susan ball faeder: 100 days of amulets
JAPANESE TEXTILE FRIENDS SERIES
By guest blogger Susan Ball Faeder of Quilters’ Express To Japan
LEWISBURG PA The 100 Day Project concept originated in 2007—the idea of Michael Beirut, a graphics design teacher at the Yale School of Art, who charged his students to embrace a daily art-making practice. The only restriction was that the action had to be repeated in some form every day, and that each day’s activity had to be documented for eventual presentation. This concept then appeared on Instagram in the spring of 2013 under the auspices of @elleluna and has since grown into a global movement.
In February of this year, I had just returned from six weeks in Japan where I led my 30th (and last) quilt and textile tour. My calendar was free of work and travel, so the timing seemed as good as it would ever be to dedicate myself to this challenge.
With a start date of April 2, I decided to make small cloth amulets similar to the good luck charms that visitors purchase at Japanese temples and shrines, called omamori. I would use my Japanese fabric scraps and adorn these mini quilts with beads and found objects from around the house, re-purposing things I might have thrown out and consciously embracing the Japanese concept of mottainai (waste nothing).
I imagined that these small talismans could be worn as a brooch or a necklace, pinned to a lapel, tied to a purse, or carried in a pocket. Each would be unique and hold a power for the owner.
Letting my intuition and inner self lead the way, each day I picked up a scrap of fabric, found some others that matched, and sewed them together. I added batting, turned it inside out, and embellished it with a decoration. I took a photo of the completed amulet and posted it on social media with a description. Then I moved on the next day, starting over and not looking back. This was my daily practice for 100 days.
The amulets vary in size between 1.5 to 3.5 inches wide by 2.5 to 4 inches high—fitting into the palm of your hand. Here’s are some of the amulets I made:
DAY 13 ORGANIC COLLAGE
Starting with a foundation of Japanese vintage cotton indigo cloth, I collaged and hand-stitched down the tiniest fragments of more vintage remnants until the pieces felt secure and the background could no longer be seen. I liked the idea that the indigo had one more life-purpose: quietly supporting the other fabrics. I felt the pieces of cloth still carried the spirit of the wearer, protecting it from harsh winters and buggy summers up north.
I added a few random sashiko stitches to fill in any remaining spaces, a white cotton lace tree, and an odd-shaped earthen bead for grounding and balance. At the bottom are parts of a broken key ring that I bought in Israel as a memento after praying at the Wailing Wall in August 2007. Never throw anything out!
DAY 27 ASANOHA
To a small-but-treasured scrap of Japanese vintage indigo produced by the hands of master craftsman Tanaka-san from Fukuoka, I added my sashiko stitches in the Japanese traditional pattern known as asanoha or Hemp Leaf. Then I decorated the amulet with one button in the center and a lone favorite earring below that I had kept (hoping I would find its mate).
I imported Tanaka’s luscious, coarse, hand-dyed, hand-woven fabric by the12-meter bolt for 25 years—selling it by the yard so quilters could afford to sample the best. He offered a selection of about 20 designs from light to dark, woven into the traditional 14” kimono fabric width. There were stripes of three blues or five blues in a variety of widths across the warp, and sometimes even a red or yellow thread running the length of the warp to shake things up.
I lovingly used only his fabric to teach all my basic Japanese sashiko classes: it accepted the needle and thread perfectly, producing a well-mated marriage. When Tanaka-san died about five years ago and there was no more of his indigo, I stopped teaching.
DAY 48 FUJIWARA CLAN
The center pattern is from one of the Japanesque fabrics I designed for Balson-Erlanger in the late 1990s. This featured print shows one of the five heroes of the Fujiwara family. There were seven designs in this collection, each in five colorways.
I made up a story about five samurai who came back from the dead and banded together under a plum tree, agreeing to redress the imbalances in the clan for one year. I ran a nationwide quilt challenge using these fabrics, hired four judges, and offered a free trip on my Japan tour to the winner. The chosen 14 quilts were invited to Japan for a special exhibition at the Yokohama Quilt Festival.
This amulet is hand-quilted. A lone feather earring bedecks his straw travel hat and the metal chrysanthemum-like button represents his shield.
DAY 51 VINTAGE WHITE KASURI SAMPLER
When we think of Japan and kasuri (ikat), we usually imagine dark blue fabric with little white flecks forming repeated patterns because a few threads have been resisted. The fabrics in this amulet are made in the reverse way: most of the threads are tied off and resisted, leaving only a few threads to take the dye. This produces the opposite effect—little indigo flecks along the mostly white fabric which criss-cross and form splash patterns when the warp and weft meet during weaving.
This lightweight, almost sheer, hand-woven cloth would be worn during the hottest and most humid days of summer by men and women. I feel cool just by looking at it!
These white kasuri fabrics are made from hemp, one of the many plant fibers used for clothing before cotton became readily available—helping to date the fabric. I don’t know anyone in Japan who weaves white kasuri anymore.
The amulet is hand-quilted. A bead and a shell echo the color and texture of the white kasuri textile.
DAY 68 CHEVRON SHIBORI
Every country has its own style of tie-dyeing. I am partial to shibori—Japan’s traditional tie-dyeing. This sweet fragile antique wool remnant had to be lined to hold its shape and accept the stitching.
The QFT pin with Mt. Fuji stands for Quilt Festival Tokyo, circa June 1998 (the predecessor of the current show at the Dome but with totally unrelated sponsorship). The pin commemorates the one time when it seemed possible for Japanese quilters to have a national organization. But, no, quilting reverted to the pyramid tier-teaching model—not unlike the system for flower arranging or tea ceremony—which is ingrained in the cultural framework of Japan.
In the case of quilting, however, the top sensei or teachers are 99% women—so that’s very unusual. Quilters collected and wore these little pins (sometimes covering an entire vest) to show where they had traveled to see quilts. The beads below are half of an old broken key ring that I bought in Israel—see DAY 13 above for other half.
DAY 100 SHIFU: Paper Weaving
In 1970, at age 18, I was sent to a remote farming village in the northern mountains of Japan as a high school exchange student. It seems fitting that this should be the last amulet in the series as it serves to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that first visit, a journey that changed the direction of my life. The little town of Shiroishi was famous for paper-making through many centuries. I met the paper makers there and learned to make paper.
It was only a few years ago that I stumbled upon the work of Susan Bryd—who had not only lived in the same mountain town as me, but who had also mastered the art of weaving with paper, called shifu. Unlike weaving with bast fibers, cotton or wool where the fibers are broken down and then spun or tied before weaving, the shifu artisans must first make the paper, then cut it down to make thread, and then weave the paper threads. The time and skill required for this process is hard to comprehend.
Twenty years later, Susan completed her documentation of this process and published a detailed book just as the last paper artisans passed away. The scraps in this amulet are a gift from her, leftover bits from garments that she made with her own shifu fabric. You can follow Susan on Instagram as @byrds.nest.
I persevered and completed my 100 amulets in 100 days on July 10. It wasn’t until the 100 pieces were mounted together at my solo exhibition, a few weeks later, that I saw them as a body of work.
I was surprised to see that the individual amulets had become a family, each with individual personalities. Perfection, straight lines and square corners were not my goals. Not every one is a star but some are quite charming. A few are very special to me in a sentimental way.
I learned again to trust the process: there were unexpected turns when a piece wanted to go in a different direction. Where I started was not necessarily where I ended up. I couldn’t force something into being; the art showed me what it wanted to be.
I enjoyed sharing the stories on social media—the significance of a particular piece of fabric or the memory attached to a bauble (that I assumed would only matter to me). It led to conversations and contacts with old and new friends online as they interacted with an amulet and offered their admiration and support. This meant a great deal to me.
Most importantly, the value of the experience for me was not in the finished products. It was in giving myself over to the practice of putting my art first before anything else, and seeing what sacrifice was required and how that, in turn, affected and gave back to other aspects of my life.
Making art is a solo expedition with no guarantee. Art mirrors life! Perhaps I took it all too seriously but I am a serious kind of gal. I learned to trust the process and trust my talents. I came to validate my inner self—at least for the time being.
MORE ON SUSAN
Susan Ball Faeder, an American quilter, founded Quilters’ Express To Japan (QETJ) in 1988—combining her love of Japan with her love of quilting. In 1989, Susan invited quilters from around the world to meet their counterparts on a mission of friendship and discovery to Japan, long before quilt festivals even existed in Japan. As the first person to host quilt tours to Japan, Susan is recognized as a pioneer of good will and a road-paver to opening doors within our industry.
As the owner of QETJ, Susan developed and led 30 quilt and textile tours to Japan, one per year, with an aim of teaching quilters about Japanese culture though the vehicle of Japanese textiles. Susan also designed several fabric collections, sold beautiful Japanese fabrics at select quilt shows across the USA, offered workshops, presented lectures, and ran the Japanese Fabric Club for 19 years—delivering Japanese fabrics to the homes of quilters everywhere.
Susan’s artwork—with its distinctly Japanese influence—has been exhibited from New York to Tokyo. Her Arigato Series, using boro collage sewn onto netting, premiered in Tokyo in 2005—pre-empting the current craze for boro and mending. Currently 143 pieces of her most recent work—quilts, sashiko, and fiber collage—are on view in a solo exhibit at the Public Library of Union County in her hometown of Lewisburg PA. The show runs until the end of August 2019.
To view all 100 cloth amulets with commentary +click here
To visit Susan Ball Faeder’s website and learn about her fiber artwork including quilts, fiber collages, and Japanese sashiko +click here
MORE ON 100 DAY PROJECTS & JAPANESE AMULETS
To read about Michael Bierut and see examples of his students from early years +click here
To learn about the woman who brought 100 Days to the Instagram platform in 2013 +click here
To learn more about the 100 Day Project, the rules (and the non-rules), and how you can register to join the millions who have taken up the gauntlet +click here
To read a fun article about the significance and many types and powers of lucky charms in Japanese culture +click here