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

Written on 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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2 Comments

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  1. Comment by Velma:

    this one is just lovely. plain weave is my favorite, and this “plain” cloth is certainly simple and profound. lovely.

    December 8, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

  2. Comment by caro:

    This is so beautiful! I love this kind of weave. The contrast of the warp and weft produce such subtlety and drama at the same time. Your photos almost always make me want to hold the object, and it’s certainly true with this wondrous small piece.

    December 8, 2009 @ 10:26 pm