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Three Lengths of Okinawan Bashofu: Woven Banana Leaf Fiber

Written on July 9, 2010

Bashofu, or cloth woven from the fibers obtained from the leaves of the “thread banana” plant (ito basho) is synonymous with the Okinawan Islands (Ryukyu Islands), where it was produced for at least 500 years.From the essay, “Bashofu, The Mingei Movement, and the Creation of a New Okinawa” by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum published in the exhibition catalog “Material Choices: Refashioning Bast and Leaf Fibers in Asia and the Pacific“:

“The first written evidence of bashofu in the Ryukyu Islands appears in an eyewitness account, dated 1546, reported by Pak Son and eleven other shipwrecked Koreans from Cheju Island.  Reaching Ryukyu in 1542, they returned to Korean four years later.  Their report includes descriptions of clothing, agriculture, and the cultivation of banana plants for making cloth:The larger trees are the size of a house pillar.  These are harvested, and the outermost skin stripped off. The sheaths inside are sorted into three grades.  The fineness or coarseness of the finished cloth depends on whether the fiber is taken from the outer or inner layers.  The innermost layer yields the thinnest and most lustrous fiber, and the color is as pure as snow.  It is incomparable.  Women’s clothing of high quality is made from this. (ikeya et al. 2005, 1:121)”Bashofu is still very much appreciated all over the globe for its beauty and its depth of character.  It is one of Japan’s most precious and esteemed textiles–it is difficult to convey the high admiration the Japanese hold for bashofu.  Rare and  historical examples are often prohibitively expensive–should they be brought to market–which is rare.

These three lengths were taken from everyday kimonos: the fragment on the left is a very small warp ikat, the center piece is a cotton/banana combination and the example on the far right is a plain, striped bashofu length.  I find them exceptionally beautiful.

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  1. Comment by pam:

    Beautiful indeed. Thank you for the photos & mini-lesson. I am so grateful that you share your wide ranging knowledge & astonishing collection.

    July 10, 2010 @ 9:02 am

  2. Comment by velma bolyard:

    yes, these are lovely fabrics.

    July 15, 2010 @ 10:28 pm