27 November 2013

Elin Noble, Fiber Artist, Open Studio

Hand-dyed threads.

On November 23 DH and I drove about an hour from our home to New Bedford, a New England town once famous as a whaling port, and then, when petroleum made whale oil obsolete, as a textile manufacturing center. There is a remnant (no pun intended) of the garment industry still here, as Joseph Abboud's line of menswear is still made here.

Other types of textile work continue, in the form of Elin Noble's hand-dyed fiber art. As part of the annual New Bedford Open Studios event, we visited Elin's studio, housed in an old industrial building.

Elin tells us about her process.

Elin's medium is fabric -  folded, clamped, dyed, discharged and otherwise manipulated in ways that may seem almost magical but are the result of deliberate and well-practiced technique. In some series the finished fabrics are layered and quilted. After many years of quilting even very large pieces on a domestic machine, Elin added long-arm quilting to her repertoire, and the results are impressive. The quilt world has acknowledged her achievement with the 2013 Quilts Japan prize.

Studio visitor admires art and long-arm quilting machine.

Wall of thread, for use in the long-arm.

In addition to finished artworks, Elin offered fabric, thread, garments and other items for sale. We also met Elin's partner, Lasse Antonsen, an accomplished sculptor.

Hand-dyed fabric for sale.

After making our purchases - thread for use in sashiko  - we realized it was lunchtime and on Elin's suggestion we motored about a mile to Cork, a tapas and wine (and beer) bar near the waterfront. Elin didn't steer us wrong - risotto cakes with spicy pimenta moida sauce and pan-seared scallops over rice and mushrooms with macadamia cream sauce were just delicious.

Cork restaurant.

09 November 2013

Meet Bombyx Mori at the Silkworm Farm

The beautiful farmland of Gunma Prefecture.

Mulberry bushes, pruned for easy leaf harvest.

During our 2012 textile study tour of Japan we visited one of the last remaining silkworm farms in Gunma Prefecture.  China has supplanted Japan as the world's leading silk filament supplier, but a remnant of the industry remains.

Our group, at the entrance to the silkworm barn.

Silkworm barn, with removable tarps.

Silk is a natural protein fiber, produced by the silkworm, Bombyx mori, as it constructs its cocoon and enters the metamorphic part of its life cycle.

Silkworm barn, interior.

Thousand of silkworms live in this barn, in mesh hammocks slung from a simple framework.  The caterpillars munch voraciously on mulberry leaves, their exclusive food source, so the farm must maintain a ready supply of mulberry leaves during the lifecycle of the silkworms.

Fans and removeable side tarps control air circulation, as the critters are sensitive to changes in heat and humidity.

Silkworms and mulberry leaves in hammocks.

Once the silkworms have spun their cocoons, the small pupae are placed in wooden racks for transport. At some point the cocoons are boiled or steamed; this kills the emergent moth inside which would otherwise create holes to escape from its cocoon. The holes mean the silk filament would be discontinuous - it would unspool in pieces, rather than in one long continuous filament. Economically, the continuous filament is much, much more valuable.

A few moths do escape, and their offspring inhabit the rafters of the barn, as seen below.

The cocoons of escapees.

We were not allowed into the barn, and rightly so, as a herd of tourists, however well-intentioned, might introduce pathogens or other problems. However, the farmer and our guide brought out a large plastic scoop full of busy silkworms and we all got a good look.

We  admire the silkworms.

Farmer bows in appreciation of Gale's gift.

In the image above, the farmer bows his capped head in appreciation of a small token from an appreciative tour participant.  The farmer wears split toe boots to accommodate tabi socks. To the right of the farmer stands his father and, at the far right and holding his backpack, is our helpful and informative guide.

Last look at the farm.