Friday, July 30, 2010

Indigo dye

One of the spouses here on base amazes me ... she has a newborn and a toddler, she just finished up her masters degree and she has a home business, making and selling the cutest little kimono tops - American style.

In addition to all of the above she is also an avid knitter and has been experimenting with natural dyes. I am in awe of her and I wonder ... did I have that much energy 20 years ago (she's much younger than me)? Does she even sleep? When she mentioned that she would be interested in having an informal dye workshop I immediately piped up and said I wanted in. I ordered my supplies from Dharma but even with guidance managed to leave out a few necessary ingredients ... luckily for me Tara had extra's to share.

The first session involved various natural dyes like madder (the orange/rust color), cochineal (pink color), lak and some others. It was all just one big experiment to me so I ordered some ready to dye yarn and had at it ... the hank in the slide show with rust, shows one where I dyed two ends but I felt like it still needed something else. Same with the cochineal. And so we decided to have round two and agreed to meet a few weeks later to experiment with Indigo.

I have been very interested in learning about indigo dyeing with my passion for all things Shibori. Indigo is the traditional dye used for shibori work here in Japan. I have seen the in-ground ancient dye pots in Mashiko, saw a demonstration at the Tokyo International Quilt show and of course immerse my work in it every month in my Shibori class but I do not know how to make the dye. I have used chemical dyes for a number of years but the natural indigo dye process seemed intimidating to me and I just had not worked up the courage to try this out on my own. So with Tara's guiding hands we ordered indigo from Dharma, I sacrificed my blender (I hated the thing anyways ... I don't care what Jeff said Consumer Reports rated it, it was the worst blender ever - perhaps good enough for chopping up indigo into tiny little pieces but nothing else), and we dyed away. The kids came home from school and between the fermenting indigo smell and the wet wool smell just about gagged on the farm smell that permeated our house – an aroma somewhere between a compost pile mixed in with a bunch of wet wool. "Eeewwww, what is that smell?!" as they covered their mouths and noses upon walking into the house. Not that they were probably too surprised, since I'm pretty darn sure they think they have a wacked-out mom anyways, with art projects always around ("Wait! Don't throw that out, it's not trash it's for an idea I have."), my "Darth Vadar" particle mask that I used to wear when mixing chemical dyes, and now hanks of damp wool hanging in our laundry room (think wet dog times 100).

Oh, but it was so worth it ... the experiment worked and I can't wait to order more Indigo and have another round – when there's no humidity, I can open all the doors and windows, and go crazy dyeing away. I have no idea what I will knit with these yarns, and since I am probably the world's slowest knitter anyways it will be years before I see the results. But I was inspired. Inspired by a much younger mom to try new things and to not be afraid to make mistakes (oops, we let the madder dye bath boil – that's o.k. look the color is a lovely burnt orange) and inspired to share. I got so much more out of these two dye days having shared the experience with others. Try new things, make mistakes, share with others ... now that's inspiring.

Friday, July 9, 2010

50 Years

Today is my parents 50th wedding anniversary. I have no idea what their dreams for their future together were when they exchanged vows on July 9th 1960. I can only imagine some of their vision has played out as they expected but I'm guessing most of it has not. I also suspect though that looking back, as only two people can that have shared a half a century together, that they would agree that it has been a good ride, not always a smooth ride, there were certainly some potholes thrown in there but all in all it's been a good trip.

They raised two daughters that I hope have brought them more joy than heartache – although I would guess that during the teenage years there were many times they wondered just what the hell they had gotten themselves into. Now they get to sit back and reap the benefits of surviving the turbulent teenage years and wallow in the joy of having 5 grandchildren that adore Nana and Granddaddy.

They had several dogs – Boots, Penny, Gwen – and one more thrown in there that was so short lived I can't even remember it's name. Remarkable to me when I think that my mom did not grow up with pets, but my dad being a country boy grew up around more animals than he probably would care to remember. A good example of how two different backgrounds can come together to form their own vision of what their home would be. Even though I know at times having dogs was way more hassle than it was worth, my parents gave me a gift of having a family pet that I now carry on with my own family.

They lived commitment and support when my dad lost his job and my mom turned her talents into a successful business. They lived together and worked together – with my independent Navy spouse ways I cannot fathom how their marriage survived that! They survived countless trips up and down I-85 from Richmond to Atlanta as my mom dealt with aging parents and my dad logged in miles and miles behind the wheel getting her there. They know all the places to stop, the mileage/time goals and when to leave Atlanta to time it just right to miss rush hour traffic around Greenville/Charlotte/Raleigh-Durham.

They've had some great trips starting off small when my sister and I were younger – Myrtle Beach with my grandparents and always the traveling bar. I think that thing got cracked open before the suitcases, Whiskey Sours and Manhattans on the rocks. Let the vacation begin! Later, with my sister and I married and off on our own lives, there were trips to Europe and of course the many vacations to St. Augustine Beach where my mom fulfilled one of her dreams by owning a place at the beach. Sharing that dream with us, with our own vacations shared and spent there. So many great memories.

Twenty-six years ago, just before I got married I had a family friend tell me that "being married will be the toughest job you've ever had. The kids grow up and move away, the family dog dies ... but if you want to stay married you're going to have to work at it, every-single-day." Your words of wisdom were spot on Mr. Harris, and I've thought of them often – today more than any day. Today I look at my parents and see their marriage as more than just words exchanged in a ceremony, I see it as hope for the future together, when you don't know what the future is but you know you're in it together. Secure in the knowledge that their lives together are so much richer because they stuck it out – staying together when things are good is easy, it's when life throws you the lemons that you learn how to make the lemonade – tart and sweet southern style. 

We are half a world away, the Navy in it's infinite wisdom has parked us in Japan for the time being, and like many military families based overseas we cannot always be where our hearts want to be. I wish our family could be in Atlanta on this special day, to give my mom and dad a hug and a kiss in person, to thank them for all they've done – for not just saying their wedding vows fifty years ago but for living them as well. I can think of nothing more inspiring.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Teaching an old dog new tricks

For the past two days I have traveled up to Tokyo for a photography workshop class. It has been incredibly frustrating and rewarding at the same time. I am an amateur photographer, on the beginning side of that category. When we moved last year and I went through my major purge/organize mode I realized that I had really stopped taking photos. Jeff had taken many at the kids sporting events but with reluctant family members I no longer had the camera out to capture those precious moments of childhood. Coming to Japan has changed all of that, I hardly ever leave the house without my camera and the days I do I kick myself because of the missed photo op. But my camera skills are rusty. I had become a complacent photographer leaving the camera mode on "auto" for the first 6 months we were here but being continuously frustrated with my results. I took the baby step of graduating to "vari-modes" where I helped the camera determine if I was shooting a landscape or a portrait or action. Better, but still not fabulous. I signed up for an online photography workshop which kick started me into trying to take some portraits of my unwilling children and attempted to take the final step into Manual Mode where I set up everything. I used to do this, my old SLR was all me – I had to determine aperture, shutter speed even considering the film I was using. But that information had atrophied in my brain with the introduction of digital photography, I was letting the camera think for me and it wasn't working. What I really needed was Photography 101 and found a 3-day photography class/seminar being held in Tokyo with hands on instruction. It has been great. I have had to relearn my camera and also come to realize that Jeff and I are using a Matchbox VW Bug to try and get great shots while the others in the class are driving Ferrari's. But that's o.k. with me for now, until I can get the shots I want out of this camera there's no point in forking out the big bucks (and I've had a reminder in just how expensive this hobby is) for a high powered model.

Yesterday in the sweltering heat and humidity of rainy season in Tokyo our group took a fieldtrip to the the Harajyuku area. I fiddled with settings, got shooed away from unwilling shopkeepers who I guess get tired of all the tourists taking photographs and not buying anything. It started to rain and I pulled out my umbrella, waiting for the rain to pass. While I was standing there looking at the cool Keith Harringesque artwork on the construction fence I decided to use some of the knowledge relearned and put it to use. I got the shot above - my best of the day. A few weeks ago it could have ended with a photo just like this and I'd wonder what was missing. Yesterday, a match was lit and rekindled some of what I learned in the photography class I took at RISD 20 years ago. An afternoon spent in the mushi-atsui (steaming hot humidity) was well worth it. I realized I can relearn lost information and as with most things in life it just takes a boatload of practice and getting out there to get what you want. Now that's inspiring.