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Archives for August, 2009

Three Panels of Patched Cotton Kaya: Mosquito Netting

August 28, 2009

While I was in Japan last month,  I came across a stack of panels of patched, cotton kaya or mosquito netting, three panels of which are shown here.  These panels were taken from a full kaya, which was a tent of gauzy cotton and was  feature of almost every home in old Japan–Japanese summers are hot and sticky, and mosquitoes are everywhere.

I think these panels look best when suspended and back lit; in this way, the layered patches play best against the translucent, gauzy cotton, creating a beautiful contrast.

By seeing these three panels together, you get a good sense of what the owner of this full kaya would have seen in their own home: quite a beautiful display of patches and unintended visual syncopation.

Notice, too, how the blue, vertical stripes are woven into the cloth: at each selvedge edge they are given 1/2 their normal width: this was done to create visual coherence when one panel was placed next to another panel.  The flow of stripes would be even all around the kaya.



Over time, starting soon, on my website I will be offering these kaya panels for sale.  If you’re interested in them, please don’t hesitate writing.


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Indigo Dyed Cotton Kasuri Warp Yarns from Kurume

August 24, 2009

Shown today are indigo dyed cotton yarns to use in the weaving of Kurume kasuri, a very distinctive form of ikat from Kurume on Kyushu Island that is characterized by its bold, geometric designs: white-on-blue.


These warp yarns, when rolled into balls as they are here, make beautiful objects: each is many, many meters long and are all the yarns are tied by hand before dyeing.


Last week I offered one for sale on my website; I will be offering these, too, in time.  If you find that you just can’t live without one, don’t hesitate writing me, I’ll be happy to make sure you get a good one.  The largest one is 11″ or 28 cm in diameter and in addition to the stark white-on-dark blue dye on this large ball, there are also some areas of a pale blue color, called asagi.


Have a look at a YouTube video showing some of the dyeing process of Kurume kasuri, here.

They’re really beautiful, aren’t they?  I believe they are from the 50s or 60s–possibly later.


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A Magnificent 19th Century Pieced Silk Han Juban

August 20, 2009

This is a han juban, or a half length garment which was worn under a kimono.  Its bodice is a dazzling arrangement of recycled silks composed in a regular formation of blocks, some of the blocks are comprised of twenty or more slivers of botanically dyed silk.

In the 19th century wildly colored garments like this were worn under somber colored kimonos as there were governmental edicts outlining the kind of clothing that could be worn by different strata of the population.  By hiding this kind of fanciful undergarment beneath a dark kimono, the 19th century Japanese lady was not “breaking the law.”


Note the profusion of types of silks and the swirling combination of colors, all of which are botanical.  Chief among the dyestuffs are blue (indigo), purple (gromwell root), and orange (safflower).  If you see a lot of juban from this era you will notice that this color scheme is a predominant one, for reasons that these the dyestuffs used for these three colors were easily dyed and widely accessible.





The vertical red piece of cloth, above, is most likely a chemical dye.  In the Meiji Era (1868-1912) German synthetic dyes were introduced to Japan and the red dye was very quickly adopted for everyday use: for centuries the Japanese were not able to achieve this strident red using locally obtainable botanicals, and only those who could afford to buy imported cloth dyed in Indian madder wore a rich, deep, cold red like this one.



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An Indigo Dyed Patched Boro Yogi: Sleeping Kimono

August 17, 2009

Today I am posting images of a very nice example of a boro yogi, or sleeping kimono.   Originally, this yogi would have been stuffed with cotton wadding and would have been quilted: as it is now, the stuffing has been removed, and what we see here is its shell, viewed inside-out because all the gorgeous stitching and patches are best seen on the inside.

Even though this yogi is shaped like an over sized kimono (it measures 51″ x 52″ or 130 cm x 132 cm) it was not worn as a garment: instead, this heavily padded garment-shaped thing would have been used in the same manner as a duvet or a quilt is used, as a cover for a person sleeping underneath it.  Japanese people say that the extra flaps of the arms and the collar areas envelope the body in a good way, trapping much-needed heat around the sleeping person.


Have a look at all the wonderful, small scraps of indigo dyed cotton that are used to create this yogi.  Notice, as well, that a good portion of the stitching is done with hemp thread; I tend to like to see the presence of hemp thread in the stitching of boro items.  To me, it indicates age or suggests the piece is very rural: keep in mind that in the initial phase of making cotton garments from scraps, rural folk had no accessibility to cotton, therefore they did not have cotton thread, so hemp or other bast fiber threads were used for sewing.

This yogi was most likely constructed sometime during the late nineteenth or early twentieth century; the material used in the sewing could be much older.


In most cases, not all, yogis are constructed with a central panel running vertically down the center of the back as can be seen in the photo above: this is a kind of gusset that adds width and area to the piece.


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Rope of Recycled Cotton

August 13, 2009

In rural Japan, farmers were self-sufficient and relied on their own skills of invention and frugality to sustain the lives of their families.  Certainly nothing was wasted and material of all sorts was re-used and re-purposed until its usefulness was exhausted.  These balls of rope which are made from old cotton illustrate this point.


They’re braided from cotton scraps and the result is not only useful—this rope still seems very able to do hard work—but also very beautiful, in a self-effacing way.  I am sure that whoever made these balls of rope, for whatever purpose, would be dumbfounded to think that we are now admiring his or her handiwork.


Most likely this rope was made in northern Japan; those of you who own the book “Boro: Rags and Tatters from the Far North of Japan” will see similar examples to these at the end of the book.


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A Rural Japanese Rain Cape and A Collection of Woven Back Pads

August 7, 2009

Today’s post shows a collection of five pieces, each similar in style to one another, but slightly different in function.  The center piece is a mino, or a kind of thatched rain cape, the four flanking pieces are called seate.  A seate is a back pad used to cushion the body against the weight and abrasion of carrying  heavy burden.

The two seate on the left are woven from strips of recycled rags; the two on the right are woven from rice straw, rush or sedge.


The mino, below, and shown in detail photos, is woven from rice straw and some kind of bast or tree bark fiber; there may be component of shina (linden) twisted into the neck area and the rope twine.  I was told the black strands are seaweed.



Most likely these seate and mino date to the mid-twentieth century: up until mid-century, some rural areas of Japan were still very much operating as they had for centuries, using age-old materials and methods for their everyday farming, foraging and sustenance.


If you happen upon ukiyo-e prints or antique Japanese paintings, occasionally you’ll see a country scene that shows a local person dressed in a mino and some kind of head covering.


Without sounding disparaging, these seate and mino suggest “tribal” art  in their manner of weaving, decoration and materials.

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