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Textile Journeys – from Kyoto to the Tokyo Quilt Festival

In late January we embarked on one of our semi-regular visits to Japan. We like to be exposed to the true cultural roots of our chosen craft as much as we can, and to pick up bits of inspiration for our designs along the way. This year’s trip was motivated by a need to recharge our batteries as much as anything else. We had just finished a refit of our beloved workshop after the brutal storm that hit Brisbane last November, so we were due for a break.

The Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival was naturally a priority for the itinerary, however every trip we take to Japan stimulates a desire to try new things, so this time around we made a point of seeing as much shibori as possible.

It was of course a delight to escape the oppressive heat of Brisbane for some cold weather, too!

January 20

We kicked things off with a bit of sightseeing in Kyoto.


Golden Temple 1

Does the shrubbery look like bonsai? A bossy guide explained this is in fact an example of the Muromachi aesthetic.

We decided to ease into things with a couple of well-known Kyoto spots: The Golden Pavilion and the Nishijin Textile Centre.

The Golden Pavilion consists of a breathtaking Zen Buddhist temple plated in gold leaf, surrounded by a body of water known as the Mirror Pond. Well, it’s technically a converted Zen Buddhist Temple. It was built in the late 14th Century to serve as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga, before his son converted it to a house of Zen worship. Beholding the total scene’s delicately serenity had an immediate calming effect. It was so beautiful that swathes of gawping tourists couldn’t detract from such an impression.

We managed to get some beautiful shots of it reflected in the splendid Mirror Pond.


Kyoto’s Nishijin Textile Centre is a very busy spot, but we chose it because it’s in Kyoto’s traditional weaving district.  Upon arrival we opted to head upstairs to have a look at the traditional looms used to make kimono fabric.

We were in luck, as one of the Nishijin ladies was in the middle of producing a beautiful silk obi.

The full range of photos from our visit to the Textile Centre can be accessed here.
Loom 1

 It would take this lady an hour to produce just three centimetres of fabric on this loom.



January 21

We absolutely loved the Toji Temple Market with its wonderfully busy atmosphere.


Markets 1

Bonsai, but of course.

As soon as we stepped through the temple gates we were greeted with an explosion of activity: hundreds of vendors all stripes, all of them offering genuine grass-roots wares; no rubbish at all. The term ‘vintage’ gets thrown around second-hand clothing markets in Australia a lot. Well, this was real vintage.  It was such a buzz to walk over to a stall to see someone casually selling beautiful old kimonos, boro clothing and old-fashioned Japanese crockery.

We LOVED this place. There was just too much to absorb in one session: to see, buy and taste. We honestly could have spent days here.

Such an expanse of substance and atmosphere didn’t just spring up overnight, though. The temple’s principle image is Yakushi Nyorai, the Medicine Buddha. Market vendors have been setting up on the 21st of each month for hundreds of years, catering to the thousands of monthly pilgrims who would travel here to pray for good health.

 Markets 2

Indigo-dyed hemp and silk scarves. We wanted to buy all of these.

 Markets 3

Swandale Quilting’s designer Cathy Schibrowski joined us for the trip. Here she is sampling some wares.

It goes without saying that we found ourselves drawn to fabrics both old and new: old boro, and new sashiko pieces.

Some real highlights for us were the absolutely gorgeous Kasuri and hemp fabrics, some exquisite indigo-dyed hemp and silk scarves, as well as a beautiful quilt made from a variety of Kasuri fabrics with Sashiko stitching. All of it stunning.

Markets 4

 True vintage clothing. So many kimonos!


 Markets 5

 A wonderful find: a bed cover made of kasuri fabrics in boro style.

So many photos, so little room: all of our Toji Temple Market photos are here.

January 22

What a  pleasant surprise it was to end up doing a shibori workshop today!


Shibori Workshop 1

Workshopping some Shibori. So good.

We were only expecting to do a standard museum tour – a wonderful experience in itself, mind you- but we just couldn’t pass up the offer of a workshop when it presented itself. It made the difference between a great and a perfect morning.

We visited the art museum, where we examined samples of many Shibori techniques, from Mokumenui to Hinode. Not all, however, as there are at least 100 known methods. We then moved on to the industrial arts hall, where we did our workshop. We were taken through the clamping method of shibori-very simple but so effective on silk.

Shibori Workshop 2

A display at the Kyoto Shibori Museum.

Shibori Workshop 3

Museum director Kenji Yoshioka was on hand to discuss shibori with us.

January 22-23

We followed up this wonderful morning with a visit to snow-covered Takayama.


Takayama 1 Pretty Takayama, snowed under.

The nature of the cold weather thus far had been a sort of damply chilly, so we were very lucky that our next destination was Takayama. Takayama is in what’s known as a gōsetsu-chitai (heavy snow) area of Japan.

We barely noticed the four hour train ride from Kyoto.

This picturesque winter wonderland was such a great contrast to Brisbane’s sweltering heat. The gorgeous weather made it very easy for us to lose ourselves, just strolling the streets in craft heaven, really.

Takayama 2

A much-needed coffee in an adorable cup.


January 24

We took the train from Nagoya to Arimatsu and uncovered an absolute treasure trove of Shibori.



Arimatsu 1

 One our favourite designs from the The Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori Kaikan.

What a discovery and what a highlight! Arimatsu is a comparatively small town that feels less affected by modern trends, and basically derives its fame from its shibori. (Arimatsu’s connection to shibori can arguably be traced back to the town’s founding in 1608.) It even holds an annual shibori festival. (Sadly it is in June… return visit?).

We really felt fortunate to see this village, a place where shibori is part of the culture itself, and a place that is not part of the bigger tourist circuit.

The Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori Kaikan is the town’s exhibition hall, and it houses an absolutely superb range of shibori work. We managed to get some lovely photos…

Arimatsu 3

 Stunning work.

It’s difficult to overstate how much we enjoyed this-so breathtaking to view such a wide range of beautiful patterns. And in such a glorious spectrum of colour, too, as shibori is most commonly found in indigo-and-white. If you’re interested in Shibori on any level, the Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori Kaikan should be an essential part of your Japanese fabric itinerary.

Arimatsu 2

 Such vivid colours.

 Arimatsu 4

Yes, this really was made using shibori techniques.

All of the stunning shibori photographs can be found here.



January 25 – 26

Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival



Quilt Expo 1

Magnificent Quilting.


Attending this event represents an essential pilgrimage for us, especially considering that it’s the biggest quilting exhibition in the world. It’s held every year at the Tokyo Dome, which is a huge indoor venue, and the crowds can be a little overwhelming at times. Every time we have attended, we’ve found ourselves astonished by the sheer scale of quality work on display.

The Tokyo Quilt Grand Prize was a stunning quilt by Etsuko Misaka in the colours of Indigo (close to our hearts), a beautiful grading of indigo fabrics in an assortment of shapes. It’s difficult for a photograph to convey the complex detail going on in this quilt.



Tokyo Quilt 1

Etsuko Misaka’s prize-winning quilt.

We loved Etsuko’s quilt, but it wasn’t our favourite.  We were surprised at the number of quilts on display that were made from indigo fabrics, each strikingly unique, so appealing and beautifully crafted.

We’ve posted the four below that we were most enchanted by. There seemed no end to the possible effects, from the byzantine to the kaliedoscopic.

 Quilt Festival 2

Quilt Festival 3


Quilt Festival 4


Quilt Festival 5


We’ve included a shot of the crowd from the festival, just to give you an idea of the size and scope of this event. Bear in mind that this photo was taken on day three of the festival.


Tokyo Quilt Crowds

 The crowds on the third day of the festival: serious business, indeed.



Light Festival Tokyo

We had the Tokyo Festival of Light to stroll through when each day was done. A perfect counterpart to the serious crowds.


From a deeper understanding and appreciation of shibori techniques to enchanting design possibilities for indigo quilts, this trip to Japan has had the desired effect on us.

It has given us the impetus to evolve our sashiko designs from last year’s Threaded Pathways concept to something new, which we look forward to sharing with you all.


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‘Til next time,


Sue and Colleen.


Blog posted from Kyoto Prefecture, Japan View larger map
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