Japan – A Textile Journey - a talk by Janice Gunner 

by Lindsey


It was a hot and sticky evening on Tuesday 20th June when Claire, co-Chair of Shirley Quilters welcomed members, new members – Karen & Gail, and guests, to an entertaining talk given by teacher, author, and member of the Quilters Guild, Janice Gunner, detailing her love of sewing and quilting, Japanese quilting in particular.


Janice has been sewing since childhood, and progressed to quilting in 1974. She has taken various textiles and quilting qualifications during her life and has been a member of the Quilters’ Guild for many years.


Her love of all things Japanese was first sparked in 2005, when, as President of the Guild, she was asked, together with the quilts curator, to co-ordinate and organise the transfer and display of the Guild’s collection of quilts at the Japan International Quilt Festival in the Tokyo Dome baseball stadium. 


This huge festival, which is also televised in Japan and attracts over 40,000 visitors each day of its six day duration, was an eye-opener for Janice and has led her to make extensive travels to the country, learning many Japanese quilting and dyeing techniques.  These days she also leads trips to Japan to show these techniques and other fascinating facts about Japanese culture to British and European visitors.


Janice presented a slide show with photos giving a flavour of the country, telling us many amusing anecdotes and interesting idiosyncrasies about the country.  She then went on to describe the techniques used to create the beautiful fabrics used for such garments as kimonos and other Japanese clothing and textiles.  Kimonos are not so popular in today’s Japan as western dress is preferred, but these garments are still used for weddings and other celebrations, such as “3-5-7” day - a public holiday in Nara when families take their 3, 5 or 7 year old children to the temple to be blessed in all their finery.


Janice showed us several slides detailing the museums, workshops and other locations where different techniques are used in the embroidery, quilting and dyeing of fabric, in particular the ways to tie dye with indigo, such as Resist (Shibori), Clamp resist (Itajime), Pleated and bound (Tesliji) and Pole wrapped (Arashi) – to name but a few.


There were slides about the Orinasukan weaving museum, where, although most modern fabrics are created using computerised machines, there are still jacquard looms jam-packed into the small museum which visitors can use to create their own little piece of fabric.  The material is very expensive and can take months to create; for example, it can take up to six months to complete an Obi, and a Kimono takes up to 12 metres of fabric to make.


Janice also had slides of the Aizenkobi workshop where the master dyer of indigo fabrics, some of whose work is displayed in the British Museum, does his dyeing.  There are six foot deep vats in the floor of his workshop for keeping the dye at a constant temperature.


She also mentioned the Amuse museum in Tokyo – where they make Boro rags (make do and mend), and told us of how a lot of these old fabrics have been collected and are now displayed and sold for a great deal of money as “unintended works of art”.


She described Tsutsugaki resist painting and dyeing of fabric, and Yuzen dyeing, which is like stencilling the fabric, and is then touched up by hand on a continuous roll of fabric; the Kyoto Shibori museum which is famous for silk Shibori, and told us that Sashiko (Japanese quilting) is heavily influenced by American quilting.


Janice’s talk culminated in her showing the group examples of quilts she had made over the years using these techniques, and there was Japanese material on sale as well as one of her books available to purchase.


Before the end of the evening a raffle was drawn and several prizes were won, including a copy of Janice’s book which she offered to sign.