Today, I would like to repost this report which recently appeared on NHK World (Japan) about Junko Watanabe and her cloth books. Not to be confused with the famous fashion designer Junya Watanabe, Junka has been using textile design in a way which reaches the youngest members of our society. Children with disabilities or difficulties have seen benefits from cloth books over the last 30 years.
Watanabe’s work reminded me of my “cut & paste project” which I came up with during my first year at Central St. Martins. The idea was to let children and adults take control of the final design by making interactive clothes. There were playful parts which could be removed and reattached, coloured with fabric markers. Here are a few images of the prototypes.
My professors were not very enthusiastic of my idea and wondered who would ever want to purchase this. However, over the last 10 years more and more interactive design items have come onto the market! I am happy to see that more designers are thinking the same way.Back then I never considered that children with disabilities could be the end-consumers who’d benefit the most from such products.
Junko Watanabe’s interactive cloth books are not a commercial product but rather a humanistic gift. What an inspiring woman!
Please have a look at NHK’s story about Mrs Watanabe.
NHK WORLD – Culture & Sports
Nov. 17, 2014
The Fabric of Education
A Japanese artisan has a unique take on the classic picture book. She crafts each one by hand from fabrics, adding a personal touch that seems to connect with readers. And now her creations are reaching children around the world. NHK WORLD’s Mikiko Suzuki has the story.
This is a classroom at a school for disabled children and their parents in Tokyo. Students with disabilities get the chance to experience something new here.
Junko Watanabe created the special books they are exploring. She has been making them for 35 years as a way to give disabled children opportunities to earn.
Watanabe uses felt, kimono material and other fabrics.
Details include embroidery… buttons…and string. Children can practice tying and untying, buttoning and unbuttoning while touching the books. These exercises can foster independence.
“Sometimes a mother calls me to let me know a cloth book inspired her child’s first words. That makes me so happy it brings tears to my eyes.”
Watanabe has assembled a group of volunteers who help make the books and donate them to libraries around Japan.
So far, the group has given more than 20 thousand books to around 500 libraries. This library in a Tokyo suburb has 300 of them.
Eiko Naito and her 8-year-old son Daisuke live nearby. Daisuke was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at birth.
When he was a year and a half old, he started coming to the library with his mother to borrow cloth books. A book introducing musical notes really caught his eye.
Image source here.
“We also borrow regular books. But he is really drawn to the cloth ones. If I bring a big bag of them home, he’ll say, ‘I want to see one of those!'”
Eiko Naito / mother
Now Daisuke can play the piano. It’s a simple song, but it requires both hands.
“The cloth books have broadened his world. He learned how to read from them. And he got interested in knowing more about the things around him.”
Eiko Naito / mother
It is tough for Daisuke to interpret the notes, move his fingers and listen to the music all at the same time, but he keeps trying.
Now Watanabe and her team are sending the cloth books to children around the world…especially those living in poverty or without access to education.
Some books were sent to an orphanage in Myanmar that takes care of 200 kids. Many had lost their parents in ethnic conflicts, or were abandoned due to poverty.
Other books were sent to students in Africa. They reflected cultural differences, like the way people there count with their fingers.
“People learn their own country’s language and think and act in that language. Just one cloth picture book is something people can explore and learn from. That’s why I want to pass them on to future generations around the world.”
Watanabe believes all children, regardless of their circumstances, can learn something from her picture books. And she hopes this seed of an idea takes root around the world.