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  The Idea of Original Composition Designs & Patterns    

        It's interesting to compare the concept of "original" between Western thinkers and Japanese thinkers.  The opportunity to talk this through with Japanese masters was enlightening and refreshing. If not sooner, the question of "what is original" usually comes about for those pursuing JTA certification, which, for Level 3 (Shihan, Master/Teacher) and Level 4 (Kyoujyu/Professor) exams requires submission of original Temari designs and documentation/diagrams for these temari. Most Western stitchers hear those requirements and come close to hanging it up - how on earth could there ever be more new designs and patterns that have not been published somehow in the volumes of Japanese Temari books, let alone anywhere else, just to begin with?

       The answer  - not surprisingly - also goes back to "keep it simple" and don't over-analyze. In the West, our image of "original" conjures up nightmares of intellectual property claims and rights, kicking off archival searches to prove that something was not previously published or performed, and all the legalities involved therewith. In the context of Japanese Temari, the consensus is that it is simply using your learned skills and acquired experience to sit down with a mari, thread and needle, apply division/marking lines and stitch as your imagination guides and inspires you. This is as opposed to the learning process of replicating designs from resources such as books, photos, web resources, etc., where you follow step-by-step, stitch by stitch from a predetermined set of directions, or "copy" from a photo or other image. If you will - call it "thinking outside the book (or other resource)".  It's creating a temari without following a prescribed set of directions or copying an image, stitch by stitch, start to finish, to make it.

       Perhaps a reasonable analogy would be of a musical composition. You learn standard notes, chords, music theory, etc., by learning to play other composers' songs. Then, you can go on to create your own compositions, with your own melody, rhythm, harmonies. An "original design" Temari can be thought of as being your own composition, using your collected skills to share a part of you, rather than repeating someone else's work.

       Does this mean that every section of the Temari you stitch will be some grand and new, never before seen stitch combination? Probably not. Does it mean that you are making an honest effort to use your skills of divisions, extra marking lines, basic stitches, other acquired experience, colors, threads...  to come up with a unique combination of them different than what you have previously seen?  Yes.  This means that you are working from "inside" inspiration in terms of creating the temari, rather than all "outside" (ie, book or directions). Can it be because you were inspired from something you saw during daily life, perhaps out in nature, and you wish to transcribe that concept to a temari? Yes. Can it be because you admired a temari design but yet thought "what if I did this instead?" Yes (most times - see below). Does it mean that something is flowing from "inside" you, sheer imagination, as you  play with whether this stitch and this stitch here will work with that technique too? Yes. Does it have to be all of these at once? No. It does mean that you are using your experience and acquired skills to put together various designs on the mari, as your own composition. And, believe it or not - this does come more easily with more experience, so don't give up if it all seems overwhelming at the moment (just like how many times you play "Row Row Row Your Boat" on the piano before you compose a concerto). The experience levels being testing with L3 and L4 submissions by the JTA call for five to eight years (minimum) of temari making experience. It's not something that comes to us overnight, or even over the course of several months. Some fortunate folks do find a creative streak early on but, for the most part it's everything coming together over time and "clicking", before it starts happening.

        If nothing else, think of it as the Temari equivalent of a "make your own combination platter" at a restaurant. You have divisions, extra marking lines, basic stitch techniques, extra techniques, shapes, spaces, threads, colors and embellishments to use. Add in other things like freehand/style embroidery, applique....  and the combinations are limitless.  Pick a one or two from this category, a few from this one, a couple from over there; use something from each, or not. And remember, while you need to practice and gain experience so that your actual division and stitch executions of traditional techniques meet exact standards - when it comes to design of the overall temari, just like someone's opinion - there isn't a "wrong". As with an opinion, not everyone may agree with you; in art or design, not everyone may admire it but, there is still no denying that it's your design.  Does every creative attempt work out the way you want it to, or even to a point where you want someone else to see it ? Nope, not by a long shot. It can take a few (or more) false starts even with solid ideas to make something work out, but remember that all those repeated attempts are more learning and experience going into your bank.

       Another point is that Level 3 and 4 certificates in the JTA mean "Teacher" and "Professor". You are being prepared to teach temari to others, and this is the most important aspect of the exams. No one can "test" anyone's creative abilities and place a score on them, or even declare "pass or fail". You can are are being tested on your learning the traditional techniques and your execution of them (For example, you can use Uwagake Chidori Kagari in whatever creative way in a design you wish to, but you need to be working the Uwagake Chidori stitch itself with perfection). What truly is being examined is your ability to use the fundamentals of Temari, and your ability to communicate them. If you can stitch temari without having to follow a stitch-by-stitch set of directions, and you can also clearly diagram and describe how to do it using the full range of traditional techniques, then in the JTA's eyes you are capable to teach Temari to people who desire to learn it, and this is what they are truly examining for; being able to "stand on your own" in the craft and art. Essentially, they are asking: "prove to us you are comfortable creating temari without detailed instructions; show us that you can think "outside the box" and create something of interest". Are they going to go sit in the copyright office and search for your designs? Of course not.

        Perhaps one of the easiest ways of creating something "original" is to develop some kind of theme or idea. Don't go looking in a book - just start playing with shapes and colors in your mind. Sometimes the ideas will come when you look at colors of threads, or textures. The only caveat with all this is that you need to be able to explain to someone else - in understandable terms, exactly what you did to create that design. This is where some of our free-hand embroiderers have difficulty. They are able to create the most stunning and beautiful designs - but they are stumped when it comes to describing how they got there. Go ahead and freely create... just take notes on how you got there!

       Important to remember -  original design means creating something with decidedly your own spin on it, while respecting and honoring others. This does not include starting with a prescribed pattern and simply changing colors, size, thread type, etc. Working a pattern that has been published somewhere in different colors, or different threads, or with other such minor adjustments does not constitute "original". It certainly is your interpretation of said design, and that is how you would describe it, giving the due respect to the source from which you worked it. And, if in the end, you have reservations about whether your finished work is your original creativity or composition, then perhaps it's really not.  Close the book, turn off the computer, and stitch. Unless you have a photographic memory, you'll most likely come up with an original temari :>)  .

       Please also remember, this is an editorial essay, and does not constitute legal advice.

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