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Archives for November, 2009

Kaki Shibu Dyed Textiles

November 28, 2009

Today I am showing some textiles that were “dyed” in the fermented juice extracted from unripe persimmons; this extract, called kaki shibu in Japan, yields a highly recognizable brown color when applied to cloth, paper and wood.

Kaki shibu was very widely utilized in old Japan as it was easy to apply and its benefits were useful: kaki shibu strengthened  the material it saturated, rendered it somewhat waterproof, and was also said to contain anti-bacterial properties.


Here we see a group of antique sakabukuro, or cotton bags that were saturated with green persimmon tannin and were used to filter crude sake.  If cloth is dipped many times in kaki shibu, a leathery look results from the build-up of layers of kaki shibu.

Since sakabukuro were used and re-used many, many times over a period of several years, they required mending.  The mending stitches on sakabukuro are unmistakable, and the more mending there is, the more attractive the bag–in my estimation, that is.


Below is a detail of the resist-dyed  noren or door cover which is shown in full in the photo at the top of the blog.  It is beautifully worn and faded, and it is discussed a bit more in detail, here.


If you are interested in kaki shibu,  have a quick look at this website who supplies the tannin and offers workshops.

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A Very Stitched and Layered Boro Kotatsu Cover

November 21, 2009

When I travel to Japan to look for antique, rural, utilitarian cloth, I am always very pleased to find a piece like this very heavily layered and sashiko stitched kotatsushiki.  Coming across very stitched, boro textiles like the one shown on this post is becoming rarer and rarer, so locating such a piece is pure pleasure.

This heavily layered, square-shaped blanket was used to capture heat: a kotatsu is a brazier over which a wooden table armature is placed, over which layers of blankets are draped in order to contain heat and for people to be able to tuck themselves under to keep warm.  Have a look at a modern-day, electric kotatsu here.

Enjoy looking at the photos of this fine, old piece, which is sewn together from old cloth, probably deconstructed kimono and bedding.


Although this piece does not show it specifically, some kotatsushiki show wear on its four edges: often you’ll see layers of patches on these areas, which makes sense as the four edges received most wear from people scooting underneath for wear.




Do feel free to contact me if you have interest in acquiring this beauty or if you have questions.

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An Edo Period Hemp Child’s Kimono

November 17, 2009

What a beautifully colored and intricately decorated child’s kimono: this example woven from hemp dates to the mid-nineteenth century as we can tell by the large-size kamon or family crests seen on the sleeves and nape of this elaborate garment.

The images on this kimono are extremely finely rendered.  The white details are drawn by hand using a paste resist technique, in this case we can refer to this as yuzen-zome, an elaborate dyeing method very much associated with Kyoto–as well as Kanazawa–during Japan’s Edo Period.


The motives painted on this kimono are auspicious and intended to convey a wish for a long, healthy life.  The crane, of course, is a symbol of long life, as is the pine, both of which are magnificently drawn here.  Notice the intricacy of detail and the sure hand of the artisan who rendered these images.

The refined hand that depicted these delicate sprays of pine needles is remarkable: unusual and charming is the siege of fledgling cranes frolicking in and alighting on this old pine tree.  Note as well the pine needles strewn on the ground.  As pine needles fall in pairs, they are a symbol of conjugal fidelity, so layered into the multiple visual wishes for the child who wore this kimono was a special one for a happy marriage.


Below is a view of the inside of the kimono: I’m showing this view as the contrast of the benibana (safflower) resist dyed crepe silk detail is a lovely contrast to the maize colored hemp cloth, and I thought you’d enjoy seeing this.


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A Shifu Workcoat: Rustic, Indigo Dyed Woven Paper

November 7, 2009

The previous post, just below this one, introduced the work of           Hiroko Karuno, a contemporary shifu artist who weaves cloth from paper.  This post shows a historical example of shifu, in this case an indigo dyed work coat which likely dates from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

This coat was woven from a shredded, recycled paper weft against a cotton warp; it seems the cloth was piece dyed before it was sewn.  The kasuri cotton used to reinforce the collar, seen above, appears to have been woven in Shonai or in Yamagata, Japan, so we may deduce this coat comes from Japan’s Tohoku Region.

Because of the nature of the paper mulberry washi which was used to weave shifu, paper cloth is surprisingly lighter in weight than woven cotton, bast fiber or silk.  Note the detail photos here which attempt to zero in on the quality of the paper woven cloth: rustic shifu such as this is usually slubby and knotty in appearance.



This coat has been worn as can be seen by the overall patina and some slight fraying to seams; still, it’s a beautiful example of shifu clothing, which is something of a rare commodity in the field of Japanese folk textiles.



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The Art of Shifu: Hiroko Karuno’s Original Interpretation of Traditional Woven Paper

November 2, 2009

In the Japanese language, the word shifu refers to woven paper.  Shifu can mean the fine-as-silk paper weaving that was given as tribute to regional rulers during the Edo Period, or the very rustic, utilitarian cloth woven by peasants by shredding leftover ledger books and weaving this against a bast fiber warp.  This post, however, is about a contemporary shifu artist, Hiroko Karuno, whose shifu weaving draws on inspiration from the past.  Karuno’s interpretation of this rare yet traditional weaving technique, however, is her own.

Hiroko Karuno lives in Canada and she spends part of each year at her family home in Kyoto, where she was raised.  Below you’ll see a photo of a room in her Kyoto home where her minutely shredded paper is laid.

Karuno’s paper comes from an artisan paper maker in Kadoide, Japan, in Niigata Prefecture.  In order for this paper to be seasoned properly, Karuno will store it for five years before using it in her shifu.


Once the paper is properly aged, she folds it and slices it in 2 mm strips: this process of folding and slicing requires a period of sustained total focus and a pin-point concentration: there can be no distractions during this process.  Below you will see the paper after it was properly sliced.Karuno1f

The paper is then shaken free and dampened overnight.  Again the paper is opened and shaken; keep in mind that this process is in no way “mechanical.”  Karuno needs to use all her senses–touch and sound chief among them–to manipulate the paper as she sees fit: imagine that she needs to “listen” to the paper in order to properly manipulate it.  Ambient weather conditions, for example, weigh in on the shifu yarn making process, so Karuno needs to be keenly in-tune to her materials during this entire process.  After this, for quite some time, the sliced paper is rolled to and fro on a rock, under her open hands: again it is lifted, shaken and rolled again.  Rolling in this manner softens the fibers and separates the strands.  After this process is finished, Karuno will release the bundle and unfurl it carefully, taking care to pinch off some stray bits of paper on its folds, and then she will let go a long filament: the special manner in which Karuno folds and cuts the paper allows her to be able to create one, extremely long piece of yarn.  This now-freed filament is coffered in high, soft mounds in bamboo baskets (below).



The paper is ready to be spun into yarn: Karuno is quick to say that the paper is not “spun” but “twisted.”  Karuno “spins” the yarn on a traditional, Japanese spinning wheel.


Karuno dyes her precious yarns using only botanical dyes: indigo, loquat, safflower, gardenia and chestnut are among the dyestuffs that lend color to her specialized yarns.



Earlier in this post I mentioned that Karuno’s shifu is original.  What I meant is that Karuno’s shifu–which is featherweight and exceedingly fine–is woven with a paper weft against a paper warp: most shifu was woven using either a silk or cotton warp, and in the case of country shifu, the cloth was structured on a bast warp.  Karuno’s shifu is a sublime confection and weaving one full bolt of shifu can take up to one  year.

The shifu of Hiroko Karuno is woven into full tanmono, or a 12 meter length from which a traditional kimono can be fashioned: it is dyed–or not–and if dyed, Karuno sometimes will tie the yarns before dyeing and create kasuri or ikat cloth.

The cloth, above and below, are views onto a finished tanmono.  Words and these photos cannot describe the tactile sense of this cloth: it is ethereal as vapor, and it is woven with a super-human precision.  The amount of care which nourishes this cloth is unquantifiable. Please know that these tanmono will never be cut to make a kimono: they themselves are the finished artwork.


For those of you in the Toronto area, Hiroko Karuno will be giving a lecture on shifu and Japanese paper on 11 November at 7:00 PM at The Japanese Paper Place: information is here, and once on The Japanese Paper Place’s website, scroll down to see Karuno’s talk mentioned in the November events.

If you’d like more information and photos on Hiroko Karuno’s work, you may want to order a back issue of Selvedge magazine, where Karuno’s work is the subject of an article I wrote in Issue 22.

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