Make it Noh

Make it Noh:
The First Half of the 2013 Noh Costume Workshop – Kyoto, Japan

Contributed by Morit Gaifman
Photographs courtesy of Morit Gaifman

(Editor’s note: Morit was a participant in the TN Costume Workshop, Kyoto & Fukuyama Japan, June 12-18, 2013)

NOHGAKUI am writing on the bullet train between Kyoto and Fukuyama. We have just completed three wonderful, intensive days of the workshop. This part of the workshop, taught by Monica Bethe, focused on the making of the costumes. Monica is an incredible font of knowledge of noh, noh costuming, and practical skills. She clearly loves all aspects of noh and noh costuming and is a wonderful teacher. She seamlessly wove historical information with technical knowledge, as well as stories of those currently dedicated to the revival and preservation of traditional methods of every aspect of noh dress creation, from silk worms to final stitch. She has managed to cram into three days what we would ideally have at least a couple of weeks to study carefully (not that this would be sufficient either – it is a lifetime project), and to do so with grace and joy. I would be remiss not to mention Michio Katsura, Monica’s assistant, who was a generous host and guide, as well.

Day 1 focused on weaving. We were introduced to a variety of weaving techniques: plain weave, crossed weave, twill, and adding floats and decorations woven into the fabric. We worked on our own basic looms so we could really grasp the mechanics.

Adding floats and gold thread decorations requires an extra system of heddles (the things that lift the warp threads in various patterns – chopstick on our little looms). Monica has built her own miniature loom that demonstrates how a traditional Japanese weaver would do this.

After lunch we go to Sasaki Nō Isshō’s weaving workshop. This workshop works exclusively to create noh costumes, a very rare thing these days. At Sasaki’s we saw a variety of weaving techniques. All of the work is done by hand, from stringing the bobbins through the most complex weaving.

Plain Weaving with Gold Float Patterns. What is blue on the back (seen) is gold on the face of the fabric, kept upside-down to protect it.

Plain Weaving with Gold Float Patterns. What is blue on the back (seen) is gold on the face of the fabric, kept upside-down to protect it.

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Keeping the Silk Wet: Silk must be kept moist while being worked as not to become brittle and fray.

Keeping the Silk Wet: Silk must be kept moist while being worked as not to become brittle and fray.

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After spending a lot of time among the looms, we were given a demonstration of surihaku, applying gold stenciled patterns to silk.

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Next, we went to see the fabric being sewn together into a kimono. What a day!
(Editor’s note: in a future post – embroidery, stenciling, and dyeing.)

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About Theatre Nohgaku

Noh, one of the oldest continuing stage arts, combines highly stylized dance, chant, music, mask and costume with intense inner concentration and physical discipline, creating a uniquely powerful theatrical experience. Theatre Nohgaku’s mission is to share noh’s beauty and power with English speaking audiences and performers. We have found that this traditional form retains its dramatic effectiveness in languages other than Japanese. We believe noh techniques hold a powerful means of expression in the context of contemporary English language theatre.
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