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Archives for December, 2009

….And the Ship Sails On

December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

And what a way to start it.  The fabulous artist, friend and Brooklyn neighbor, Ann Wood, sent me a big, mysterious box.  Inside was a buoyant, papier-mache boat with a “boro” sail, below.  And that’s not all: you can see how to make one on Ann’s blog, right here.

Ann’s hand made boat is riding the crest of a wave in a sea of children’s yukatas, and it seems to be very happily going forward into the new year.

May yours be healthy, happy and prosperous.

HAPPY 2010!

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A Katazome Dyed, Sashiko Stitched Diaper

December 28, 2009

Sometimes the most humble of things can continue to fascinate, the reasons for which are not easy to describe—or may not ever be fully understood.  Such is my interest in the anchor motif, and in particular as it is depicted on this wonderful and modest sashiko stitched diaper.  The anchor is rendered in the stencil resist dye method called katazome.

I just love the anchor form, which is popular in Japanese folk textiles, however it is not commonly used.  It mainly appears on items used for the wedding trousseau, such as this diaper, as the anchor symbolizes holding the bride secure in her new life.

Most likely this diaper comes from Izumo or present day Shimane: diapers such as this one were included as a set of seven in a wedding trousseau–often a customary gift from the bride’s family to the groom’s family–as they were auspicious tokens that welcomed and celebrated new life.  This diaper dates to the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and measures 22″ x 12″, 56 cm x 12.5 cm.

This anchor motif ties in to the subject of my next posting which will welcome the new year.  Stay tuned!


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Nothing Says Merry Christmas Like a Green and Red Meisen Kimono

December 23, 2009

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


This is a girl’s meisen silk kimono which dates to the early 20th century.  On the emerald green ground is shown a fanciful pattern of interlocking Genji-guruma or Genji wheels, a popular motif based on a Heian Period (794-1185) ox drawn carriage, a reference to the motif-rich and much alluded to 11th century novel by Murasaki Shikibu,  The Tale of Genji.


…and many thanks to all of you who are regular and intermittent visitors to this blog.  It’s really enjoyable writing these posts and please do stay tuned for more in 2010.

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An Explosion of Pakistani Ralli Quilts

December 21, 2009

A client stopped by to look at my collection of ralli quilts from Sindh, a region that straddles the Pakistan/India border.  I pulled out all the quilts so we could look at them, and they ended up in a big pile–and I thought this haphazard arrangement showed off their diverse colors and patterns really nicely.

These rallis all happen to be bedcovers, but using the same technique of piecing and quilting, the ladies of Sindh would also fashion bags, saddle blankets and other household items.

The photos shown on this post show the proper fronts of the rallis, which are always based on a kind of repeat-pattern geometric design using scraps of  cotton cloth as the medium.  Very often, however, the backs of rallis employ a more expressionistic and less formalized piecing of repurposed cloth— and the backs are generally more to my liking.

Notice the tremendous amount of piecing, applique work and hand stitching that make up each of these rallis.

This Wednesday, on my website, I’ll be offering one of these beauties for sale.  I selected to show a ralli with a beautifully composed “front” and a back that is stylistically very different from the formalized design of the front.


Stay tuned.

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Pipalbot Outpost Market–Elegant, Luxurious, Everyday Accessories from Nepal through Christmas Eve

December 19, 2009

Every day, until Christmas Eve, at a light-filled showroom in New York’s East Village, Shane Powers is showing his collection of gorgeous accessories for the home and to wear—most of them designed by him in Nepal, some others the designs of friends.  All of them exquisite.
Pipalbot Outpost Market is located at 604 East 11th Street and is open daily from 11 – 6 through 24 December and by appointment from       28-31 December.  718-594-2324 if you have questions.

Shane uses an alchemist’s magic to transform traditional Nepalese brass hand craft into stunning, modern, table accessories.

And of course there’s cashmere…and more.

It’s all one-of-a-kind and quantities are limited— and you won’t be able to walk away without finding something you didn’t know you couldn’t live without.

pipalbot outpost market

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A Beautifully Rustic Indigo Dyed Kasuri Futon Cover

December 17, 2009

My taste in kasuri, or Japanese ikat weaving, is quite narrow, and I tend not to collect many pieces.  I could not help myself when I found this piece, the subject of today’s posting.

I had seen this on a previous trip to Japan and was really intrigued by the rustic beauty of this very simple, resist dyed pattern.  I didn’t buy this piece when I first saw it, but when I returned six months later and saw it again, my mind was made up.

I absolutely love that the pattern is not regular, that the large, white blocks are not perfectly formed and that they have some “skids” of stray indigo dye within them.


I also love the pared-down design, and how it is not reaching to be complex or sophisticated in any way.  In its beautiful, “flawed” simplicity, the appeal of this kasuri futon cover is almost “tribal”, if you get what I mean.

I am not sure if this futon cover was dyed and woven in Kurume (on Kyushu Island) or in Iyo (Matsuyama City on Shikoko Island), however I think this piece probably comes from Kurume. Most definitely the cotton yarn is home spun and the piece is hand woven.  And it is spectacularly beautiful, to my eye, at least.


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A Bashofu Sleeve: Banana Fiber Cloth from Okinawa

December 14, 2009

Bashofu is the famous banana leaf fiber cloth that is almost immediately associated with the Okinawan Islands, which are now politically consolidated and comprise Japan’s southernmost prefecture.

This length of cloth is a sleeve from a dancer’s kimono: the base is of bashofu, and the decorative bars of color are woven from cotton: the blue is a kasuri or ikat dyed in Okinawan indigo and the orange/pink and white bars are undyed cotton and cotton dyed in benibana or safflower.  Cloth of this type comes from Taketomijima Island.


Okinawa’s impact on Japanese cloth is tremendous, with kasuri, or ikat weaving, being one of the more notable influences on Japan.  The Japanese, to this day, look toward the cloth of Okinawa—bashofu, bingata, hana ori, Miyako jofu—with profound interest and appreciation.

The simplicity and the beauty of this cloth does not need much description.

Bashofu1cBashofu is one of the more precious fibers in what is now present-day Japan.



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A Cascade of Korean Pojagi: Playing with Light

December 10, 2009

I have a fairly extensive and diverse collection of Korean pojagi or the hand stitched wrapping cloths that were sewn from scraps of ramie and hemp cloth in almost every household in old Korea.  I decided to hang a selection from the group in an arrangement that would filter light and also create a play of color and pattern.
I hung six pieces, the largest of which is the white, pink and orange chogakpo pojagi in the center: it measures 46″ x 43″ or 117 cm x 109 cm.


Each dates to the first half of the twentieth century, or thereabouts.  Chogakpo is a kind of pojagi that is made in the home for home use, to put it very simply.  Some pojagi were used by noblemen and women and were of luxurious, embroidered silks; these luxury items bear little resemblance to the humble pojagi shown here.

In general, seams are folded and sewn with whip stitches: the “black” piece shown in detail here is really a collage of extremely inky purple and very dark green colors.  In this pojagi, there are some cotton scraps mixed in with ramie pieces so in the right light there is a nice contrast of semi-opaque to semi-translucent.

The attraction to pojagi nowadays may be their uncanny resemblance to Modernist aesthetic, much like our fascination with Japanese boro textiles.  The pojagi shown here resemble early Mondrian paintings or maybe a Frank Lloyd Wright window.

Below you’ll see the backs of the pojagi.  The raking light shows off the seams very nicely.


Just beautiful, aren’t they?



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Subtle Beauty: Hand Spun Indigo Dyed Cotton with a Safflower Dyed Hemp Weft

December 7, 2009

It’s obvious that the best way to experience old cloth is to do so first-hand or “in person.”  Even though I am sharing information through photos on this blog,  I’ll try to do justice to the subtle beauty featured on this post—and I hope you can see in this cloth what I do.

Certainly this cloth is not flashy nor is it “important” in the grand scheme of things, but it’s one of the favorite pieces that I bought on one of my two trips to Japan this summer.

This is a length of cloth with an asagi, or light blue, indigo dyed cotton warp; the weft–very unusual–is of hemp that has been dyed in benibana or safflower.  The combination of indigo dyed cotton and safflower dyed hemp produces this gorgeous result, a piece of cloth that may have once been a kimono or bedding of some sort.

Until I found this cloth I hadn’t yet seen a similar example: the colors and textures in this simple length of hand weaving is, in my estimation, extremely rich—the colors almost shimmer with an opalescent beauty.BeniWeft1c
I love the way the roughly plied hemp–dyed that fantastic, salmon color–peers gently in and out of the chalky, pale blue of the cotton warp.  The selvedge, too, is really beautiful.

This cloth probably dates to the late nineteenth century or so, and it clearly was woven at home.  Sometimes small items like this are able to broadcast huge messages of the visual and cultural sort but in a very quiet voice.  It pays to listen.

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A Fully Intact Tsutsugaki Boro Futon Cover

December 4, 2009

Today I am showing a Meiji Era (1868-1912) boro tsutsugaki futon cover in its original state: most often we see boro textiles that have been removed from a larger piece such as the one highlighted here.   I thought showing this intact  futon cover would provide a nice context for better understanding boro textiles.
This futon cover would have been stuffed with some kind of fill and used as a comforter: in this case, the futonji was stuffed with cotton wadding (now removed), but rice straw and okuso were also used as padding for warmth.

A tsutsugaki yogi, or a kimono-shaped duvet, was re-fashioned to become the flat futon cover we see here: obviously the yogi’s original parts were disassembled and then re-stitched.  Patches, too, were used to cover holes or to reinforce areas that were worn thin from stress.  This re-working and re-stitching provides the wonderfully disjointed “modernist” image we see above: a family crest, peonies and a butterfly, the continuity of which is fractured by having been re-worked.

Above you’ll see that the futon cover was set into a mitered “frame” which was also made from re-assembled scraps of indigo dyed cotton.

Notice how the a patch bearing a similar motif to the original fabric was used to mend the central area: clearly the home maker who was mending this piece was attempting a kind of design continuity between the new cloth patch and the textile’s original base cloth.


Above and below, in more detail, you’ll see how the hole in the center of this tsutsugaki peony was mended in a way that creates a gentle visual transition between the original cloth and the applied patch.


Below see a full-on image of the back of the futon cover: the opening you see is a seam that was ripped to remove the cotton batting.


Now, look inside.  Here is where the real beauty of the boro can be seen: many more patches than are visible on the “public” side of this futon cover are sewn onto the side hidden from view.  It is a treasure trove of mending.

When pieces such as this come to the marketplace, very often they are taken apart, and it is the inside that is displayed.  The back side of boro textiles (above and below) very often show a profusion of patches and this is what is considered by some to be the most beautiful aspect of the cloth.

This futon cover is a treat to share and wonderful to own.

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