Long Months Spinning Fiber Into Yarn
Early morning and it is still dark. The paper-screen covered window is white with a cozy brightness generated by the snow. Grandma quietly gets up so as not to disturb the grandchildren, and goes to the living room where she inserts feet into the kotatsu (heated table) to warm up, and gets on with work. With total concentration she sets about spinning the yarn with her hands, plying them the same as she did yesterday, and the day before that.
Delicate fibers of karamushi, also known as choma, the plant used to make the ramie yarn used in Ojiya- chijimi, are laid out like a spiders web on the black cloth spread over her knees. Spine straight and eyes narrowed, she focuses her concentration on her fingertips. She takes the threads from a thick telephone directory where they have been carefully pressed and, occasionally putting them into her mouth to apply moisture, fastens them together. She joins another thread to the end, puts it on the loom and forms the thread. The only sound in the room is the ticking of the clock. All is quiet in the faint light of dawn. Snow absorbs the noise of the world, and only the sound of silence rings through the bracing air.
“Karamushi breaks easily when there’s no humidity,” she murmurs as her long-practiced hands fasten the threads.
“In the past four of us women used to sit round the kotatsu together and work, but we kept quiet and concentrated.” (laughs)
It felt good to concentrate like that she explained. Her face looked dignified, filled with a Zen-like presence. If there weren’t such ties between people, Echigo cloth would not exist.