Kendo, the perfect patchwork quilt

One of my favorite type of shinai bags to make is the quilted shinai bag. These are really one of a kind, and I love making them because I was a quilter before I was a kenshi and it brings back good memories of lazy, quiet days before kiai and stomping became the norm. So even though it takes all day (as quilting projects should), I really love making these bags more than any other. And here I will explain why!

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The way that I make these bags is very fun for me. As I make other bags, whether it be iaido, kendo, naginata or other accessories like tenugui or furoshiki, I inevitably have left over fabric, scraps, or remnants that I put in a specific tote next to my sewing table. When I notice the tote is beginning to overflow on to the ground, I dump it out on my expansive table in the workshop and organize the pieces by color.

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If any of you are crafty like myself, you know that this is a very fun project indeed. So many colors and patterns that I had forgotten existed. And a reminder that I don’t necessarily need to buy any more fabric (but will anyway!)

Whichever color is the most plentiful (in kendo usually navy blue takes first place) is the color of the day, and I begin sorting them out, deciding which patterns go together – really my favorite part of the quilting experience (if you don’t count the final product!)

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Breaking out the less-often-used quilting accoutrement, I set about cutting squares, fussing over patterns, and the normal quilting ins and outs. I must admit, I adore this part, because with every scrap and fabric remnant, I am reminded of what bag or item it came from. Was this the shinai bag I sent to New Zealand, for the birthday party? Or perhaps my first iaido bag, when I didn’t even know what iaido was? Maybe it was the shinpanki bag I made for my own sensei birthday party, or one of the (many) shinai bags I have made for my daughter as she, and her shinai, grow faster and faster before my eyes. It is like a trip down memory lane.

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I have been very lucky to make items for friends, family, for sword artisans all over the world and I like to remember each one as I fuss and fret over lining up corners and struggle to find the fabric I swear I just had in my hand a second ago (oh there it is, under the massive mountain of similarly colored fabrics!)

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I think there is something very cool about how not only are the bags completely unique, but they include pieces of fabric from another kenshi’s bag, sometimes across the world. I wonder if someday two of these people will run into one another and notice that one square of their bag matches the entirely of someone else’s. How cool would that be?

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At the end of the day, making these bags really reminds me of what is so wonderful about kendo, in that every time we share keiko with others, whether it be beginners, high ranking sensei, visitors, or team members, we take pieces of knowledge from our fellow kenshi. And they have taken pieces of knowledge, just like pieces of fabric, from others along their journey. Our kendo becomes a patchwork quilt of skills and lessons learned, and we are all unique, but all have tiny pieces that are the same.

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And that thought to me is very lovely indeed.

Until next time, happy keiko!

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