Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival — and staying a little longer than planned

Where has my quilting magic gone? I have barely made a thing for weeks, and never got very far in my blogging about Japan. The trip started to go dangerously wrong just after my conference: a nasty tooth infection, combined with full-blown flu, had me floored. Stuck in bed, incapable of going anywhere, delayed going home for over a week and not allowed to fly. Not fun. Still, in a cloud of germs and wearing the compulsory face-mask so beloved by the Japanese, I did make it to the Quilt Expo for a couple of rather wobbly hours, on the last day. So here are some photos — and I won’t apologize for their quality: I am no photographer, and I had a fever…

It was, as expected, perfectly insane. Big beyond belief: a baseball stadium, quite simply. I don’t think I have ever been in quite so large a space peopled almost exclusively by women. Just for that experience, it was worth going!


The space is huge, and as the building is pretty much circular, looking up to the roof hardly helps when you loose your bearing. So I spent quite a lot of time retracing avenues, and getting rather happily lost. But there are worst places to get lost than surrounded by fabric, and by happy hoards of women twittering away excitedly (and, alas, for me, mostly incomprehensibly…).


Following the crowds, I had lunch (slipping off my facemask guiltily) on the stadium seats from a little bento box the contents of which were as pretty as a quilt. Not perhaps my ideal choice of comfort food when feeling sick, but interesting all the same. Whatever it was.


The majority of the quilts were quite astounding, very much from the obsessive-compulsive-but-highly-skilled-minute-pieces school of quilting. The skill level on the whole was astounding — and somewhat insane at times. I include, where possible, a photo of the labels of some of the quilts after each larger picture as names were not always given in roman script.

The floor space was about 1/3 shops, 2/3 quilt expos of various types, sorted by category and with winning quilts often shown apart. As I went on the last day, around lunch-time, crowds were perfectly manageable. A mixture of modern and traditional, of course, reflecting the different categories, and some gorgeous traditional Japanese exhibits too, outside of the competitions. Even traditional patterns, like the one below, were made with incredible creativity, often in muted colours — a colour scheme very clearly reflected also in the shops and goods for sale.




Like these ladies, it is indeed very tempting to go up as close as you can to see the incredible detail of the piecing. Changing scale, and seeing the complexity at different distances, was marvellous — and so different from the experience of only seeing quilts in pictures, as I usually do. I loved this one: simple construction, yet very effective in creating movement.PICT8745

This next one was more muted, and with classic shapes, but it was beautiful to look at at this scale, and particularly close-up. The white was of course more white than my yellow-ish photos allow for. Beautifully scrappy!




Simple, yet also totally insane use of hexagons, and then hand quilted.

This swirly, roundy one was spectacular, and again apparently simple in design, yet no doubt you need to be near-demented to make it. Lots and lots of beautifully hand-appliquéed circles…



This octopus one was gorgeous too, and the delightfully zany-ness of it appealed to me. I’m afraid I probably ate this chap’s friends and cousins in many restaurants, but here he seems to be smiling in happy eternity. A lovely use of circles-as-suckers! But piecing those curves in the background must have been rather intense, to put it mildly.



Clearly, my squarey obsession needs to be upped a notch to reach this level below, in such gorgeous bluey-greeney colours too. Again, creating movement and apparent curves just through the clever use of colour was very impressive.




I suppose that if I continue in my scrappy-square quilt series, then I could go really bananas and make a square quilt on this scale above. The minuteness of each square within the whole is incredible — and yet it is incredibly vibrant all together. These photos really don’t do the quilts justice (and I am probably also uploading them in too-low quality to save memory space, perhaps uncessarily…). Oh well: it gives you an idea.


The absolute star of this style of clever piecing with muted colours, mostly bluey-grey, was Shizuko Kuroha, who was giving a talk while I passed by. Alas, my totally non-existent Japanese language skills failed me again here. I did however enjoy watching the intentness of her audience, respectfully listening to her teaching with remarkable concentration.PICT8724

(Sorry, no labels for these, but the following two are hers, if I remember correctly, in a special exhibit section on Japanese quilting)



Yoko Saito’s work, below, was also much in evidence, and her shop booth strategically placed near the entrance. I bought a pattern that she kindly signed. Many of her books are translated into French, and are available easily in Switzerland, so it was fun to ‘meet’ her, if only to smile and tell her I love her work. Her scrappy quilts spoke to me more than the slightly itsy-bitsy-ness of her minute appliqué tableaux, even if the skill and use of colour apparent in them is remakable.


This geometrically more complex one was also lovely, I though. I think if I collected all these they would look rather good in my imaginary large house, don’t you think? I’m obviously picking out all my favourite colours here…



Meanwhile, in another part of the large space, the crowds of happy ladies were struggling to fit into many shops, including for example the pretty Liberty booth. I just managed to resist buying any by thinking of Ms Elita’s lovely box of Liberty scraps that I have so often fondled. I also know that my own Liberty scrap quilt STILL needs quilting… Ooops. Plus this was rather overpriced, and I say that as someone who lives in expensive Switzerland.


This booth below, whose name I forget, was garish in the extreme: those very 80s fluorescent colours that don’t photograph at all well. The vibrancy was amazing — but not really my style. So instead I spent my pennies buying muted taupes and plaids, and then focussed on getting back to my hotel, and crashing in my bed to continue to recover.


It is fun to look through these photographs as I write this, and I remember what an experience this all was! And although I cannot help thinking that it must have been rather more enjoyable if I hadn’t had the flu and had been, as planned, with the lovely Ms L who travelled from Switzerland partly just to see the show, I do realize how incredibly lucky I am to have had the opportunity to see all these on the tail-end of a work trip.

One last thing: I brought back three little bags of scraps for my Monday ladies as part of our second Scrap Challenge. The first one was initiated by Miss D, with lovely scraps from Texas, a few weeks back. I made this little teeny quilt below, and did my first-ever hand quilting. Pretty inadequate, as not all the stiches go through all three layers. Ahem. Room for improvement. It’s barely large enough to qualify as a doll-quilt, but I really couldn’t bear to see it on the wall. It’s totally wonky. Shall we say that was on purpose?

Scrap challenge 1

So the second Scrap Challenge will be made out of the contents of these little bags — if my dear friends have any time or inspiration for it, of course.

scrap challenge 2

I made this little slab tonight, while the children slept. Would anyone have a good and dead simple pattern / tutorial link for making this simple slab into a little washbag? I invented one a few months back, in sweet blue scraps made into a slab as well, but the zip is really rather badly put in. The geometry of it rather defeated me…


And on this atrociously inadequate photo, that does nothing to show the prettiness of these muted fabrics, I will end this long and rather gratuitous list of photos of pretty quilts that other people made. My own contribution above is not quite Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival 2013 standard. But it won’t stop me from enjoying making it… Happy sewing! JJ

About pragmaticpatchwork

Academic and quilter
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7 Responses to Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival — and staying a little longer than planned

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  6. How wonderful! That octopus quilt is amazing!

  7. Thanks for your kind words on my blog this morning. I’ll be back in a week or so – I miss it. But life is just to full and difficult right now.

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