Aizen Kobo and Secret Needle Shop in Kyoto, Japan

thread and needle—zen-style

By Patricia Belyea

KYOTO JP   I’m in Kyoto for the fourth time and have finally made it to two Must-See shops for textile lovers.

Patricia Belyea bicycling across the Imperial Palace grounds, Kyoto

Yesterday, Michael and I bicycled north along the Kamo River and west through the Imperial Palace grounds to the Nishijin district—home of Aizenkobo Indigo Workshop. We rang the video doorbell and the master himself,

Ken-ichi Utsuki, let us in. Ken-ichi, world-famous for his naturally fermented indigo dyeing, showed us his shop filled with bolts of rich eggplant blue cotton, shibori-dyed fabrics, indigo designer clothing and accessories, and sashiko samplers. His wife, Hisako, ushered us into a tatami room in the rear to display some museum samples and discuss the importance of traditional dyeing techniques.

My purchase in this phantasmagorical wonderland of indigo? As I already have thousands of yards of yukata cottons at home, I bought 27 skeins of naturally dyed sashiko thread. I couldn’t resist the rich yet subtle colors of the heavyweight cotton thread, perfect for hand quilting.

Aizen Kobo, Kyoto

It took two tries to find Misuya-Bari, a shop filled with handmade needles, in the Shinkyogoku shopping arcade. Two days ago I was unsuccessful; today I found it hidden behind two storefronts!

Decorative pins at Misuya-Bari, Kyoto

Misuya-Bari, a family business for 18 generations, has been making needles one by one since 1651. The handcrafted needles are finished with round eyes for easy threading, and knife-sharp tips.

The store also sells pin cushions made with silk crepe (Kyo chirimen) and lambswool, Clover thimbles, Japanese thread snips, irresistible sewing kits and sewing supplies. Fun, but not inexpensive, are straight pins topped with hand-sculpted decorations—flowers, cats, dogs and leaves to name a few.

I resisted everything but sashiko needles. With a lifetime supply of sashiko thread from Aizenkobo, I bought myself 250 hand-crafted sashiko needles! Once I regain my sanity, maybe a few of the needle packets will become gifts for some quilting friends.

Misuyabari Garden, Kyoto—the secret needle shop filled with handmade needles and sewing notions

A huge picture window floods Misuya-Bari with natural light and overlooks a pristine Japanese garden. While shopping, I was delighted when a white-eyed bird landed in a tree on the other side of the glass. I learned that this exotic-looking creature is a common sight in the garden. So must be the waiting husband, sitting on a bench.

Misuyabari Garden, Kyoto—the secret needle shop filled with handmade needles and sewing notions

So you don't miss this amazing shop when you get to Kyoto, here are photo directions: Coming into the shopping arcade off Sanjo-dori, the shop is about a block from the entrance—on your right. The fortune teller's sign alerts you to the location of the passageway to Misuya-Bari.

Misuyabari, Kyoto
Misuyabari, Kyoto