
vendors set up all around the temple grounds, maybe there about 200 vendors. i guess its busiest in the mornings, starting around 9am, and in the winter people started packing up around 4.

there was a very impressive range of different kind of items, and different ages of vendors and size of their operations. there were some crafts people selling similar 'traditional' crafts that you would see in the u.s., like woodworking and ceramics.

there were cute piggies (remember, 2007 is the year of the wild boar in japan)

miniature scenes
woodworking and gnomes
dyed and print work

accessories of all kinds and materials
farm products from homespun to food and bath products
bags and more bags...
and more bags, lots of traditional japanese fabrics being reused to make other functional items/accessories.
super cute stamp work
handspun and handknits

felt food along with wooden play kitchens (of course my eyes were especially peeled for felt!)
there was quite a lot of needled felted stuff, and one felter who does very beautiful wet felting.

these photos are a tiny sample, there were also food vendors, both homegrown and snacks, and lots of clothes, old kimono fabric, jewelry, leatherwork etc.

the coolest part was that it was a total mix of people, both selling and shopping, which i believe reflects the strength and continuity of the craft tradition within japanese society. there were some young crafters similar to people in the states who are part of our huge craft resurgence (and mind you they are making some awesome stuff!), but they were part of a much larger crowd than included older folks and locals of all ages.

psst. more totoros!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

my first stab at needle-felting, introducing...totoro!
i'm feeling a new craft obsession coming on.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

felt cafe east + west is debuting over at my etsy shop with a few items, including these tokyo building blocks (above).
if anybody has suggestions or things they want from's your chance!