Temari – On skill development

June 14, 2009

Robinson 36

This temari is almost 30cm circumference, black mari with perle cotton 5 in white, yellows and blues. 

 The spur to tackle this particular Intermediate pattern came from a comment made by a colleague about the lack of detailed instructions in English for temari of intermediate difficulty. There are of course plenty of detailed instructions; what’s lacking is any logical link between the patterns. So with this in mind, plus a really close look at the Japanese text of Takhara 5/12, I thought I’d consider several of the Robinson examples – not the all-overs, and not the C10 structures (I’m busy with several of those at the moment), more of the C8 style that I spent all of last year on, plus those with really complex diagrams.
The diagrams are in Japanese and are based on Robinson’s teacher, Ozaki. I suppose they are already published by Ozaki in her books, but there’s no direct link in the Robinson. Robinson moves from simple to complex. I wasn’t particularly attracted by the look of this ball but the aim was to interpret the diagram correctly (getting it right) and efficiently (minimal ‘reverse-stitching’).
My first mistake was to think the single threads of ungen yellow to blue would pop out from the black background; instead, they were swamped and each colour should probably have had at least two stitches each, not one. The 25cm mari equates to a somewhat small temari, so it’s almost like a miniature – a bit of a dour, small ball, in fact, virtually black-and-white with a hint of blue.
Working on an English translation of Takhara 5/12 this week allowed me to work out that the i-ro-hai-ni of the diagram are in fact katakana characters and not hiragana. My Japanese language has almost exclusively been (so far) on hiragana, but it’s still quite surprising that I’ve overlooked this till now. Robinson’s instructions are as concise as anything published in the Japanese books.The Japanese books describe the different steps in making a temari in as little as five or six sentences and Robinson has had that conciseness transmitted to her by her sensei. The seemingly-insignificant mention of a “four-leaf clover” in the text ends up being absolutely key to understanding what’s going on here. It will also have been covered in earlier patterns, or in the classroom perhaps, but the key to correct kousa weaving depends heavily on where to insert the stitches around which guidelines to stitch around and laying the thread between needle entry and exit points. The additional diagram showing the stitching round the poles was very useful – it’s possible to create a ‘tight’ pole flower or a ‘looser’ one, depending on how you groom the threads.

I’m big on lists of competencies and a structured approach to learning. I know ‘butterly mind’ is how many approach art and craft and I’m aware too that traditionally this is out of kilter with traditional Japanese pedagogy, especially in traditional art/craft apprenticeship learning, where very little is written down and the teacher has the list of competencies in his or her head. Learning in the West though, especially without a ‘live’ teacher, requires rather more systematisation if genuine progress is to be made, moving from a Japanese oral tradition to a Western written one. Listing competencies is totally absent in the kumihimo braiding community, but is more likely potentially among temari-makers. One is largely left to one’s own devices when it comes to linking one surface pattern to the next; I’m aware that one learns stitch techniques, which are then applied to individual temari, without any nomenclature or typology for surface patterns. For example, with Robinson 36, one learns the stitch requied to make the ‘four-leaf’ clover, but there is no generic term for the style of pattern in this temari, with its widely space ‘petals’ (rather too much negative space for my liking) combined with a wide obi, i.e. not a separately stitched obi. Surface designs thus sit in isolation from each other – there is nothing (and noone to say), “Okay, having done this, move on to that”. Learning to see mathetical and geometrical links between patterns is therefore very much a skill acquired in isolation. Publishers these days are ‘project’-driven and don’t want to frighten readers with graded exercises. This has led to excellent books for introductory books for beginners, but precious little in English providing any sense of direction in the myriad of Intermediate patterns with which any temari-maker is likely to roam around with for, say, five years or more. I’ve found value in tackling advanced temari with highly-detailed instructions and working ‘backwards’ to intermediate ones.

Sarah’s Book: the temari notebook of Sarah Robinson. Available from Cafe Press via www.temarikai.com







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