Read Tamagit’s comprehensive personal interview of the artist Yumi Kato.
Where were you born? Can you explain us a bit about the place or environment? What smells, images and impressions come to your mind?
I was born in central Tokyo but grew up in the suburbs where you can find a lot of green. I have memories of walking uphill.
Describe your childhood briefly. What are your memories? Was textile important to you as a child? How and why?
When I was little, my mother made many clothing for me. My father had his own business and she was helping him. In his office, there was one room for my mother with a big sewing machine (industrial one) and many fabrics. After school I was often in that room. That was not important for me at that time; I got so used to see fabrics around me.
Is your passion for fabric inherited from somebody in your family?
Definitely. My mother had graduated from the same college as me and had learned fashion design. She never forced me to do anything, but I learned from her how to sew at an early age.
You decided to study textile industry in Japan. Where and what surprised and disappointed you most of those years?
Back then I thought that creating things was not something cool. It was low profile work.
You are Japanese by origin. Have you travelled a lot before settling down in Barcelona? Where and what are your impressions of those trips? Have you lived elsewhere apart from Japan and Spain?
Yes, after graduating from college I first spent a couple of years in Paris and then I moved to New York. I finally spent 12 years in the States, I got married and had two daughters before coming to Spain. I also visited many countries.
The whole experience outside of Japan was very exciting; I met many people from all over the world. I have been discovering and learning cultural differences since my first trip to France. And all the experiences outside of Japan made me realize myself as Japanese more than ever.
Before you started creating contemporary jewelry, you had vast experience in textile accessories creation. Could you explain us a bit more about it? What did you do? How? What was your inspiration? What type of fabric did you use and where did you obtain it?
I had been making handbags and clothing using leather, denim or Western fabrics long before, but every time I visited different countries, I realized Japanese textile industry is one of the best in the world. So I switched the material I had been using to fabrics from Japan like cotton, indigo dye, Chirimen polyester etc..
When I had my first child and was living in the States, I opened a small business of handmade accessories made of Japanese fabrics.
Is there any textile or fabric that you would refuse to use? Why?
Even though I now use mainly silk, I do not refuse to use any fabric.
What makes it so special to manipulate textile? Why not metals? Or paper? Or wood? What is the difference?
I tried many different materials related to crafts in my life and I enjoyed the experience so much. However, I came back to textile. I don’t know why. Now, I simply know that this is my place after all.
Art or craft? Talent or effort? Inspiration or persistence?
Craft, effort, persistence and a little bit of inspiration.
In how far do you think that being a woman has influenced you in the way you create?
As a woman, I always like to dress up. My textile jewelry is also to dress up
And being Japanese?
Being humble, but high crafting technique.
And being a global citizen who lives in Barcelona?
My textile jewelry fits Western clothing.
In how far is your personality reflected into your art?
My pieces are exactly like myself. Japanese material (me) on Western clothing (living in a Western country…).
When did you start creating jewelry with textile? Why did you have this idea?
When I was making handbags and accessories in the States, I was also selling articles at my sister in law’s store here in Sant Cugat, Barcelona. Then she decided she was going to transform her store into a more artistic place. About 15 years ago, she asked me if I was interested in making some jewelry with Japanese fabrics. For me that was the beginning.
What difficulties have you encountered by using kimono fabric in jewelry?
The size. Jewels are delicate, small and thin. I had to find out what type of fabric would fit my jewelry. Then I had to try and practice how small or thin I could make them.
What is the process of creation? Where does it start?
First, I go to Japan every year to buy used Kimonos. I mostly find them in antique markets and second-hand Kimono stores. I buy used Kimonos because originally Kimono silk is a very special, high quality, expensive textile. The fabric itself is like an artwork. I have respect to its craftsmanship, so there is no way to chop them up.
To me it makes sense to transform antique Kimonos which don’t have much value to wear any more. For example, if there are stains on sleeves, but the body parts are still in good condition, I can reuse these parts as material.
In antique markets or second-hand stores, all kinds of Kimonos are displayed randomly, so I must find good ones for my jewelry. I check material (silk), thickness (thin to medium) and condition (if not well preserved, fabric is too fragile).
As for the type of Kimono fabric, I often pick “Juban”, ”Chirimen”, “Mensa” or ”Rinzu”, because they are thin or medium thick. Also, I look for printed fabric I prefer small patterns rather than large ones. Usually Kimono and Obi (belt) with large embroideries are not suitable for my textile jewelry.
Polyester or mixed fabrics (like silk and polyester) can be used for my work, but most of customers prefer silk, so I focus on using silk.
I first break parts of used Kimonos, I then choose the reusable parts and I finally hand-wash and iron them.
How do you manipulate the material and convert it into an ornament?
Basically I make cords and small balls from pieces of fabrics I prepared and combine them.
Where did you learn the technique you just described? What is your added value to it? In what extent do you think you are innovating?
I invented it by myself. I believe that the spirit of craftsmanship gives a soul to all my pieces. I also want to give value to used Kimono fabrics by being transformed into something else.
You have described the whole artistic process of jewelry creation, but can you also explain us when and how concepts are generated? Before you give shape to a jewelry piece, do you have in mind what message you want to convey? Or does this happen while you are creating?
I strive to create contemporary jewelry by using Kimono fabric by means of my own technique. No commercial products. I want to convey originality and the spirit of craftsmanship through my work. I am not interested in fast fashion, so I put a strong line between commercial products and craft and work hard for my pieces to be artistic.
Do you need silence when you design jewelry? And order? How do you feel most comfortable when creating?
Yes, I need to be alone in order to concentrate. I first have an image on my mind and I then start to combine materials. I don’t draw or sketch much, I try directly most of the time.
What is a “kimono”? Where does the Japanese word come from? And what cultural and psychological connotations does it have for a Japanese woman?
“Kimono” means something to wear. Before Western clothing came to Japan, all Japanese people (men and women) used Kimonos, from daily wear to ceremonial ones.
Now Kimono seems to be more for women, and it looks like something very special. Many women wear “Kimono” for the 20-year-old cerebration, and every year more men wear “Hakama” which is also a kind of Kimono, but in pants. Many women also wear it for other kinds of ceremonies: weddings (as a bride or guest), funeral, parties, visits to temples or family gatherings during new year or end of the year. The Kimonos that people wear in summer are called “Yukata” and those are made of cotton, so its value is lower. While Kimonos are generally made of silk, they can also be made of wool and mixed material. Price varies depending on the material and the quality of its fabric.
We are getting closer and closer to your identity as an art jewelry artist. Apart from the beauty and design of your pieces, what do you think that people feel when they have them on? What makes those creations special?
I think people feel a bit of Asian stimulation to their Western style when they wear my jewelry. And the fact that the material is from antique Kimono probably gives my jewelry more value.
In how far have you renewed an ancient tradition from Japan?
Just a little bit. I have found a way of reusing used Kimono and sharing a taste of Japanese culture outside of Japan.
We believe that textile has memories and hidden stories. Do you agree? And why?
I didn’t know about it, but I agree about it. Because most of yarns and threads are made from nature and textiles are combinations of thousands of those.
Do you think that a piece of jewelry is more than an ornamental object? What emotions do you feel when creating and when releasing jewelry pieces?
I don’t think of “jewelry” much. Jewelry is a wearable art for me. I am always thinking of my textile jewelry as a part of my creations made of fabrics. Every time I finish a piece, I feel like I have accomplished a task. What I have to do now is work harder in order to promote my work…
Do you have any future projects within or next to art jewelry?
Besides working for stores and workshops of textile jewelry, I will work on tapestry made with the strings I make from Kimonos. I would like to try to create a big piece this year.
You know we are very concerned about ethics and ethical art. In how far do you think that your creations can contribute to make a better world?
I really think that Kimono silk is an extraordinary craft, so we can still appreciate its value after the Kimono is not useful as clothing. Western citizens can enjoy a bit of Japanese essence with their style since my textile jewelry matches it very well.
People can get closer to the Japanese culture and craftsmanship by wearing a piece of Kimono as jewelry. I also expect people to know that “Jewelry” is not only gold or silver, but any kind of material. It is about making yourself more confident with it.
And last but not least… why do you believe in Tamagit? What makes us so special?
It’s Marta! I had a very good impression of her. I liked their ethical approach to jewelry, it was different, but interesting.