Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Basket #3: Ajiro Ichirin-sashi


First Step: Polishing
One step in its production that sets this basket apart from the first two baskets we made is that for this basket we "polished" (磨いた竹) all of the bamboo culms before processing them into strips or other parts. For the first two baskets, we used dried bamboo with the outermost skin still intact. In Japanese they refer to this as shiroi, or "white", bamboo, with products made from white bamboo being called shiromono (白物). While I'm on the topic, I'll add here that bamboo which is neither polished nor dried, and that still retains it's natural green color, is refered to as aoi, or "green", bamboo, with products made from green bamboo being referred to as aomono (青物). I make this distinction here because, while green bamboo products being called "green things" may seem too obvious an observation to be noteworthy, aomono are indeed a seperate breed of bamboo products in Japan, taking on different shapes and functions and fetching different market prices than their white counterparts.

By scraping off its skin, white bamboo reveals a slightly darker, caramel colored layer with obvious fiber lines. Polished bamboo is sometimes used as it is, but more often, and as is the case for this basket, it's dyed. In the general sense, white bamboo can't be dyed without polishing it, because its waxy outer layer repels dye. (The exception to this rule would be tanka-chiku and susudake; 炭化竹; 煤竹.) At school we soaked our bamboo culms in water for a day to soften the outer skin and then scraped them with a curved, relatively dull plane called a migaki-sen (磨き銑; "polishing plane"). We then proceeded to make our strips the same way we made those for the previous baskets--by splitting the culms into strips of the desired width and thickness with our handheld knives (竹割り包丁).

The title of this basket starts with "ajiro," which is a reference to the type of weave that this basket uses. In an ajiro weave the strips are pressed together to eliminating the spaces between them. As a matter of course the strips must be made rather thin, but exactly how thin depends on the type of ajiro. To construct the body of this basket we weaved strips less than 0.3 mm thick, and when weaving them each strip was made to pass over and under three perpendicular strips, hence the name of this particular ajiro, called san-bon-gen-ajiro (3本間網代; "three spaced ajiro") or san-bon-tobi-ajiro (3本飛び網代; "three jump ajiro"). You can probably imagine how this number effects how thick the strips should be. 2本間網代 would require thinner strips than 3本間網代, and 3thinner than 4.But it also depends on how wide the strips are, so we can only speak here in relative terms.

We weaved the strips into a big square, and then drew diagonal lines connecting the centers of each edge, marking the location where we would bend the weave to pull up what would become the walls of the basket. We used an electric iron with a flat pointed end, called a kote (コテ) in Japanese, to heat the bamboo and soften it, and then bent it upward past 90-degrees, and held it in that position till it cooled down. I supposed I held the kote on for too long, because I ended up burning the bamboo in some places, but this had no effect on the final product, which was to be dyed. The four walls were erected this way, and from there the basket's abdomen was constructed. Weaving from this point starts at the corners, where the same pattern--3 over 3 under--is continued without interruption. Once you get the hang of this weave it's very easy to get into a rhythm. You weave one circumference in one direction, completing one level, and then switch back and go in the opposite, working your way to the top as you go.

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