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Quilts for Fukushima

The Fukushima nuclear disaster was a major industrial accident which occurred in Japan following the 11th March 2011 tsunami.

Yoko lives in Ishinomaki, on the Pacific coast, not far from Fukushima. On 11th March 2011, the tsunami devastated everything in its path. Ishinomaki was one of the most affected towns.

Yoko lost her grandmother, her cousins, and many friends because of the disaster. Her shop was destroyed; nothing was left. In Belgium, Claire Cazalie and Marylène de Ruette, two embroiderers and friends, started a support project for their Japanese friend who had lost her shop and her loved ones because of the disaster… read more

On Friday the 11th of March 2011, at 14:46:23 local time, the most important earthquake ever recorded in Japanese history occurred. Its epicentre was found 130km east of Sendai, the main town of the Miyagi prefecture, in the Tōhoku region. It is located around 300km north-east of Tokyo. The earthquake led to the instant stoppage of the reactors, the accidental loss of the electric supply system, and the activation of the generators. Xenon emissions could be observed even before the first depressurisation of the generators, indicating structural damage within the nuclear installations right after the earthquake happened.


Quilt 120 x 60 cm

Embroidered, padded textile.

12th May 2011

At the beginning, there were two embroidery enthusiasts whom I really appreciate: Claire and Marylène. Claire lives in Meudon, west of Paris. She owns an embroidery studio where she shares her passion and organizes courses. Marylène comes from Ruette, Belgium, where she owns a patchwork shop and also hosts workshops and lessons. The two of them became friends during Léa Stansal’s embroidery classes, then they decided to go to Japan on the occasion of the international patchwork festival, which was held at the Tokyo Dome in January 2011.

The Fukushima Disaster

In the Land of the Rising Sun, Marylène introduced to Claire Masako Wakayama, a highly skilled artist. In turn, Masako introduced to them one of her students, Yoko, who travelled 300km every week to take Masako’s classes. Yoko had just opened her own textile shop in Ishinomaki.

The small group began a friendship that would persist after the festival ended. On 11th March 2011, the tsunami devastated everything in its path. Ishinomaki was one of the most affected towns.

Yoko lost her grandmother, her cousins, and many friends because of the disaster. Her shop was destroyed; nothing was left.


Solidarity embroidered into textile

When Claire and Marylène heard the news, they were upset and immediately told Yoko, through Masako, about how they felt. But it was not enough, they wanted to “do something tangible”.

Patchwork was to be their “vehicle”: they embroidered little solidarity notes into textile, crocheted them, and as usual, they posted their ideas and pictures on their own blogs. Their websites started gaining records of engagement and inspired others to do the same.

« Crochet for Japan »

One patch, ten patches and then hundreds of patches were coming in Claire’s and Marylène’s letter boxes. The two of them were puzzled: what to do with all these testimonies of friendship?

In France, a website was quickly set up and dedicated to the operation “Crochet for Japan” in order to create a framework for the patches. They had to follow rules such as a certain format and colours so that the full work could be harmonious.

Marylène gave directions: all the patches had to be sent before 15th June. Far from discouraging people, these directions made people even more eager to send theirs, especially as the operation was the topic of a short report on television (Arte).

The parcels were overflowing. Retirement homes residents, school pupils, small clubs… In total, Claire collected 9200 crochet patches, and Marylène 7000 more, coming from all over Europe – Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Portugal, and even Israel. As for Masako, she received patches from Thailand, China, and the US.


The plaids start piling up

What to do with all these testimonies of friendship? The two friends decided to assemble them and make blankets. At Claire’s, the sewing sessions welcomed volunteers from various backgrounds, such as a university lecturer from the Réunion island. At Marylène’s, the entire summer was spent working on this very special patchwork. As for Masako, she skilfully made a quilt combining all the messages she had received. The plaids started piling up: 125 crocheted ones, 50 textile ones. The situation sparked off new discussions: should they be put up for sale and how? (auctions, physical or online shop, etc.), at what price? Wouldn’t it make more sense to ship them to Japan- even though the fees would be very expensive?


Ishinomaki’s hospital

​Gradually, the idea of an exhibition emerged in order to collect the money required to send the blankets to Japan. Indeed, Yoko had told the volunteers about the needs of the families and the hospital in Ishinomaki. Herself had to work part-time in a convenience store to make a living. In the afternoons, she worked on putting her business back on track and hosted a quilt class, which was as much dedicated to talking as it was to creating.

On September 11th, the contributors took a picture at the Eiffel Tower in Paris as a means to advertise the operation. Unfortunately, heavy rain on that day prevented them from making a presentation about the project at the Champ-de-Mars.


The textile lovers’ rendez-vous

It was up to Claire and Marylène to find a new occasion to talk about their project. Every February in Paris the international festival “L’aiguille en fête” takes place. Overcoming their natural shyness, Claire, Marylène and Masako contacted the organisers who were immediately convinced by their proposal. The public will therefore be able to discover Masako Wakayama’s work and the colourful quilts of her European friends from February 9th to 12th. Postcards will be sold to the visitors to help cover the costs of the judicial organisation that Claire had to create so that the fundraising event could be legal. It was one of the obstacles that the volunteers had not seen coming when this incredible solidarity movement began.

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