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Saké Puppets

by Sofia Elghazzali

Special To The Japan Times

When Minnesota-native Angela Salisbury moved to Tokyo, she ditched the guidebooks and explored the city by crafting.

She had always enjoyed sewing, and quickly developed an affinity for a traditional Japanese form of embroidery called sashiko. To display her work, she began posting her projects on Saké Puppets, a blog she started with her husband to chronicle their trip abroad. She soon found her work getting attention and has since started teaching crafting.

What does the name Saké Puppets mean?

When I thought about starting a blog, I was brainstorming ideas, and my brother-in-law came up with Saké Puppets. The name is a play on words. Where I come from in the United States, and elsewhere in the world, children have fun making sock puppets. I think it’s a term that is sort of nostalgic for a lot of people, so we played on that and came up with Saké Puppets. And no, it doesn’t mean drunk puppets!

How did you come to start crafting? Where did you learn?

I have been crafting my entire life. My mom is an incredible crafter, so growing up I always had hand-made Halloween costumes and my school projects were always elaborate. I don’t remember when exactly I started crafting because I was very little. I grew up with a very creative family.

I have never had crafting classes, my mom and grandma were always there to teach me how to make dolls and even doll houses. The only craft classes I’ve had were the sashiko classes.

I was very nervous about the idea of teaching crafting, because I didn’t have professional training. I don’t think that it’s a big deal, though, because the kind of hand crafts that I like are things that are passed down traditionally — things that are meant to adorn everyday items. Maybe my methods and style are different, but I think that’s what makes my work unique.

Why did you to take up sashiko? Did you come to Japan wanting to learn it?

I did! I came across sashiko on the Internet, but the materials were hard to find back in the States. I was wandering in my old neighborhood (here) and found a shop offering sashiko classes. The shop is in Azabu Juban and it’s called “Blue and White.” Once a month, a group of women gather to practice all kinds of traditional arts. I learned by watching them, because I didn’t know much Japanese at the time.

How do you find shopping for craft supplies in Japan?

It’s generally great. There’s a lot available at regular stores,you don’t have to go to specialized craft shops. You can find craft material in ¥100 shops, so shopping for craft materials in Tokyo is easy and affordable. There are also many specialized shops that are usually more expensive than those regular shops, but are higher quality.

I go to Nippori Fabric Town every time I need fabrics. It’s probably the biggest craft shop in Japan. For other supplies, I go to big chains such as Yuzawaya, which is probably the biggest fabric chain in Japan.

How did you come up with the idea of an English Craft Club?

The idea of creating an English Craft Club came to me when my Japanese friend asked me to show her how to do sashiko. When I was teaching her, I found out that even though she already spoke fluent English, she was actually learning more English vocabulary. Then I thought that maybe this is something other people would be interested in, because I think that learning English is more fun when you learn it through a hobby. It’s easier to retain.

What kind of people take your classes?

It’s growing, we started very small. We’re actually opening it up to a wider audience, so there are native English speakers, too.

Online, you have many different social media channels: Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and of course, your blog. What kind of readership do they attract?

Each channel is a little bit different, and each one has a slightly different audience. On Twitter, I talk to my friends in Japan; I use Facebook to talk to my friends in the rest of the world; I use Flickr and Pinterest for my webshop. But I don’t think too much about my audience when I write for my blog because I write just what I want to write and see what happens. I think that the audience for my blog is people who are crafters, but also people who are interested in knowing more about Japan, because my blog is not always about crafts. I like to just talk about my life sometimes?that crazy cake that I ate or my ancient next-door neighbor or something that I found or encountered in Japan. So I think it’s partly friends and family who are interested in knowing how my life is in Japan.

How is it balancing virtual online work with hands-on craft work?

I don’t really have a good balance. It’s a constant struggle, because what I like to do is work with my hands, and when I’m doing that I can’t be on the computer. Having all these types of social media isn’t totally natural for me, but it’s also tied to my job, and my online shop, so, yes, I have to find a balance, but I’m not very good at it. So I just do them when I want to, because there is no point of doing something if it’s not fun.