Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Shopping for Silk in Japan


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A few weeks ago, a very good friend of mine who of late lives in the Philippines was visiting Osaka, Japan. He called to ask if there was anything I wanted while he was there. Heh heh. What a question! Good Japanese silk fabric is exquisite, so I happened to mention that if he happened to be visiting shops that happen to sell silk fabric, I wouldn’t be opposed to a little snippet.

The likelihood that he would visit fabric stores while traveling in Japan (work-related travel, mind you) was pretty slim, and in fact, I didn’t want to impose at all, so I begged that he wouldn’t go out of his way for such a thing.

Well. He did. He actually went hunting for some snippets, and sent some photos to prove it. Four days after our phone conversation, a package arrived… with some gorgeous silk in it. So, vicariously, let’s enjoy his shopping experience for silk fabric in Japan.

Shopping for Silk Fabric in Japan

This is the shopping complex in Osaka, where his guide kindly took him to find a fabric store that sells silk.

Shopping for Silk Fabric in Japan

And this is the shop where he found the silk.

Shopping for Silk Fabric in Japan

A kimono on display in the shop. I love the obi! (The sash…)

Shopping for Silk Fabric in Japan

His courteous and obliging guide helps him make decisions as they shop through the bolts of silk ….

Shopping for Silk Fabric in Japan

… and there’s lots of them!

Shopping for Silk Fabric in Japan

They settle on some plain silk, suitable for embroidering, and have it cut by the shop assistant. Plain? Oh my goodness. The picture doesn’t do the color justice – it’s a gorgeous blue dupioni, a cross between almost a royal blue and (if it’s possible to imagine) a periwinkle.

Shopping for Silk Fabric in Japan

In fact, there were three cuts of silk – a soft shell pink, an ivory, and the blue – all dupioni – but what dupioni!

Shopping for Silk Fabric in Japan

While dupioni bought here in the US at chain fabric stores is overly slubby and very thin, and often leans towards the shiny side, this silk is heavier, and the slubs that are characteristic of dupioni are very fine, and hardly visible, giving the fabric an incredibly smooth hand. The fabric has a very subtle sheen. The weight is wonderful – perfect as a needlework ground fabric.

I was completely touched by the generosity of my good friend and his obliging guide, that they would take the time and effort to ferret out such gorgeous fabric and send it along to me!

So here I have a few meters of silk, and they are just begging for me to do something with them, but I haven’t made any decisions yet. I’m entirely open to suggestions! I keep looking at the blue and wondering about a metal thread project…… or maybe white silk thread?

or…. or….


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(33) Comments

  1. Lucky girl!!!:)
    I would love having friends like yours.
    And what about embroidering that little pillows for Baby Jesus on Castelo Branco magazine???

  2. A beautiful gold floral work would look lovely and grand on this colour. It is acutally one of my favourite colours also. 🙂

  3. Hi there Mary,

    Oh gosh, thanks for sharing this with us all.

    I have been trying to find this company online to see if I could order from them………..do you have any details as I am not having much luck.

    Many thanks.

  4. Mary,

    You have a wonderful friend! I hope he and his guide had as much enjoyment picking the fabric as you will stitching it.

    Thank you for sharing, and hope to see what you do with these fabrics.


  5. You’re so lucky to have such a good friend, Mary! I bought some silk dupioni recently when I was in the U.S., but it looks nothing like the beautiful smoothness that you received. Can’t wait to see what you make. I’ve got a great idea, though. You could share some of it in a giveaway. 🙂

  6. How did you get this address? I’va been in Kobe for OIDFA’s world lace congress last summer, and Osaka is not so far from there, but I could not have any adress of craft shop there!

  7. That fabric looks gorgeous and I think the blue is ideal for some metallic work or silk and gold embroidery.

    I think this type of fabric may be called Tsumugi in Japan.

  8. OH, LA! Love Japanses Silk! I was lucky enough years ago to have a co-worker go to Japan and purchase some for me. I had a suit made out of it….and, and oh, my nothing felt so beautiful against my skin. I can’t give you any suggestions as I wouldnt know where to start. GOOD LUCK, and you are LUCKY!

  9. Mary,
    The blue fabric lends itself to a Blue Willow or Delft porcelain china pattern, but in reverse negative.

    Shell pink in Grecian ivory cameo or Roman figure or the Three Graces.

    Ivory needs bright Oriental Koi Carp with the ivory used as open portions of its coloration.

  10. Metal thread – definately metal thread. That gorgeous color just cries out for gold and sparkle. Thanks for sharing this with us. My dad was flying into Japan in the early ’60’s with Military Air Transport. He was able to bring some really pretty yardage back for my mother who sewed all her own clothes. But nothing as pretty as this. Thanks again for sharing, this stirred up some really nice memories

  11. Hi Mary! I’m always surprised on how we are on the same wavelength. I am currently working on a silverwork project on blue silk duponi! I’ll try to stick photos on my flikr today. It’s just a small floral motif, which I’m mainly using to see how using silk threads over felts would look. I’m not sure I’m sold on it, but my husband thinks it’s awesome. We’ll see once I get more silk over. Anyway! I think you should go with silver and silk! What a generous gift – how wonderful to see the pictures and know where the fabric came from. I went all over Houston looking at silk duponi, and ended up in a high end fabric store (High Fashion Fabrics) downtown. Best quality I’ve seen so far, but you’re right – the slubs on mine are really kind of large. Overall quality is better though. I had my husband checking out quality with me and he agreed that there was a huge difference between stores. There is a huge asian community here and I’ve seen fabric stores – I may go check it out and see if I can find better quality. I absolutely love embroidering on it, and have gotten hooked on doing things right – using backing fabrics, and have fully switched to the evertite frames. Thanks to you and your wonderful website! I can’t wait to see what you do with this.

    Mary Martin

  12. Mary – as I was reading this I was not impressed at such a good friend because that is exactly what you are to people you draw good friends to you! This gentleman certainly went above and beyond as you do DAILY for us to share in the art of needlework. You absolutely pay it forward and deserve all you receive! Thank you and thank you to your kind and generous friend!

  13. Mary–Such beautiful silk! You have a very generous friend.

    Last October I visited Beijing with my mom, and spent an afternoon at the Silk Market. The third floor of the market was full of little booths with bolts of silk, but I couldn’t bring myself to go into any of them, as I was very tired of nearly being accosted by the clerks on other floors whenever I showed interest in something.

    I regret now that I didn’t at least look. I’m sure I could have found some lovely silk to bring home. There wasn’t much for needlework in Beijing that I could find. Our tour bus did drive by a store with the DMC logo on it, but I wasn’t able to to get back to it to see what it was.

    Enjoy your silk! I will be following closely to see what you stitch on it.


  14. Dear Mary

    I agree with Debbie that you deserve such a beautiful gift, as you are always gifting us with your daily knowledgable inspiration on all aspects of embroidery.


  15. I’m green with envy Mary. Is it not true that when working with such pure delicate silk that one must use special needles….against the possibility of “snagging” the silk threads, causing a run/snag in the fabric ? That really has me wondering. Thanks..Judy in Pittsburgh

  16. Hi Mary,

    Oh, that blue … ! So lovely. I see two different designs in my mind’s eye … one is drifty somewhat abstract clouds with tiny rain stitches in silver metallic threads; the other is an undersea design done in laces, silk ribbon and silk thread embroidery …

    The pink … well something floral, delicate and romantic 🙂

    The ivory, oh the possibilities are so endless I’d just get lost in it; a winter design of pines, chickadees and berries; a fall design of acorns, shaded overdyed silk leaves and a little bit of gold for that last summer sun sparkling through those leaves …

    Nice for you to get back some of all the goodness you pass out 🙂

    Cathy in PA

  17. mary, i would love to seethe pink and the white silk also. i have to say that i would go for the white silk embroidery!

  18. oooooh – very lucky you! The fabrics are gorgeous. Quite obviously your friend has a good eye for beautiful fabric. How come I don’t know anybody like that?

  19. Mary,
    I’m so glad that you received this gift. I was once given a gift of Thai silk which I could not decide how to sew for a long time. Don’t rush the decision, it will give you many hours of enjoyment as you just think of the possibilities and something to look forward to as you finish your other things. Then when you finally decide, you can fully enjoy the stitching. I would probably want to know what I would use the fabric for before I decided what I would embroider, but flowers and nature or formal ecclesiastical designs. Something dignified and queenly for a dress scarf or blouse would be nice. The colors are not right for liturgical use, but I know it must feel amazing to hold and holding quality silk is as close to heaven as I have ever been. You so-oo deserve this for all you do for us. Thank you for letting us live vicariously through you.

  20. Mary, I believe it should be some embroidery with an oriental design, some type of blossoms or birds or a geisha, etc. I could go on…..
    Best wishes and enjoy,


  21. You have very fortunate to have such a friend. In contrast with all the suggestions to date, may I offer something completely different – how about contemporary abstract embroidery?

    Like Debbie, I was given a gift of 6 yards of ivory Thai silk just before I married, and of course the notion of a wedding dress was high in my mind. However 6 metres was just not quite enough to include a train, which I really wanted. I finished up using the silk for a three-quarter coat and skirt ensenble which became my going-away outfit. I designed it myself, but because my drafting skills were non-existent I used several different patterns plus a lot of my own intervention. I was sorry in the end that I hadn’t used the silk with perhaps some other fabric for my dress, but there you go.

    I’m quite sure Mary, you will choose something absolutely splendid with no reference to all of us – your very willing acolytes – and that it will be splendid. Have fun.

  22. Hi Mary,
    just beautiful…love silk…and guess I will be going against the majority, as I love silver work on blue…maybe with a bit of gold to boot and with the other new metals…it will be quite lovely no matter what you choose.

  23. Dear Mary,
    You are so blessed to have such a wonderful friend. I tend to go for metallic threads too. This is such a rich regal colour and whatever you decide , I know it will just be perfect. Just keep us salivating bunch informed please. Love Elza xxx

  24. For those wondering about ordering directly from Japan, or where to look for craft or fabric stores on a visit.

    I used to live in Osaka and worked quite near the shopping area shown here. The area is Senba, the shopping street is called Dobuike Street, and it is located near the Midosuji Subway line, about halfway between Honmachi and Shinsaibashi stations. That whole area is a major shopping area, by the way, with many long shopping arcade – lots of fun to stroll around.

    If on a short visit and with no knowledge of Japanese language, my first recommendation would be to visit the department stores at Umeda, such as Hankyu and Hanshin – if I recall correctly both have a floor with kimonos, fabric and (mostly Japanese) craft supplies. They are VERY centrally located, and also you can probably find someone who speaks English working there.

    For anyone wanting to shop directly from Japan, there is a website called rakuten, which provides links to Japanese businesses willing to ship abroad. I should add, though, that I’ve never tried to navigate the site except in Japanese, neither have I actually bought anything via the site. So I have no idea how well it works, or how hard it is to navigate without Japanese!

    1. Thanks all, very much, for your comments! Yes, it’s wonderful to have good friends the world over! The fabric was a complete surprise. Even though we had discussed it, I really didn’t expect it, and I didn’t expect anyone to really go to the trouble to actually shop for it! (That’s why he sent photos – I think he thought I wouldn’t believe he actually went shopping himself for the fabric!)

      Thanks as well for all the suggestions and ideas – so many good ones! With a meter of each – and actually, I think the blue is half a meter – probably clothes are not in the plans. I’ll definitely be using these as a ground fabric for embroidery projects of a yet-undetermined nature.

      Andrea – thanks very much for the shopping details! I’m sure these will come in handy for folks curious about shopping in person or online for Japanese fabrics!


  25. Mary
    You are so lucky. Can I borrow your friend next time he goes to Japan. Just kidding. Enjoy your silk show us what you do with it. It just goes to show what a nice person you are that someone would go to all that trouble for you. Karol

  26. I wish I had a friend like that in Japan!!!!!!!!!
    Do you have any silk fabric store names and contact information that you would be willing to share? Thank you in advance for any help. Karen Beaver

    1. New York Fashion Center fabrics has some interesting options. You can order swatches from them, but if you’re going to order a lot of swatches, look up their swatch club. It can be economical, if you’re ordering a lot of swatches.

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