A correspondence in embroidery

by Agence-France Presse AFP, May 20, 2008 | Destinations: Japan

PARIS, March 10, 2008 - When Yukiko Ogura and Fanny Viollet met in 1988, neither spoke the other's language but they found a way to keep in touch through a shared passion for embroidery.

Twenty years later their correspondence between Tokyo and Paris, in which stitches are more eloquent than words, was one of the main draws at the international salon on needlework in Paris last week, which this year showcased Japan.

It was Viollet's first trip to Japan for an exhibition of French needlework. She was immediately drawn to Ogura because she was wearing a kimono and looked as if she could have stepped straight off a Japanese print.

They quickly realised they were kindred spirits as artists, with a similar sensitivity to colour: "I explained to her that the colour violet was the name of a flower. She told me that violet in Japanese, 'murasaki shikibu', was also the botanical name of a plant which produces berries like little violet pearls in autumn."

They exchanged addresses and promised to write.

Ogura, who knew no French, bravely went out and bought Japanese-French dictionaries but was afraid her first efforts would not be understood. So she slipped a square of brightly coloured appliquéd flowers on organza into her first letter.

And from then on, every letter they exchanged was accompanied by snippets of their work.

As well as greetings for birthdays and Christmas -- such as a ribbon-embroidered tree picked out with gold thread -- all kinds of occasions are recorded.
To mark the moment when the French metro changed its ticket from turquoise to purple in January 2003 Viollet put together a sampler of witty doodles in silk thread incorporating tickets. In 2006 Ogura embroidered cherry blossom to coincide with the trees flowering.

Other bits of embroidery commemorate family events, like the birth of a first grandchild.

"We were already married with grown up children when we met. We both had our first grandchild at around the same time," recalls Viollet.

Even the envelopes are often works of art. For example, one is almost entirely taken up by a big black silk umbrella, dwarfing the address. "Our only limitation is what the postman will deliver," Viollet says.

In the years since they met they have both become leading experts and teachers in their respective fields but continue to mutually enjoy the cross-cultural exchange.

Ogura, who pioneered a technique known as dye-stitch-work and has authored many books, turned to her friend for help in mounting an exhibition of kimonos for the salon.

"She says that all the questions I have asked her about kimonos made her think about them more deeply. I have made her a researcher in kimonos!"

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