The art form of bunka shishu is alive and well in Central Indiana. The form of Japanese embroidery uses rayon threads to create a very detailed picture that could be considered high art.
Two chapters of the American Bunka Embroidery Association met over the weekend at the Wayne Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library.
The Thistle Chapter out of Columbus and Hollyhock Chapter from Greenwood meet monthly to work together and visit about their projects. The small group of women have all been doing bunka shishu for years and love teaching others the artistry and craft of Japanese embroidery.
“We like to meet in this area because it’s a place we can all get to easily,” said Anita Palmer of Columbus. “We also like to meet in the Decatur Branch of the library. The libraries are so supportive. It’s a nice place to meet.”
Palmer, and fellow Columbus resident Kate Baird, came to Indianapolis on Saturday to meet with fellow bunka shishu masters. They make the trip every month to spend time with others who enjoy the craft. Baird is serving as the national president of the American Bunka Embroidery Association.
This month they were joined by Vicki May of Greenwood and Mary Jane Frank of Avon. Normally they have a fifth member, Melinda Palmer, who fills out the core group. Palmer is a resident of the Westside of Indianapolis.
“If we had students, we would be teaching right now,” Baird said. “We welcome anyone who would like to come and see if they would like it.”
The national association has a website where each chapter can list their meetings and teaching opportunities. That website is www.myabea.com.
“Sometimes we even get walk-ins from people who are just visiting the library,” Palmer said. “People see it and are curious.”
Palmer and Baird were introduced to this form of embroidery more than 30 years ago. There was a demonstration going on at the Greenwood Park Mall. They enjoyed it and have been keeping each other in stitches ever since.
The projects are often started with kits that are available for purchase online. The first step is to separate each color and place them on a spool to keep them together by color.
“Some kits are more challenging than others,” Palmer said. “It can be challenging to match the colors with the pictures.”
Kits come with a picture representation of the project — some big and some small.
“Some people are very good at reproducing a picture and can create their own project from a photo,” Palmer said.
Bunka shishu uses rayon thread, which can be described as a knitted “tassel” material. The threads are pulled apart and become kinky because they had been knitted together.
“And because they are kinky, the threads hold into the canvass, causing a delightful affect,” Palmer said. “When it’s finished, it looks like a painting.”
Baird said she started out doing cross stitch and other needle work before she found bunka shishu.
“It wasn’t fast enough for me,” she said. “I like to see a project that moves along quickly.”
Each member of the group enjoys different types of projects. Some like scenery, others like pictures of people or flowers. Typical subjects include people, living things (traditionally fish), and traditional Japanese scenes.
Unlike other forms of embroidery, bunka shishu is fragile and usually presented as artwork rather than clothing adornment. Finished projects are often framed and placed under glass for display.
The American Bunka Embroidery Association has a national seminar each year. During the conference, they have classes and judging of projects.
“We take our finished pictures and they’re seen by a series of judges,” Palmer explained. “We give out blue ribbons and best of shows. They also have a category at the Indiana State Fair we can enter. We’ve done that several times over the years.”
The next national seminar is July 30 to Aug. 2 in Tampa, Fla.
For more information, visit the website at www.myabaea.com.