Salvia's design based on the motif of pottery spoons using natural plant dyeing methods.

Salvia: back to nature – with tradition

It’s surely not that easy to revive old Japanese crafting techniques in a modern and good looking way! See how Tokyo-based Salvia show a delicate affection for this through their unique embroidery patterns and the gentle colours of their natural plant dyeing methods. 7 years ago, the collaborative project was founded by a graphic designer, Yurio Seki of ea. Yurio was eager to show her unique products with PingMag.

Written by Ryoko
Translated by Natsumi Yamane

First of all, tell us a little bit about Salvia’s activities, please?

I came up with cover-designs for matches and can-badges, in the beginning. Most of the graphics were based on sketches and designs that I drew. Then, I gained experience making clothes and textiles. For the last 2 – 3 years, I’ve been creating various items in collaboration with traditional Japanese craftsmen.

How do you go about finding all the craftsmen?

I do some of the research myself; some are introduced through my friends; and sometimes I’ll get contacted directly by the craftsmen, too.

Interesting! Please show us around…

These are “Woodblock Printed Small Boxes” I produced in collaboration with woodblock printers in Kyoto. Here, you can see how my designs were turned into prints by the accomplished skills of a carver and a printer. Unlike conventional printing, woodblock prints have unique blots and patches — and looks great on high-quality Japanese paper, too.

Cute! Woodblock printed small boxes with flower motifs.

The colours are so amazing!

I always try to use traditional Japanese neutral colours. I get a lot of inspiration from beautiful arrangements particular to Japan, like the colour coordination process for layering Kimono, for example.

Ah, show us more, please…

These wooden brooches are made by an Edo wood carving craftsman. Edo wood carving dates back to the Edo period and you can see the same techniques commonly used in flower and dragon carvings on temple and shrine railings. The craftsman’s fine attention to detail extends to how the wood grains come through; insuring that these brooches, will become increasingly more beautiful as the years go by and the product ages.

These wooden brooches were made in collaboration with an Edo wood craving craftsman that paid a lot of attention to every possible detail…

What are these petal-shaped papers?

Here, we have lotus petals made out of paper, called “Sange.” “Sange” are scattered by monks during Buddhist memorial services. Traditionally, the temples used to scatter real petals but they were eventually replaced by these paper ones, as naturally there were times in the year when fresh flowers were difficult to find. “Sange” may be purchased at a temple. We were so fascinated by them, and designed our own.

”Sange” and envelopes made out of Japanese paper from Mino, designed by Salvia.

What attracts you to traditional Japanese arts and crafts?

Traditional Japanese arts and crafts bear such a rich variety and each product has a profound meaning and purpose. So, I would like to continue to interpret and suggest new styles of using them in order to keep the tradition alive.

Give us an example of a traditional-product-turned-new, please?

The inspiration for the designs on the “Ainu Embroidery Pouch” for example, came from those of mitten arm covers the Ainu tribes wear at ceremonies. Here, it’s interesting to note that Ainu people have a custom of embroidering owl’s eyes as motifs on their garments for hands and feet to protect themselves against evil. Gaining knowledge into such a rich traditional background is part of the fun, too.

”Ainu Embroidery Pouch” – the native Ainu tribes believe that the eyes of an owl can protect them against evil spirits.

That fits her nicely: One of those embroidered pouches.

Reviving traditional Japanese embroidery techniques: A Kogin style purse from the Aomori prefecture.
Salvia also publishes a quarterly magazine to report on their traditional crafting techniques.

What else do you have lined up?

For example, these are booklets also called “Salvia Quarterly.” They are published by ea and show how we use traditional techniques in a modern way. I believe that individuals skilled in handicrafts perhaps enjoy the process of making things more than the finished product itself! We’d really like to share the joys of creating things with others. Additioinally, we hope the magazine will offer an insight to all that goes into creating product. Couse, it’s hard to differentiate between our work and those of others by just looking at the finished product. I hope the magazine will assist readers with the processes without me having to talk them through every step of the way.

Page view from Salvia’s quarterly magazine Vol. 4: “The making of pottery spoons.”

Let’s take a closer look at what you feature in the magazines, please…

This volume features how to make pottery spoons; also, we made these place mats based on the cover design of the same booklet.

Place mats with the design of the volume cover.
This is an easy-to-use plant dyeing kit. It uses loquat leaves for dye, and allows you to enjoy its gentle and natural colours easily at home.

Is there anything you’ve learnt so far by working with traditional craftspeople?

The craftsmen who worked on our canvas bags with their natural plant dyeing technique have a true craftsman’s attitude: they make everything bearing in mind that people would use their products for life. Meaning, many of them even repair and dye again tear and wear for free. I regard their spirit of treasuring things and taking care of those items for life most respectable.


The Salvia canvas bag, made in by traditional craftsmen.

A shirt dyed with traditional Japanese indigo.

Also, I myself am not an artist but a designer, so I’m more inclined to seeing people use my products. Moreover, I would like to start a self-sufficient lifestyle but, before that, I want to be able to make all sorts of things through my Salvia activities.

Salvia’s graphic designer Yurio Seki (right), talking with customers at ea’s showroom.

Yurio, thank you very much for your enriching story, bringing us closer a bit of natural dyeing, Japanese style!

  • pricca@gmail.com

    Beautiful!
    You have to do a article about Edo Sashimono to!!

  • http://otakuhime.blogspot.com/ vaneea

    I wished you had posted this before my Trip to Tokyo 2 weeks ago. I really want to own some of their collections.

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  • http://michaelgentleman.com Micahel

    Yurio Seki’s work is so beautiful- a poised, Scandinavian take on pattern and space. She’s easily one of the best designers working in Japan today!

  • http://michaelgentleman.com Micahel

    Yurio Seki’s work is so beautiful- a poised, Scandinavian-influenced take on pattern and space. She’s easily one of the best designers working in Japan today!

  • May

    Wow… I’m definately going to look up Seki’s work when I’m in Tokyo! I hope I can find one of their magazines. Thanks for posting this up!

    Oh, by the way, I really want to intern at your magazine and I consider it a great honor to work with such amazing people. Can someone please guide me on what to do? Thank you very much!

  • May

    oh sorry…. here’s my e-mail… mphutika@uci.edu

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    The easy-to-use plant dyeing kit looks like good fun…. ;)

  • http://www.myspace.com/shanteru SHANTELL MARTIN

    opps me again… this is my correct link… x

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    Very impressive work by Salvia

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    this work is also great.
    Good job!

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    Nice pictures, thanks for sharing.

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    Great photos and concept

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    this is a really cool site with a ton of helpful info on salvia http://www.salviasociety.org they did a really good job researching

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    hi i love salvio’s designs. if she ever needs a poet to collaborate, please contact me.

    jenny x

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