Saturday, June 27, 2009

Basket #2: Teppachi Morikago

In early June we started our second basket: the teppachi morikago (鉄鉢盛かご), also known as teppatsu morikago. Teppachi (or teppatsu) means "iron bowl." The name comes from the iron bowl that Buddhist monks carry to receive alms of food or money. A Google image search for 鉄鉢 shows there are a variety of dimensions and materials now associated with the word, from practically spherical bowls (including glass light fixtures!), to more squat, tray-like dishes of ceramic or lacquer. Two traits they all seem to have in common are: 1) they have soft, curved edges, and 2) the bowl's lip is slightly contracted, with the bowl's maximum circumference usually located closer to the lip than the bottom. Here's a fun image of a raccoon dog (tanuki; 狸) holding a teppachi.

Rinko Ami 輪弧編み
Teppachi morikago come in numerous sizes, all of which are made to such precise dimension standards that they nest inside one another like Russian dolls. We are making one of the medium sized bowls, which consists of 80 weaving strips (編みひご), 2.5 mm wide by 0.55 mm thick--half in width and slightly thinner than the higo we used for the mutsume morikago. In the first step, 40 higo are weaved together in what's called a rinko-ami ("wheel weave"); in this weave, each strip is layered above or below the previous strip (depending on whether your eye is moving clockwise or counter-clockwise), with all the strips interlocked in such a way that they stay together once the wheel is complete. The series is started by inserting higo one-by-one into a five-prong, makeshift tool so that each strip overlaps two other higo. Once a chain of 40 is made, the last five strips are inserted in place of the five prongs, which are then removed, completing the circle. I should note that not all rinko-ami consist of 40 higo and not all use a five-prong tool; these variables seem to change greatly depending on the desired diameter of the wheel, higo size and number, etc. The completed wheel above is one we made for practice using 29 higo. In each teppachi bowl, two wheels are placed on top of each other and interlaced from the center outward, so the 29-higo wheels were important for learning the more complicated step of combining two wheels.

Ajiro-ami 網代編み
The center of the rinko-ami--what for now is just a big gaping hole--will become the bowl's bottom, so a seperate circular piece is needed to fill it and support the bowl's contents. In this case we use twill weave or plaiting called ajiro-ami. There is an infinite variety of patterns that can be made from ajiro-ami based on how strips of different widths and colors are distributed in the weave. For our teppachi, we used undyed strips that are all the same width (7.0 mm wide by 0.6 mm thick). It just so happened that some of the bamboo I was working with had a particularly strong green hue, so I was able to cross green strips with the more ordinary ivory-colored strips, making its concentric square pattern--called masu-ajiro (桝網代)--stand out even more.

Once the strips are weaved and pressed together, a circle is drawn with a compass on the back. Wood glue is smeared along the line, enough so that once the circle is cut out its end pieces don't come undone.

In the next post I'll show how the circle twill plaiting is inserted between two wheels and how the wheels are interwoven as they climb up the walls of the bowl.

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