I met Shay Pendray when she came to SLC to teach a class in the late 1980s. She was a great teacher, a teacher who was the best of the best. When a Japanese master came to America she had taken his classes and she loved JE so much that she worked to learn the art and his way of teaching. It took a lot of convincing, but she was able to go to Japan and study for several years, learning from the master, and then, with his permission, bring Japanese Embroidery to America.
In the picture above, Shay is on the right in bright pink. I spent 10 years of study with the women pictured and we became a formidable class. My dear friend Evelyn is in black standing next to Shay and we still meet monthly for sushi dinner. Evelyn still studies Japanese Embroidery, but I gave it up in 2002. But, after my first class was in 1991, I was hooked.
The study of JE comes in Phases. When I began my lessons there were 5 intensive phases designed to teach every aspect of Japanese technique. One had to be dedicated to learning this amazing art and art it certainly is. All our supplies came from Japan, the obi silk for our ground fabric, the flat, suga silk we used to make our own threads, and the delicate metals we used to embellish our designs. The above design is Phase I, in which I learned to twist my own silk into different weights of thread, to stitch chrysanthemums petals, cherry blossom petals, and stitch binding cords, all very important motifs in JE. Each phase would take close to the full year we were allotted to finish our piece.
This is Phase II, a design with many more techniques, more motifs, and more hours needed to complete. In each phase you build upon the lessons of the previous phase and add multiple techniques to your repertoire. We made all the twisted threads, in varying weights needed to stitch the motifs. Some of the techniques I remember were "shippo" (design in the blue cloud), fuzzy effect (white cherry blossoms), shibori (white and red pin tree).
Because of the varied techniques we learned in the is phase it took almost the full year for me to complete this piece. Each section took hours and hours, maybe 800-1000 hours in all. I stitched nearly every day and dedicated myself to studying books and guides. The only true way was to learn was from the teacher and the only teacher at the time was Shay. We had class over 8 days once a year. Eventually, we decided to add a second lesson, but that meant travel expenses twice a year and even more dedication to the art, and that's what took me out.
I took Phase III, but it was just too much work, took too many hours out of my day. I stalled, but went back the next year because my end goal all along had been Phase IV. I LOVED this design. I wanted to play with color and create my own pansy piece.
And, after 4 years of study, I did. I may have had a smile on my face with every stitch I took during this beautiful journey. The pansies are stitched with perfectly laid flat silk which creates shine. Without the shine of the silk this piece is nothing. Light changes the color, depending on direction and the laid stitches. That play of light is what brings the pansies to life.
Only one color of orange silk is used in the blue/orange pansy, but the color changes with the direction of stitch. You can also see the change in the pink pansy and the yellow one below. All the leaves were stitched with twisted thread in contrast to the sheen pansies.
The pansy Phase was my favorite of all the Japanese Embroidery I studied. I started other pieces, and stitched for hours on many designs, even took Phase V, but I gave up on it almost immediately. I had my win, the one thing that had been my drive. The Pansies were mine. Another reason was the expense of learning this art became more than I could bear. I had spent a considerable percent of discretionary income on this journey, one I will never regret, but I knew it was time to change in direction. Shay's motto was we were "Stitching Towards Perfection". Shay, and Japanese Embroidery, taught me so much about life, about the journey, about the process of living. It isn't patience you learn when following a pursuit of this nature, you have that in spades, but it takes curiosity, joy in creation, and dedication.