My stash building centers around books and threads. Fabrics can wait until the actual project planning (in an emergency, I have enough to let’s just say… ‘make do’). Spring saw the acquisition of several outstanding titles.
I read Quilt Artistry: Inspired Designs from the East, by Yoshiko Jinzenji (2002 first edition, 2008 paperback, Kodansha International) from cover to cover in one sitting. This book is rich in developing the creative keys of simplifying and personalizing. Ms. Yoshiko’s style can not be simply categorized or dismissed if you are not a devotee to quilting with an eastern flair. Her work does not exploit typical Asian motifs or current fabric lines. Instead, it embodies stitching and piecing with a Japanese esthetic for simplicity and straight forward design. Textile Designer Jun’ichi Arai turned a phrase in his foreword to the book that I find myself repeating over and over:
Her quilts are simple and to the point. They contain no foolish chattering. They are magnetic, with an appeal that is strongly sensuous. Open your heart to them and they will induce a delicious intoxication.
“Foolish Chattering…” I know that I am guilty of this. I recognise the symptoms of foolish chatter because I have grappled with the idea before. For me, this chatter is the over-the-top application of technique to a quilt; going beyond “enough.” One of my favourite quotes to pass along is:
“An artist knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” —Antoine De Saint-Exupery
(Visual) Art is simplification- the true distillation of a concept to a moment, captured in an image. That moment can be literal or abstract. pages of interpretation or criticism can be extracted from the moment, but the art in itself is (to borrow from the world of mathematics), an elegant solution.
Yoshiko takes us through her first experience of quilting (Amish, hand-stitched), through her first exhibited quilt (North American styled, 1979, Ontario Crafts Council) and eventually to her Japanese roots in textile art. She briefly explores the kimono of Buddhist priests (funzoe) and their deconstruction in carefully re-assembled altar cloths called uchishiki. Yoshiko moves through hand stitched mandala blocks to notably non-traditional layered blocks of sheer fabrics that play light against shade in a unique Irish Chain called Watermark. Yoshiko’s work is a testament to the artist’s mark-making. The fabrics serve her techniques. The finished quilts are not about the clever use of a commercial pattern. Instead, each piece is an exploration.
Shimmering cushions result from freely stitching on aluminum coated nylon or polyester. Rather than offer specific ‘how to’ instructions and templates, the reader gets basic guidance and key images that provide enough information to begin. Yoshiko encourages: “The result is likely to be more attractive if you allow your imagination free rein.”
While the techniques presented are elegant in their simplicity, they are not necessarily quick to sew. For instance, her Spiral Block Quilt, similar to log cabin, can have up to 80 strips in a twelve inch block and over 200 fabrics in the quilt. Better yet, the Ten-Thousand Piece Quilt is a meditative piece that is comprised of hand dyed scraps.
Bamboo dyeing was developed by Yoshiko as a way to dye (not bleach) fabric white. The quilts that she creates from this fabric take on a whole cloth look with a splash of organic-colored fabrics. Similar results might be achieved by working with natural and hand-dyed cottons, but she is striving for something with more depth. Numerous photos provide inspiration for projects and give the reader a sense of place, where you can feel how she came to develop the bamboo dyeing.
Yoshiko’s work is deeply personal. While she shared her journey, I found that I wanted to undertake my own exploration rather than try to duplicate hers (and what an opportunity it would be to work under her for a week of intense classes). In her acknowledgements, Yoshiko thanks Mr. Arai for giving her “the courage and energy to grapple with things in creative ways.” The results seem to be the quiet, impactful conversation that she has established with her materials vs. the chatter of too much technique or too many competing fabrics.
In a 2003 interview, shortly after this book was published, Yoshiko was aked what brings her joy? She replied:
“Accomplishing what I set out to do.” She wanted to start a conversation with the english-speaking quilt world with this book. The result is one of those all-night conversations that you do not want to end.