Profile: Akiko Ike

Akiko Ike is a chiku-chiku teacher and artist, and has assembled a major exhibition of work which will be on display at the Adelaide Craft & Quilt Fair (November 3 to 6, 2016). Please note that Akiko will not be in attendance at the fair.

Story by Alison Yamazaki.

If you sit with Akiko Ike for more than a few minutes, she will put a needle and thread in your hand and find a piece of old fabric for you to stitch. The needle will be long and solid and sharp and the thread will be soft and thick. There will no emphasis on the right stitch technique, only an encouragement to freely stitch a line and to steadily cover the surface, perhaps adding other scraps as you go or varying the colour of the thread.

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Akiko Ike is one of the most exciting and accessible textile artists working in Japan today. Her work comes from the tradition that informs boro and sashiko – the layering, reinforcing, stitching of treasured old cloth. She uses the term ‘chiku-chiku’ for her work – the old onomatopoeic word for the sound of the stout needle going in and out of the cloth.

Akiko began seriously stitching at 60, after raising a family, supporting her husband’s tailoring business and working as a kindergarten teacher and hairdresser. Over the last decade and a half, she has developed a striking personal practice. Using only recycled fabrics, she layers and stitches, using a double thick cotton thread specially spun for her in northern Japan.

‘When we join the old and the new we make something strong and beautiful’ she says.

In the same way she views collaborations between older and younger artisans, old and new friends. Her local ‘chiku-chiku circle’ in Niigata, Japan has around 60 people in it, who meet and stitch regularly. Other such groups have formed where she teaches across Japan.

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Picture a small shop in a northern town.  A Key Coffee sign on the pavement outside, and the small-paned windows suggest an old style Japanese coffee shop. But the minute you open the door, and hear the hum of chatter within, a whole different world of creative activity is revealed. At the heart of it is a large oval table, half-covered with baskets of bright thread rolled into balls, torn fabric scraps, perhaps a weaving frame, and a handcrafted ceramic cup filled with aromatic coffee. Presiding over the activity is the dynamic figure of Akiko Ike. She will be talking, laughing, encouraging, and her strong hands will always be stitching.

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Outside Niigata city, on the coast, is her ‘Boro House’ – an old ‘minka’ or traditional farmhouse she rescued from demolition and had moved, beam by beam to this land. Here her textile works are shown at their absolute best, in the soft light thrown through paper screens, and against the dark beams and white walls. Materials she uses include old advertising banners, Boys’ Day carp streamers and beautiful soft indigo patterned nappies – long strips of cloth dyed with snowflake patterns of indigo, whose antibacterial properties were valued in nappies. Old patched and tattered work clothes are lovingly stitched over and over with a blizzard of soft white stitches. These lines of white stitching resemble the snow that falls heavily every winter in her native Niigata: a soft white covering that creates new pattern and both changes what is underneath while revealing a new beauty.

Each year, Ike-san combines a collection of small stitching pieces made by her chiku-chiku circle, students in classes she teaches, people she meets on her travels, and those who travel to see her. The resulting large, colourful textile combining the stitched voices of many speaks to her generosity of spirit in teaching and sharing. Each piece reveals the maker’s hand in the stitch pattern, length and colour; has the beautiful texture of thick stitching with soft cotton thread, and most importantly shows Ike-san’s commitment to putting a needle, thread and fabric in everyone’s hand and making it possible for us all to find our own line.

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Around 60 pieces of Akiko’s work will be exhibited at the Adelaide Craft & Quilt Fair on November 3 to 6, 2016. Please note that Akiko will not be in attendance.

More Details

Adelaide Craft & Quilt Fair

About Alison Yamazaki from Wabi-Sabi Designs
Alison Yamazaki first went to Japan in 1990 to teach for a few months. She met Shuji and six weeks later moved to Tokyo. Six years later she left Japan, with Shuji, and a deep love for all Japanese handcrafts, but particularly the textile arts. They now live in a house in Canberra packed with old handcrafts and Japanese ceramics, boro textiles and stitching projects. Alison, Shuji and their daughter travel each year to Japan, exploring traditional handcraft and textile methods and traditions. Last winter, she and Shuji spent a week in the Boro house with their friend Akiko Ike, stitching, weaving and drinking coffee as the snow fell heavily outside. Alison particularly loves indigo and the slow stitching and re-use traditions of northern Japan where ‘any piece of fabric big enough to hold three beans’ is big enough to keep. She is currently stitching using kasuri and collar linings of old kimono that she has indigo-dyed.

Shuji and Alison set up Wabi-Sabi Designs in Australia on their return from Japan and for the last 20 years, have enjoyed sharing their love and knowledge of Japan and its textiles, culture and traditions. They deal in modern, vintage and antique textiles and teach workshops in indigo dyeing, sashiko, boro and chiku-chiku.

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One thought on “Profile: Akiko Ike”

  1. I have just read the article about Akiko Ike, It is very inspiring to read about people who are so immersed in their art and craft. simple stitches and layering of fabrics and rescuing old fabrics, wow> I am inspired to look at my own fabric stash and have a go at chiku chiku. I will also share the article with a friend whose daughter is living and working in Japan. Julie Derrick

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