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Archives for February, 2010

Twined Paper Cord

February 26, 2010

Picking up on the previous post, below this one, which showed recycled, braided back pads or seate, I decided to show another kind of twining—this one done with paper recycled from ledger books and twisted into long cords to use as string.

PaperTwine1Shown is a long section of recycled paper twine cradled by an antique Korean grain measure.PaperTwine1aIf you look closely, you can see blips of black and grey in the paper cord: this, of course, is the charcoal-based ink calligraphy on the repuporsed mulberry paper.PaperTwine1bBecause the fibers of paper mulberry (kozo in Japanese) are so long, the paper made from this plant is almost like unwoven cloth: it is extremely pliable, unlike the cellulose paper we use every day.PaperTwine1cI believe this paper cord was made sometime mid-to-late last century.

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Two Braided and Woven Rustic Rag Back Pads

February 23, 2010

Today I am showing two rustic seate, a seate being  a kind of protective back pad used for carrying burden.

Seate1These two seate are a mid-twentieth century types; each is made of shredded cotton cloth that has been braided, twined and woven along with some hemp fibers.  Other seate–ones that pre-date these as well as ones that are contemporary to these shown here–are woven of rush, bast fibers or rice straw.   I posted an earlier entry on similar pieces with these two shown here visible in the photos, but they are not featured.   Have a look here.

Seate1aThe “festive” look of these fringed, brightly colored objects is a strange, visual irony when you consider that these pieces were used in heavy labor, on an ongoing basis.Seate1b

Seate1cIt seems that most of the rags used to weave these seate are commercially produced cottons: by the mid twentieth century when these seate were woven, mass produced cotton fabrics were ubiquitous in Japan.Seate1d


Seate1fNote the presence of some hemp twine in the construction of these seate.Seate1gI find this pair fascinating, compelling and really beautiful.

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Two Slivers of Okinawan Bingata

February 20, 2010

Shown today are two small fragments of bingata dyed fabric, the precious stencil dyed cloth of the Ryukyu Islands or Okinawa.  Few other types of cloth are as prized in Japan as is bingata

Bingata1It is the beauty of bingata that is attractive to the Japanese and to others, but it’s also the complex stencil resist and dyeing techniques that add value to this cloth–as well as a sense of wonder.  This cloth is resisted and dyed on both sides, with additional color being added by hand: the process of the stencil resisting and the process of how and when color is added to the cloth is far too complicated to go into in this post: suffice it to say that the elevated status of bingata in the pantheon of resist dyed cloth is more than well deserved.Bingata1aThe piece shown on the left, above and below, is dyed on ramie cloth; the yellow piece to its right is dyed on cotton.  The delicacy and colors of these patterns, and the light touch of the dyers, is really impressive.   One of Japan’s most famous modern graphic artists, Keisuke Serizawa (1895- 1984). the subject of a previous post on this blog, was so profoundly inspired by bingata dyeing that his entire artistic career was colored by the amazing technique and appearance of this extravagant cloth from Okinawa.Bingata1bThese fragments most likely date to the last quarter of the 19th century.

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A 19th Century, Recycled and Laminated Paper “Thing”

February 18, 2010

The past holds many mysteries, and this is especially true in trying to understand the function of certain objects that have survived many eras, from an old one to the current one.  This is the case with these laminated paper, large, “slings” shown here today.

PaperThing1Old Japan is not so different than any culture where time has marched on and has left obsolete objects in its wake.  On today’s posting are three fairly large (64″ x 30″/1.6 m x 76 cm ) items that are made of recycled sheets of paper which have been layered and laminated until they have attained the weight of cardboard.  To each is stitched four tabs, two on each short end.  What was the purpose of these?  We’re not sure, but we like the sgraffito, the layers and the texture on each.PaperThing1aMy Japanese source for these items has a long, rich history dealing in folk art; he surmises that these paper objects may have been used in a cottage industry silk manufacture, either for storing materials related to cocoons–or perhaps they acted as some kind of insulation.  Their tabbed ends certainly show that these things were suspended.PaperThing1bThe “drawing” on these papers–the result of laying out pages from recycled books–is evocative of many things: ancient city planning, circuitry–skyscrapers.  Beautiful to look at and to dream upon.PaperThing1c





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A Tsutsugaki Rabbit, Waves and Moonlight

February 15, 2010

Collectors of tsutsugaki textiles generally consider the rabbit to be one of the most desirable images to acquire.  The rabbit motif is rich in meaning and allusion, and, aside from being adorable when rendered well by a tsutsugaki artisan, it also references a great deal of  ancient Japanese lore.
BunnyBlog1The white rabbit has numerous auspicious and quasi-religious associations in Japanese tradition.  It was thought to embody the spirit of the moon and in some early texts from the Heian Period (794-1185) the rabbit fit into myths with the tortoise and crane, and symbolized long life.

The Japanese look at the moon, and even today, the folklore is to see a rabbit pounding mochi, using a mortar and pestle, making glutenous rice.  We in the West see a “man in the moon.”BunnyBlog1aThere is another myth concerning the rabbit and the ocean, that is very dramatic and complex and of which are several variations.BunnyBlog1cThe story, is eloquently and succintly told at the website, Myth Encyclopedia, and is captioned from that site, below:

“The Izumo Cycle. The Izumo Cycle of myths features the god Ôkuninushi, a descendant of Susano-ô. One of the most famous stories is about Ôkuninushi and the White Rabbit.

According to this tale, Ôkuninushi had 80 brothers, each of whom wanted to marry the same beautiful princess. On a journey to see the princess, the brothers came upon a rabbit with no fur in great pain at the side of the road. They told the animal that it could get its fur back by bathing in saltwater, but this only made the pain worse. A little while later, Ôkuninushi arrived and saw the suffering rabbit. When he asked what had happened, the rabbit told him how it had lost its fur.

According to Japanese myth, the goddess Amaterasu established the imperial family of Japan. She began by sending her grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto, to live on earth. Before Ninigi left heaven, the goddess gave him the mirror that drew her from the cave, as well as jewels and a sword belonging to the god Susano-ô. When Ninigi arrived on earth, he was accepted as the ruler of Japan, and the gifts he brought from Amaterasu became treasures of the imperial family. Ninigi married the goddess of Mount Fuji, who bore him three sons. One of the sons was the father of Jimmu Tenno, the first historical emperor of Japan. By tradition, the Japanese imperial family traces its ancestry to Jimmu Tenno.

One day while traveling between two islands, the rabbit persuaded some crocodiles to form a bridge so it could cross the water. In return the rabbit promised to count the crocodiles to see whether they were more numerous than the creatures of the sea. As the rabbit neared the far shore, the crocodiles realized that the promise was only a trick to get the rabbit across the water. Furious, the last crocodile seized the rabbit and tore off its skin.

After hearing this story, Ôkuninushi told the rabbit to bathe in clear water and then roll in some grass pollen on the ground. The rabbit followed this plan, and new white fur soon grew on its body. The rabbit, who was actually a god, rewarded Ôkuninushi by promising that he would marry the beautiful princess. Ôkuninushi’s success angered his brothers, and a number of other myths in the Izumo Cycle tell about the struggles between them.”

BunnyBlog1dThis beautiful indigo dyed cotton tstutsugaki panel is shown here in part: not shown is its upper half on which is rendered a resist dyed famly crest, the subject being stylized  folding fans.  The entire piece measures 83″ x 13″/211 cm x 33 cm and it dates to the late 19th century.  This is a panel from a futon cover; the futon cover was reconfigured from a yogi, or sleeping kimono.

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A Proud and Elegant Tsutsugaki Boro Futon Cover: Pauwlonia and Chrystanemums

February 12, 2010

Shown today is a faded, patched and elegant indigo dyed cotton boro futon cover which most likely was originally made in the late 19th century.  This beauty has been reassembled from a sleeping yogi–a kimono shaped duvet– and has had a long life keeping people warm at night.

tsutsu1The large, encircled flower motif is a kamon or a family crest, and it shows a stylized paulownia flower.  Paulownia, or kiri, is the only terrestrial object that the legendary Chinese and Japanese phoenix will alight upon, and the phoenix will drink dew from the petals of this flower–according to legend, of course.  This kamon, and the other flower motives shown on this repurposed yogi, were applied using a the tsutsugaki method of freehand paste resist dyeing.

The tea cup sitting on the antique Korean stool in the photo above is the work of Hanako Nakazato, of the famous Karatsu, Japan dynasty of potters.  Her work is simply gorgeous and you can find it at Sara, in NYC.tsutsu1aThe fading of the blue from its original deep, rich tones  to this palette of  powdery hues is just beautiful.  The bottom of this futon cover shows a dance of stylized, hand drawn chrysanthemums and paulownia flowers.  What a magnificently artful arrangement of forms the tsutsugaki artist rendered on this yogi.tsutsu1b


tsutsu1dThe fading and the repairs add character to this piece–as do the dark blue, cotton patches that are collaged on the surface.tsutsu1e

tsutsu1fThe hand spun cotton threads add an intrinsic integrity to this piece, and they also enrich the surface of  this old and rustic Japanese country textile.tsutsu1g

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An Exceedingly Sashiko Stitched Kotatsu Cover

February 10, 2010

There is such a density of small, evenly spaced sashiko stitches on this kotatsu cover that this old Japanese textile appears to be obscured by a thin veil of mist.

BlogSashiKo1This large (approximately 5 1/2′ x 5′ or 1.5 m x 1.7 m) cloth is sewn from layers of indigo dyed cotton and was used to cover a table-like armature that was placed over a brazier: in old Japan, a family would gather around the brazier and they would tuck themselves under this cover to keep warm.BlogSashiKo1aLooking at this stunning cloth we are reminded of Minimal Art from the 70s: imagine giving Agnes Martin a needle and thread.  I think this is pretty much what would have been produced.BlogSashiKo1bThe surface of this kotatsu cover has an almost silver-like sheen from the field of small, white cotton stitches: it may not be so ironic that I decided to post images of this cloth on the very day that New York–and so much of the Eastern seaboard of the United States–was hit with a blizzard and buried in snow.  When I looked out my window today, the scene outside was not so different than the photos above, and below.BlogSashiKo1cOn the first two photos, above, I love the subtle, dark mark dead-center on this cloth: the discoloration from prolonged exposure to the brazier still retains its heat.  Well, on the suggestive level, at least. BlogSashiKo1d

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Fiber from Vines: The Beauty of Grape and Wisteria

February 8, 2010

In rural, old Japan fibers used for clothing and utilitarian items were found in nature: some were cultivated like ramie and hemp, and some were foraged for in the wild, like linden (shina), wisteria (fuji) and kudzu (kuzu).  Today I’m showing a basket woven from wild grape (budo) vine bark along with some yarns which were obtained from the mountain wisteria.
Fuji1The basket, which is woven from the inner bark of a wild grape vine, was said to be used to forage for mushrooms, but it most likely was also used for gathering other kinds of material in the forest, such as nuts or vegetables.  Likely it dates to the mid-twentieth century.  A carrying cord was once attached to the lug handles, and the basket was either carried at the wearer’s side, or strapped to his or her back.
Fuji1aFuji, or wisteria, is one of the rarest and most precious of the fibers used in old Japan.  Shown below is raw wisteria fiber which was cultivated and processed  in late 20th century in Tango, Kyoto Prefecture, where some fuji preservation work is ongoing.
Fuji1bI am showing several close-ups of the fuji yarn in order for you to imagine its texture and color.
Fuji1cOld garments woven from fuji are very hard to find.  They are extremely prized if you do find them, and, moreover, they command top price should you be lucky enough to find (or afford) a garment woven of wisteria.
Fuji1dThese photos may seem to indicate that wisteria feels dry, like raffia or straw, but in actual fact, the fibers feel quite silky and pliant.

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Better with Age

February 5, 2010

It seems with folk art–or with certain old textiles–it’s not just its age that burnishes the piece with a rich luster, it’s also the wear to the piece by its former owners or its maker that lends it character.  It’s this warmth from human contact that endows a piece its soulfulness.SquareRalliBlog1Today I am showing a piece that exemplifies this idea.  It’s a Pakistani ralli, it measures 27″ x 26″/ 68.5 cm x 66 cm, it most likely dates to mid-last-century, and it’s probably a sitting mat.  It is stitched together from old, cotton cloth which has been layered and secured with many tight rows of running stitches.  The face of the cloth, seen in the fifth photo below, shows applique and some fancy embroidery work.SquareRalliBlog1aFor me, the beauty of this piece is in its abrasion and fading,  both qualities working in concert and leaving behind some kind of  strange and beautiful delicacy.SquareRalliBlog1cYears and years of soft and steady wear have created a kind of translucency to these layers that is inimitable.SquareRalliBlog1d



SquareRalliBlog1gNotice how the fancy embroidery stitches remain very much intact as the cloth around them has sloughed off over time.  It’s almost like we are seeing soft, geometric fossils.SquareRalliBlog1h

SquareRalliBlog1iThe color palette we see here today was never meant to be seen: how could the maker know that in fifty years time the cloth would reveal its layers in a tight spectrum of pale hues?  What we see today is not what she saw when she stitched and composed this ralli.SquareRalliBlog1k

SquareRalliBlog1lI can’t imagine that this piece looked better when it was new.  I am sure that the many hands that touched this piece and the flow of decades that have nourished it have elevated this piece from a simple sitting mat to a textile eloquent in subtlety and resonant with new beauty.SquareRalliBlog1m

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A Group of Images: Color, Texture, Indigo, Cloth

February 3, 2010

Today I’m posting a suite of images that was shot by the wonderful photographer, Lyn Hughes. No words, just images.







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