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Japan Crafts Interview

Katie Becker Japan Crafts

Katie Becker is the fount of knowledge for all things Japanese craft related.  She is a textile artist and a tutor, sells Japanese craft supplies and teaches a range of crafts as well as appearing on TV.  Read on to find out more.

Hi Katie, Please tell us about your website – http://www.japancrafts.co.uk/:

Hi! I made my website in order to let people know about the great range of Japanese crafts that are out there. It is in two sections: ‘Learn’ which covers my workshops and talks, and ‘Shop’ where you can buy fabrics, papers and kits online. There are also some information pages with articles I’ve written. I update it at least one a month and am always adding new pages. I aim to expand the information pages over the coming months.

What got you interested in Japanese crafts, and how did you learn about them?

Well, I’ve always had an interest in Far Eastern cultures. I think growing up in the Yorkshire Dales, Japan was about as far away as I could get! I was 18 when the novel Memoirs of a Geisha came out and I decided there and then to go to Japan and become a geisha…obviously that didn’t quite work out and I was 24 before I got to Japan (far too old to become a geisha, plus I had a daughter at primary school by then!). I have been fortunate to make many contacts, such as a lady who spoke no English but taught me to make Temari balls. I also have a kimono teacher who has become a very dear friend. She introduced me to teachers of needlework, tea ceremony and other arts, who I have learnt a lot from. I also had a chance meeting with a craft shop owner who taught me to make little gifts from recycled kimono fabric. Each time I visit Japan, I learn something new and bring it back to teach or show over here.

What is your personal favourite and why?

Not sure I can answer that! I love almost all of the paper and fabric crafts I’ve learnt so I can’t really pick a favourite. Each one has some element that draws me back time and again. I love working with vintage kimono fabrics and feeling like I’m carrying on a Japanese tradition. Also, I always hand-sew, so working on a small scale is good. My own textile work (brooches, cushions, scarves and handbags) is available at about 30 galleries throughout the UK.

UK stockist of Japanese fabrics

How many times have you been to Japan and what do you tend to do when you visit?

I’ve been 4 times and just booked my next flight. I try to go every year, but now the family know how fabulous it is, they have to come too! At least that gives me more suitcases to fill with goodies…

I sometimes have a bit of business to do over there and obviously it’s a holiday too, we have lots of friends to catch up with and usually spend a few days at my teachers’ houses in Tokyo. We stay in Kyoto for the main part of the trip though, as it’s a very traditional and beautiful city.

Tell us a bit more about the different Japanese crafts you cover on your website.  What are the different types and what do they involve.

The crafts I teach are paper and fabric based. I have devised workshops that are easy enough for anyone to do, but can be taken to a more complicated level once you know the basics. Knowing how projects get half-finished at workshops and then put in the back of a cupboard, I have adapted some of the methods so that people can complete something really fabulous within 2 hours.

For origami and card making, we work with handmade ‘washi’ paper which comes in hundreds of beautiful designs.

Fabric workshops include:

Shibori – tying silk and dyeing it with indigo

Silk Painting – much easier than people think!

Kimekomi – making baubles by carving a design on a ball and tucking the fabric in to cover it

Furoshiki – Japanese gift wrapping using authentic wrapping cloths

Kumihimo – braiding used in kimono and samurai armour, again easier than it sounds!

Folded Patchwork – ‘quilt-as-you-go’ and very portable way to make anything from a coaster to a quilt

Temari – 1,200 year old art form of wrapping and embroidering balls

Each time I come back from Japan I am full of new ideas – I have to be because groups tend to have me back again and again!

Flowers made from Japanese fabrics

Can you recommend any good books on Japanese crafts/textiles?

Many of the best books are written in Japanese, but there are some good ones in English too. I can recommend Kumiko Sudo’s ‘Omiyage’ and Susan Briscoe’s sashiko books. For those interested in textile design, I’d recommend Shigeki Nakamura’s Pattern Sourcebooks: Japanese series.

What a good starting project for someone new to Japanese crafts?

For origami, look online for easy models and you can use newspaper to practice on, then buy authentic origami paper from me! I’ve also brought out a range of Japanese craft kits on my website, all with English instructions and all easy to pick up. These are a good starting point for any craft and you can then decide whether to take it further. For Christmas, the Kimekomi Bauble kits give a professional result but are easy to make.

I understand you are a TV star too, please tell us more about that:

In late 2009 I was contacted by TV shopping channel Create and Craft who asked me to develop an origami kit for them. I told them it wouldn’t work (origami diagrams are notoriously difficult to follow and besides, there are thousands of free ones online), but that I had a range of other kits I could do. So I put together a range of kits and did my first show in December. It was an hour of live TV which was quite nerve racking but I loved every minute! Since then I have appeared on the show every few weeks with different kits.  A lot of my time is now spent developing new kits and making them up in their hundreds, then travelling to the studio in Peterborough to film each live show. I’m pleased to say I don’t get nervous any more, and working with all the different presenters and coming up with new ideas gives me a real buzz.

Do you think Japanese crafts are becoming more popular lately? 

Japanese culture is always popular, but I think the current trend is influenced by the online blogs and tutorials that are around. It’s great that people are sharing their ideas and expertise. ‘Kawaii’ and ‘Zakka’ culture has really taken off in the West as well as in Japan. It’s ironic, because the Japanese love our traditional fabric designs and use them in their crafts too! Many of our traditional crafts such as crochet, knitting, sewing etc have been brought bang up to date by incorporating Japanese influences.

You also offer other services such as retreat days, talks and workshops – what do these entail?

Retreat days are held at my studio, which is a mill house in deepest North Yorkshire. There is no mobile phone signal and a stream running beside the studio so you can really get away from it all and relax. I organise days throughout the year or you can bring 3 or more people for a bespoke retreat for only £30 per person.

I give talks and workshops to groups such as WIs, Embroiderers an Quilters, schools and museums. I travel all over the UK and teach whatever people want to learn! My most popular talk is where I dress a model in a ceremonial kimono whilst explaining about all the pieces it entails and recounting some of my stories from Japan, then I perform a Tea Ceremony.

Indigo fabrics from Japan

ou had some stunning Japanese fabrics on your stall at The Festival of Quilts, where can we buy those fabrics?

The range of fabrics I have is always changing because they are so popular and are only printed in short runs so they sell out quickly, so I don’t tend to list them individually on my website. Instead you can buy them by colourway, eg 4 fat quarters in shades of green. The best way to see the full range is to come and see the Japan Crafts stand at a show.

What plans do you have for the future?

Hmmm, well, there are two major projects which are strictly under wraps at the moment until they have been confirmed! So I can’t say a lot except to promise that I’ll keep you posted.

Apart from that, I’ll keep developing new products, my diary is booked up with talks and workshops. I’m going to Japan again at Easter so will try to learn something new, oh and I’ve promised my daughter a job as my kimono model when she is tall enough!

Don’t forget to visit Katie’s website http://www.japancrafts.co.uk/ to find out more.

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