My father’s 50th birthday was coming up and I wanted to make something special for him, something functional with a personal touch to remind him of the crisp late autumn days when he briefly visited me last year in the Japanese countryside to learn what indigo dyeing was all about. It was a strange sight for me to see: cold winds rippling through the scarlet mountain sending swirls of golden leaves flying through the air as my father stood in the shade of a farmhouse, his hands submerged in the dark blue waters of the indigo vat. Perhaps it could have been the sheen of purple film floating on the liquid but I thought I saw a shimmer in his eyes right then. The last time I saw him make anything with his hands was pancakes on a Sunday many years ago.
Earlier this year Ann and I were looking for treasures in some textile stores in Chiang Mai when we found this :
The little envelope bag instantly reached out to me but after a delirious day of digging through musty piles of cloth in the heat its beauty did not become apparent till some time later when I was slowly turning it over in my hands. Everywhere I looked I saw the mark of caring hands and time well-spent. It was sewn together by hand very cleanly. Every stitch was ingeniously hidden amongst tidy folds and the odd asymmetry here and there added to the overall charm of it. Soon enough the little bag enraptured me and the longer I looked it over the more I fell in love. Mixed with this delight was the distinctly troubling taste of discontent and a certain sort of embarrassment at having paid no more than what amounted to a few bowls of noodle soup for this fine piece of work.
There was nothing inherently complex about the construction. It was, after all, just a square with three corners folded in and I liked this much about it since I could understand what was going on. It was only about a year ago that I started working with textiles and in truth I had made little progress and lacked experience in putting things together into finished products, with the extent of my sewing being the odd edge that needed tidying up or an occasional pillowcase. I shortly discovered something that first struck me as odd and later proved to be rather encouraging: people appreciated and were attracted to the few things I had made regardless of their simplicity as long as they were made with care and to the best of my abilities. I certainly had, and still have, a long way to go before I could consider myself good but for the moment those were the things I was making in a certain way and at a certain pace for people who liked what they saw and for me the whole process was, for reasons that I have yet to properly articulate, immensely enjoyable. I was happy.
I set about then to make a similar bag for my Dad. Deciding to steer away from the irresistibly complicated techniques I stuck to basics that I knew would be easy for him to connect with: zig-zags with "kanako" fawn spots.
For the inner lining I wanted the simple message “For Pap”, Pap being short for Dad in my native Russian. The message was cut into a stencil and rice paste was then applied through it onto the fabric. (Normally it is advisable to lacquer a net onto the stencil before using it to prevent tearing but I saved some time and circumvented this by gently applying the paste using a “tsu-tsu” – a sort of cone made from stencil paper that works like a cake decorator).
Once all the necessary pieces were dyed Ann helped me to put everything together with some clever stitching. I decided to go for a magnetic clasp instead of a wrapping braid like the original and this we stuck in between the two layers of fabric. We measured it out to fit a B5 notebook or Ipad snugly. Overall we are pretty happy with how it turned out and it was a great learning process. Some interesting new designs were thought out and next time we certainly have some things that we would try differently. In the end my father was just as happy to receive it as we were to make it for him. Even though the birthday was his I quietly made my own wish in my head when no one was looking: that both him and his new bag would stick around and still be here in another 50 years’ time.