In the age of fast consumerism and ephemeral fashions, it is easy to forget that not all fabrics are the same. In some cases, only the most attentive eyes are capable of finding small treasures in true craftsmanship. Today we interview Moeki, a young Japanese craftswoman based in Barcelona. With her hands she makes Azuma and Furoshiki bags, using natural materials such as hemp and linen. Her works are the living testimony of a know-how that was on the verge of being lost and her own brand comes from the inspiration of the shifu technique. A vindication of useful craftsmanship, a commitment to things that grow old with us and to the stories that are born and intertwined with each thread.
Moeki tells us that the use of Furoshiki was predominant in Japanese history until the Edo period, when an important encounter with Western culture took place. This encounter transformed Japanese culture and brought with it new ideas to the mainland, including the concept of bags with handles. As a result, the Azuma Bag was born, a different version of the Furoshiki inspired by Western bags.
Who is behind the Mooeki brand?
My name is Mooeki Yamada, I am a weaver and I also make natural dyes.
I started studying textile art at the Massana School in Barcelona. As a final project, I did research on the Japanese technique of shifu, which consists of making washi paper threads and then weaving them. It is a technique that has been on the verge of being lost, because nowadays it has no place in the market. There are very few artisans who make paper and very few people who weave it.
In Japan, I met the master Sadako Sakurai, who has been collecting all the information about the shifu technique for 40 years. She is the master of this technique. I contacted her and she was very open with me and invited me to her house to teach me in person all the details about this technique.
For me it was a point of reflection to see such a generous person willing to share her experience. Everything in her house is made by her: the clothes, the curtains, the bags… She also introduced me to her friends and they also live like this. For me, it was like discovering a very different world that I didn’t know about.
This experience made me reconnect with my culture. I decided to investigate more about the techniques thanks to these weavers and the people who work with natural dyes.
Before studying at the Massana School I was already knitting, but I felt that there was a total disconnection between what I was doing and the clothes I wore on a daily basis. I did it artistically, but I never thought I could make a bag or a shirt.
In Japan, I saw that it was a craft that could be lived and used. I, as a weaver, want to bring these warm, quality fabrics, which last, to people’s daily lives.
That’s why I created my brand Mooeki of Japanese-inspired handmade bags and fabrics. I mainly make Azuma and Furoshiki bags, which is the way that has always been used in my culture to wrap objects and transport them.
And what was it like to start having a professional project with your own brand?
It’s been a year since I started and for me it’s been like a year of research. I started by doing what I wanted to do and now I’m fine-tuning, seeing what works, what doesn’t, how much time I need, how much it costs me…
This first year was very difficult for me because I focused too much on producing and producing until I got a perfect product. And every time I saw that it didn’t turn out well, that there were imperfections, I felt bad. I lost perspective and I thought about quitting.
Then, by chance, a shop loved my product and saw the value behind my project. That helped me to trust in what I was doing again and now I have changed my attitude. I am learning to be an entrepreneur.
Japanese culture is reflected in your pieces, in your brand and it is really something exceptional. Tell us about the materials you use
In all my pieces I use only natural elements. First I start by dyeing the linen: indigo blue with flowers, brown with onion peel, pink with rhubarb root…
First I clean the yarns and soak them overnight in the dye. Then I let them dry in the sun for a day. The next day I make a ball of yarn to start warping. And then I can start weaving. In total, the whole process takes me a week.
Now you live in Barcelona. How did you make the leap from Japan to here? What was the reason?
When I was in Japan, I was studying Hispanic Philology and came for a year as an exchange student. I fell in love with Barcelona and decided to stay. 8 years have passed!
During that exchange year I saw a workshop called Teranyina in El Rabal and when I saw the looms I fell in love. I started there by chance. I used to crochet, knit… but when I saw the loom I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
That’s why I decided to study textile art at the Escuela la Massana.
After the experience with Sadako Sakurai and discovering this world, every year I try to make a collection with the shifu technique. This type of product is very exclusive, because this technique is made with a special paper that is only produced once a year and I have to talk to the artisans who make it to reserve it well in advance.
Another way to include Japan in my brand is through my stamp. In Japan they don’t sign, they use stamps. My seal, Mooeki, represents the first letter of my name -MO-, which means to sprout, to be born. And I have adapted it to be less traditional, more playful.
Every time I go to Japan I try to visit new artisans and learn about their techniques because I would like to help spread their knowledge and make sure it is not lost.
How do you see craftsmanship in Barcelona?
In general, I get the feeling that in Barcelona craftsmanship is very focused on design, on art; but the way I understand craftsmanship, I don’t feel very identified with it. Maybe because I come from Japan, but for me craftsmanship is an object that is very integrated into our lives.
When I have contacted the centres, award organisers or well-known shops in the world of Spanish handicrafts, they have not accepted my product, because everything is focused on something more artistic, a very exclusive product that is only “good” for display and cannot be touched.
Where can we find your products?
My products are on my website and in a shop in Barcelona. I also do commissions and I am an assistant in a textile workshop. I was selected to present at the national handicraft fair in Vila do Conde in Portugal. I will be there from 23 July to 7 August selling my products and weaving live.
What would you recommend to a young craftswoman?
I would tell her not to let her fears paralyse her, to do what she likes to do and to trust in it. I had a year of blockage because of all the ignorance of what I was doing. I even stopped liking knitting. You have to lose the fear of showing your product, that’s the only way they will buy it.
This is the end of our interview with Moeki Yamada. We would like to thank him very much for his time and for giving us the opportunity to get to know his project. From Labois, we encourage you to get to know his work through his website.
See you in the next article 😉
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