The finished mokume piece drying in the sun.
Mokume. A Japanese term for a woodgrain effect that is insanely time consuming but so beautiful on completion that it sucks you in to do it again (and again).
My residency at Japanese Textile Workshops in May opened my eyes to a few things. First – the homework (to be done before arrival in Japan). Using a lovely lightweight crinkled linen the chosen design had to be marked out on the cloth with a special marker pen (that doesn’t affect the indigo). A brief Mokume prep rundown:
1. Draw lines across the cloth 2 cm apart, and design lines over that.
2. Use a double-threaded running stitch along the drawn lines with long ‘skip’ threads over the design shapes. BIG knots at each selvedge to prevent the threads pulling out.
3. Stitch three lines of running stitch between the 2 cm lines (yes, 5 mm apart). Varying the stitch length and distance between the rows will give a more natural woodgrain appearance.
4. Lose count of the hours (weeks) you’ve spent stitching. Be amazed at the mesmerising effect of the repetition.
5. Fold up neatly, put in suitcase with all the other projects and fly to Japan (if that’s where you’re going to finish the project of course).
6. Arrive in Japan (see above). Carefully pull the threads down one side of the cloth as tightly as you can. You’ll find you get some intriguing sculptural forms appearing.
7. Soak the entire thing in water (it must be thoroughly wet) and squeeze out the excess. Now pull those threads even more to make them as tight as possible. Tie tight, big knots with several threads together to form a tight, fairly rigid form. Cut off excess threads (they’ll just get tangled otherwise).
8. Dip in the indigo bath. I did ten dips, oxidising between each. Unfortunately my gloves leaked on this occasion but I did manage to get it off my rings without much trouble. It was a different story for my hands and nails though….
Linen takes up the indigo beautifully. A close-up of the finished goods – and the intricate woodgrain pattern. A very inky piece with lovely bleeds.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body
I’d also like to acknowledge the assistance of the Copyright Agency Creative Individuals Career Fund for this project