Sparrows and Bamboo 竹に雀

This is my inaugural posting to my blog. I’ve really hemmed and hawed in terms of what to write about first. I want it to give a taste of what is to come as well as give you a sense of what has brought me to this point.

In 1973, I went to Japan for the first time. It was the peak period for the boom in the Japanese post-war traditional craft revival. This is the period during which the larger world became aware of the Mingei movement. There were exquisite traditional crafts of all sorts to be seen in every upscale department store and exclusive boutique, and it was considered quite chic for women to be seen in kimono.

Initially I went to Japan to study doll making, which I will cover in later postings, but found myself focusing most of my energies on textiles, settling on my true love, bingata 紅型, an Okinawan form of folk dyeing very popular in Japan.

A couple of years into my studies of bingata, under master dyer Matsuyo Hayashi, I was casually presented with a stencil. During this phase of my apprenticeship, it was common to use of my teacher’s stencils. However, in this case she allowed me to use a stencil that had been given to her by a fellow artist. The image depicts a rather common theme of sparrows in bamboo.

Sparrow and Bamboo Stencil

Sparrows in Bamboo Shibugami Lacquered with Silk Netting

Mdm. Hayashi had me use this stencil several times in the course of my studies. The first few times, after I applied the resist and prepared the fabric, she would indicate where and how I was to apply each color, correcting my technique as was often required. With time I was encouraged to try my own color arrangements. Below are two samples of my work.


Sparrows in Bamboo Natural Pigments on Indian Cotton.

Sparrows in Bamboo Natural Indigo and Prussian blue Pigments on Cotton Denim.


Upon my teacher’s death, I found that this stencil was one of the treasures she left to me.

I have a weakness for forgetting names and on occasion faces, but I never forget a pattern. Fast forward thirty years – I was surfing on line and came across the haori you see below. Imagine my surprise! Never worn and in perfect condition–I had to have it!

The Haori That Foud Its Way to Me After So Many Years

When it finally arrived in my studio I wasted no time placing the treasured stencil over the dyed image and…….it was a perfect fit! It must have been dyed using my stencil, or one that was carved at the same time by the same artist. I was ecstatic!


This is how my life seems to go – in series of recurrences. On going reminders of kindnesses received.

As my blog develops I hope to be able to pass on some of these kindnesses to you through sharing my love of Japanese textiles, and in the hope that you will share your knowledge and experiences with me and others. I hope that you will write in with your questions and comments, and help me when I seek information.

頑張りましょう!  (Ganbarimashou!)


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Ganbarimashou! 頑張りましょう!

Ganbarimashou! 頑張りまあしょう!

Ganbaru is the root word (dictionary form) of this verb. It means to persevere, to “hang in there”. In this case, “Ganbarimashou!” means “let’s work together (to preserve Japanese culture and our love of Japanese textiles)”.

Another form commonly used is ganbare! You’d yell this at a race as the cyclist zooms by, or to a student leaving to take an important test at school. It means something along the line of “Go! Go! Go!”, or “Do your best!”, “Don’t give up!”, “Do it for the Kipper!” I’m sure you get the idea…

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Katazome 型染め 201101

Each week I will be featuring a different sample textile to focus your attention on a specific weaving or dyeing process. If any of you would like to start a collection of these different topics, a limited number of the prepared cards are available for sale. To see the full collection, and for a better description of what each card includes, please visit my web site at

Katazome is a very old and traditional Japanese form of dyeing images on fabric. The technique is believed to have originated in Okinawa where it is called bingata, 紅型. Bingata produced outside of Okinawa is referred to as kataezome (stencil-picture -dyeing), 型絵染め, or simply katazome (stencil dyeing), 型染め.
A stencil is carved from hand made mulberry paper through which a golden tone paste made of rice and bran is passed.The open work of the paper stencil determines where the paste will adhere to the fabric. The areas covered by the paste will remain white and the exposed areas between the pasted segments will be stained by the dyes. Once the paste is washed out of the cloth the true beauty of the design is exposed.











The Textile of the Week, below, is a beautiful katazome piece, hand dyed on silk chirimen.

The theme is of maple leaves scattered through clouds and over a field of wild flowers. This fabric was originally used in a high quality kosode style kimono.


Notice the gradation of tones on the field upon which the small flowers appear. Delicate brushwork may also be seen in the shading given the maple leaves as shown in the close up below.



Some breakup of the wave lines in the design have been caused by the rice paste flowing under the stencil as seen in the image above.

If you are interested in Japanese textiles, you may want to consider starting a collection of the Textile of the Week series. I only have a limited quantity available. A list of all postings is available at, or just click on any of the images above to go to the page. Samples are $12 each plus tax and postage.

($12 even as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.)

If you are interested in trying your hand at katazome, visit the HOW TO section of my web site at

I’m preparing an in depth series of DVDs on katazome. The first of Journeys In Katazome is Stencils and is currently available. To find out more about it and the other upcoming DVDs in the series, visit my web site at

Or perhaps you prefer a more face to face experience? Consider joining me this summer in my studio for a wide range of classes, including katazome.

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My First Blog: Hanging Garden BR-190

Once a week I would like to exercise a little vanity and show off some of my own work! In most cases the pieces will be for sale. Garments are strictly one of a kind. However, when it comes to pictures and panels, there may be more than one available as limited run. Limited run usually means three or four. If you’d like to view some of the pieces in the gallery section of my web site, just click here:

Hanging Garden BR-190

Traditional Okinawan Bingata

In my blog post Sparrows and Bamboo I discuss using Mdm. Hayashi’s stencils during my studies in Japan. I’d like to follow up on that comment by sharing with you one of my garments in which I used a stencil carved by my teacher, Matsuyo Hayashi, and inherited by me after her death.


The stencil is of a very old and traditional Okinawan bingata image depicting pheasants in flight and peonies in a fanciful arrangement. Perhaps you’ve even come across this image yourself in your research. To the left I’m including a copy of the image she used to inspire her variation.


Detail showing weave structure and the clarity of the pasted lines.

For my piece I have chosen to use a hand-woven Chinese silk with a heavy slub. After first dyeing the fabric a silver-grey, I stretched the yardage in a manner similar to that seen in the banner above using traditional harite and shinshi. Soymilk sizing was applied, the paste pushed through the stencils carved by Mdm. Hayashi, and the natural pigments applied one at a time to build up the rich variations in color. Six months after I started, the water-based paste was rinsed from the fabric exposing the intricate design.



Back view of Hanging Garden by John Marshall

Most of the designs I produce for my garments have very simple silhouettes to show off the fabric. In this case in particular I wanted to highlight the layout of the imagery.

Detail of back showing pheasant in flight.

For more images, sizing, and pricing please visit this page on my web site:



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Japanese textiles, dyeing, weaving, culture, John Marshall, katazome, somemono, natural dye