Saturday, 14 February 2015

Happy Tenth Anniversary

Monday 14 February, 2005. I have been looking forward to this day since Wednesday, 8th September 2004. Now it has arrived I am feeling sick from a mixture of excitement and trepidation but I still have no idea how much affect this day is going to have on my life.

I am at a hotel in Bournemouth with complete strangers. I met ‘the strangers’ at dinner last night and again at breakfast this morning. They are very friendly and welcoming but they talk about things I don’t yet know about and use words I don’t yet understand. I think that everyone knows everyone else except me – that is not entirely true, there are two other ‘new girls’. I miss my (future) husband and feel very home sick. I think that I have made a mistake coming here. I don’t think I am up to the task ahead. I think I am going to make a fool of myself. But I am here now and this is something I really, really, want to do. I am about to take my first class in Japanese Embroidery.


© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

When the class began those concerns were soon forgotten, not because I was feeling any more confident but because I simply did not have time to feel nervous or inadequate; there is so much to learn just to get going with Japanese embroidery. We ‘new girls’ were each assigned a mentor to guide us through the framing up process. Our tutor that week was also my mentor. Poor Jenny, I think I drove her mad with my incessant questions but she bore it with patience and good humour.

In order to keep up with the syllabus Ruth, Maggie and I (the ‘new girls’) were assigned homework at the end of each class. Ruth was staying at a guest house with her husband and took her homework to do there. After dinner Maggie and I would return to the class room and put in many hours to complete our homework sometimes working long after everyone else had retired for the day. The beautiful Maggie is a beautiful stitcher, I was in awe of her work right from the beginning.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

By the end of that week I had learnt so much and some new and precious friendships had begun. Since then Japanese embroidery has become my passion. When I enrolled for my first class, I had not thought beyond that. I certainly had not envisaged that one day I would be aiming to go to Atlanta to do my Phase X. At that time I had not heard of Japanese bead embroidery (or even bead embroidery for that matter). Once I knew about it, I knew I wanted to learn it and as soon as a tutor qualified in the UK I enrolled for her first class. That was the beginning of a new adventure for my dear friend Sue and me but we never imagined that it would lead us to the JEC in Atlanta for Phase V and that we ourselves would qualify as Japanese Bead embroidery tutors.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

At first, I only attended the spring class in Bournemouth once a year. Gradually I started going to shows to demonstrate JE and I think it was then that I realised how my confidence had grown since that shaky start.

When the lovely Denise and equally lovely Jane began classes in Garstang, whenever I could I joined their class. It has been a privilege to watch that group grow under Denise and Jane’s gentle tutoring. I was honoured to celebrate their 5 year anniversary with them in October last year. And there I have made more new friends. I travelled with a group of them to Japan in 2013 for a fantastic holiday. Something else I never imagined I would do.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Although I did not begin blogging because of Japanese embroidery, the majority of my posts have been about JE or beading. When I started blogging I searched the internet to see if anyone else was blogging about JE. At the time the only other person I found was Susan of Plays with needles. Over the years we have become good friends and I am very much looking forward to meeting Susan in Atlanta later this year.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Unfortunately there have been some sad points in this adventure. In the past couple of years we have said good bye to three friends. Pat Hooper, a tutor I barely got to know but whose embroidery and knowledge made a lasting impression on me. Jenny Orchard, a beautiful stitcher and gentle soul. And my dear, dear friend Sue. Sue was the first person to befriend me and the one who encouraged me to help at exhibitions and to join the group in Garstang. Sue was the one who would not let me stich at home on my own and made my join in. I miss her so much.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Sad times apart, the last ten years have been the happiest of my life. That is in no small part down to Japanese embroidery and the friends I have made through it. Both have become so much part of my life that I cannot image a life without them now. And it all began one evening in September 2004 when Margaret Lewis, my sensei, gave a talk at the Oxford Branch of the Embroiderers Guild. When I walked into Iffley village hall that evening and saw Margaret’s work, I thought they were the most beautiful embroideries I had ever seen. I was fascinated as I listened to her talk about the silks and the techniques involved. And as I watched her twist threads from the flat silk, I knew this was something I had to learn.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

To Margaret and all of the other tutors who have patiently guided me, and to all my other JE friends, thank you for all that you have taught me, thank you for your support and encouragement, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Happy Stitching.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

And Still Speaking of Boxes

For the past two and a half years I have been doing an online course, Cabinet of Curiosities Parts I and II by Thistle Threads. The course is as much a history lesson as an embroidery course. Part I focuses on the cabinet and provides the fundamental information needed to design, embroider and cover a wooden cabinet to make a replica of a 17th century casket. Part II focuses on raised embroidery (stumpwork). I have completed Part I, or rather I have read the history lessons of Part I, and am two thirds through Part II. The embroidery for the casket is a massive undertaking and I have decided not to make a start on it at least until I have completed Phase X of my Japanese embroidery and possibly not until I retire. There are some ‘small’ projects in Phase I and I hope to do some of those before I retire but have not started those yet. Part II has instructions for a raised work mirror which would be a good way to practice some of the techniques before I make a start on my cabinet but I’m not sure if I that I will do that. Beautiful as it is, I think I would rather invest the time in doing my cabinet.

Last November a group of ‘casketeers’ went on a Cabinet Tour of the east coast of America. I was not able to join them (I am saving my pennies and my holiday to go to Atlanta in October). One of the lessons in Part I is how to cover the wooden cabinet in fabric. Participants of the tour were given a practical lesson on how to cover the wooden trinket box that comes in the supplies kit for Part I. Grace, a UK based casketeer who did go on the tour very kindly reproduced this practical lesson for a few other UK casketeers including me! That is how I spent last Saturday.

All of the wooden carcases have been embossed with the Cabinet of Curiosities logo and Thistle threads so even in 300 years they will be easily recognisable as 21 century reproductions even though they will be antiques in their own right by then!

© Carol-Anne Conway

Here is the naked box waiting to be covered.

© Carol-Anne Conway

All services are covered. The outside is covered with paper to which the embroidery will be applied.

© Carol-Anne Conway

The inside is lined with coral silk and a stamped paper, made especially for this course is applied to the rim of the box. Marbled paper is applied to the inside of the lid.

© Carol-Anne Conway

I have met up with fellow casketeers a few times already so it was great to get together with them again. This get together took place in Marjan's home. Marjan is a prolific stitcher and her walls are adorned with an impressive display of her samplers. She also has a newly acquired glass cabinet which she is rapidly filling with Thistle Threads and Amy Mitten projects. As well as enjoying the company and perusing Marjan's work, I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop, thank you Grace for leading it, and was pleased to actually complete the task in a day.

Now all I have to do is the embroidery so I apply that to my trinket box!

Happy Stitching.

Speaking of boxes

Bento is the Japanese version of a packed lunch. They usually contain a selection of rice, fish or meat, and pickled and/or cooked vegetables. Commercial bento boxes are readily available at convenience stores, bento shops and at railway stations. We made several long rail journeys while in Japan and usually purchased a bento box for our lunch. I enjoyed everything about them, the beautiful packaging, the ornate tooth picks and most especially the food (I absolutely loved the food in Japan!).

© B2C

Bento can also be homemade with the maker often taking time and care to arrange the contents in elaborate styles. Rice balls are sometimes decorated to resemble animals or popular characters from cartoons or comic books.


The boxes that contain the bento are as important as the contents. They are available in a dazzling variety of styles and even the ‘plain’ ones come in beautiful colours. Again cartoon characters are popular images on bento boxes as are traditional wood block pictures. Other boxes might be shaped to resemble something, such as houses, books or kokeshi dolls.


Not all bento boxes are mass produced and some of them are exquisite works of art.

I found this one at an antiques fair in Japan. We spent a morning there where Denise and I soon noticed, and then started actively searching for, the beautifully decorated boxes. Not all were bento boxes, in fact most of the boxes that caught our eye were writing boxes.

© Carol-Anne Conway

I can’t imagine putting my lunch my bento box. I did envisage using it as a ‘current JE project’ sewing box but I have not been able to bring myself even to do that. It sits on the top a book case in my sewing room and is the first thing I see when I enter the room.

© Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Travelling Sewing Kit

Sanjo-Honke Misuyabari also sold a range of sewing boxes made of kiri or paulownia wood. Kiri wood is thought to be ideal for sewing boxes as they can be closed tightly which keeps needles from rusting. The boxes came in many sizes but I choose the dinkiest box they stocked. This darling travel sewing kit. The lid fits so precisely that the lettering on the front is stamped across the box and the lid to show the correct alignment when replacing the lib. The small characters on the right appear to be 三條本家 みすや針 (Sanjo-Honke Misuyabari). I would love to know what the characters on the left say.

© Carol-Anne Conway

The accessories fit very snugly inside their box and are all made of the same fabric. There were many different fabrics and colours to choose between.

© Carol-Anne Conway

In the lid is a pin cushion and the box contains three spools of thread, a pain of mini snips and a packet of needles.

© Carol-Anne Conway

© Carol-Anne Conway

I have not used this yet but now I am reminded of how lovely it is, from now on this will accompany me on my travels.

© Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Monday, 9 February 2015

Needles and Pins

So, would you like to see what I bought in Sanjo-Honke Misuyabari?

© Carol-Anne Conway

It may not look like much but to me it is a precious haul. The first thing on my shopping list was some handmade Japanese needles. The needles are so precious that each one is individually wrapped. The proprietor wrote the needle sizes on the front of each packet.

© Carol-Anne Conway

And on the reverse he wrote their names.

© Carol-Anne Conway

Inside each paper packet the needles are kept safe within a little foil package.

© Carol-Anne Conway

And here they are, my beautiful hand made needles purchased in Japan, from left to right oo-buto (#10), ai-chuu (#8) and kiritsuke (#5).

© Carol-Anne Conway

The needles purchase from the fishing shop were slightly less lovingly packaged. I imagine that the outer wrapper gives the name of the shop as well as the telephone and fax numbers. The needles were wrapped in a second piece of paper something like gress proof paper.

© Carol-Anne Conway

Inside that the needles are threaded into a piece of the same paper. I have no record of their sizes and cannot remember exactly what they are but I believe that they are #11, #9 and #7.

© Carol-Anne Conway

And here, for comparison, are a some of my JEC needles (far left), the Misuyabari needles and the fishing shop needles. We are told that there is only one needle maker left in Japan. The JEC and Misuyabari are so a like that they are most likely to be from the same manufacturer but the fishing shop needles are distinctly different and I suspect that they come from a different manufacture. The do not appear to be of the same quality. I have not used either the Misuyabari nor the fishing shop needles yet.

© Carol-Anne Conway

I also purchased this pack of pins. They are not hand made but these are useful when beading.

© Carol-Anne Conway

The other item on my shopping list was a tekobari. I already have two but again but, hey!

© Carol-Anne Conway

Happy stitching

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A Needle in a Market

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to visit Japan with a group of Japanese embroidery friends and my lovely hubby. The despoke tour was arranged for us by Gill Clay who also served as our tour guide while we were there. As well as a few of the countries' vast array of cultural and historic delights, our tour was taylored to our interest in textiles and included visits to some places that we had specificly requested. We had a very full intinary.

© Carol-Anne Conway

We were based in Kyoto and many of our visits were based in and around this ancient city. One such trip was to the Nishiki Market. The oldest, and most famed, part of the market is a long narrow shopping 'street' that specializes in food and is a great place to explore some of Japan's culinary delights. This lively part of the indoor market is what Gill had taken us to see but we knew that beyond "Kyoto's Kitchen", within a part of the market that had been modernised, and whose shops were more akin to western shopping centres, lie hidden a glimpse into yesteryear and an absolute gem as far as we were concerned. When Gill let us of the leash to expore the market for a couple of hours, a few of us set of to find Sanjo-Honke Misuyabari - the needle shop.

© Carol-Anne Conway

One of our group, Dee, had learnt of the needle shop from a post on the blog JustHungry. This post provided a good description of how to find the Misuyabari shop but, unfortunately, we had neglected to take this information with us on the day we visited the market, we had to rely on our memory of the blog and our inginuity to reach our goal. We searched for some time and were on the point of giving up when a flash of inspiration from Maggie lead us to the prize. We knew that we were in the vicinity and Maggie had spotted a shop selling traditional knives; she asked them where we would find the needle shop and they furnished us with directions. As it turned out we were standing virtually next to the small and inconspicusious allay way that lead to a small Japanese garden and there, in this oasis of tranquility, was the even smaller traditional store that is Misuyabar.

© Carol-Anne Conway

© Carol-Anne Conway

The shop is tiny, consisting of one counter and some shelves along one wall, but the contents of the shop are enough to make the heart of any needle(wo)man race. Needles - hundreds of needles beautifully arranged in the glass counter - and pins - exquisit little pins - and gorgeous wooden sewing kits. Everything a needle(wo)man could desire. Had we had the resources, I think that we would have purchased the entire contents of the shop. However, we could not initially see the items for which we had made this pilgrimage - hand-made embroidery needles. Luckily, Denise had come prepared with some sample needles and when she showed these to the gentlemen behing the counter they reached below the glass cabinet to retrieve the tray containing our quarry.

© Carol-Anne Conway

When we went our seperate ways, we had agreed a time and place to rejoin Gill and the rest of the group and we were aware that our time was rapidly running out but this was an experience not to be rushed. And besides, the gentlemen were not to be rushed; each item that we purchased was lovingly wrapped and labelled for future identification. I should perhaps mention that the gentlemen spoke no English and we speak no Japanese so the entire transation took place through a series of jestures, hand signals, smiles and squeels of delights.

© Carol-Anne Conway

I find it hard to express how much I enjoyed my holiday in Japan - every moment was a highlight - but this little excursion to Sanjo-Honke Misuyabari is one of my most treasured memories.

Here is a link to the post on JustHungry that describes how to reach the shop and has some lovely pictures. Here is a link to another blog post that describes their visit to the shop and has more lovely pictures. Happy Harikuyo

p.s. We had a second, unplanned, needle adventure in Japan. We visited an embroidery house in Kanazawa where a few of us took part in an embroidery workshop. I'm not entirely sure how it came about but the proprietors of the embroidery house arranged taxis to take us to their needle suppliers who were closed that day but agreed to open there store especially for us. When we arrived, we were a bit perplexed to find ourselves at a fishing tackle shop but, sure enough, they did stock hand-made Japanese needles in a range of sizes and were more than happy to sell us some. As at Misuyabari, the proprietors spoke no English (or so we thought, wait for it) so the transaction was conducted through the now familiar jestures and smiles. When we left the store and climbed back into the waiting taxis one of the gentlemen ran after us calling "Where from? Where from?" "England" we called back as we waved good bye. I had visions of them in the local sake bar that evening telling their friends "You'll never guess what happened today - a group of English ladies came into the shop and bought our entire stock of needles". And I can hear their friends saying back "Ha! You and your fisherman's tales!".

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Progress Report - January 2015

I began Sake Boxes in March 2014 at my annual five day class. At the end of that week I had completed the foundations on the sake box and on the outside of the ladle, one leaf and a pointed petal chrysanthemum.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

I made little progress over the summer completing only the foundation on the inside of the ladle and one round petal chrysanthemum. It was only during, and after, a four day class in October that I really connected with this design and since then I have made steady progress. At first the piece seemed to grow very slowly and the amount still to be done seemed daunting. But I tried not to think about the whole task and to simply focus on the motif that I was stitching. Keeping the work covered with tissue paper and folding it back to reveal only the area you are working on helps to keep you focused on that area as well as protecting the rest of the work from dust and sunlight.

Before long, I had completed the silk embroidery in one small area. Then another. And piece by piece the picture is building.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

Now, when I look at the whole picture, I am pleased to see how much I have done. This is quickly followed by a sinking feeling when I think about how much is still to be done and this thought is quickly chased away by a reminder of how much I am enjoying stitching this piece and a further reminder to just focus on one small area at a time.

© JEC/Carol-Anne Conway

In the past few posts, I have looked at the foundation layers, a pointed petal chrysanthemum, a round petal chrysanthemum, the leaves and the noshi papers. Until I get to the gold work on the vessels there will be nothing new to say about this piece, except for an occassional progress report.

Happy Stitching