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Archives for August, 2010

An End of Summer Insect Menagerie

August 31, 2010

What fun.  This wonderful textile is a mid 19th century tenugui, a kind of all-purpose hand towel that has many everyday uses and is still very much part of Japanese life.

Tenugui are known for their fanciful designs, but this one, with is stencil resist design of insects, snails and frogs is remarkable.The cotton of this tenugui is hand loomed; the pale blue color–dyed from botanical indigo–is called asagi.In Japan, the insects depicted on this hand towel are very much associated with late summer.  Similarly, around the world, butterflies and dragonflies appear at summer’s end.I love the delicacy of the depiction of these insects……and the frog and slug.

This is a wildly charming tenugui–and it seems that it was never used.  The condition is crisp and perfect.

This tenugui measures 12 3/4″ x 37″ or 32.5 cm x 94 cm.

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A Sashiko Stitched Noragi with White-on-Blue Gussets

August 28, 2010

This sashiko stitched noragi is a work coat that is as subtle as it is beautiful.   Sewn from repurposed indigo dyed cotton, the entire coat is pierced with horizontal rows of stitching, too numerous to count.The beauty of this soulful coat is enhanced by a remarkable feature: small, white-on-blue stitched gussets, one under each sleeve, perfectly placed, with the white color doled out in just the right amount.  Kind of perfect, aren’t they?Have another look at this wonderful feature, below.And in considering these stitched gussets, let’s not overlook the beautiful tone-on-tone fabric collage that is the back of this jacket.   Just extraordinary.The coat dates to the first half of the twentieth century and its condition is fine–it is still very wearable and durable, as many of these old coats are.

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A Stunning Sakiori Hanten with Recycled Sashiko Sleeves

August 25, 2010

What a beautiful coat: this is a sakiori hanten, a work coat that is woven from a white cotton warp which is fed by weft yarns of shredded, recycled indigo dyed cotton.   The sashiko stitched sleeves seem to be sewn from a recycled sashiko furoshiki; the reinforcement on the neck area is meant to guard against wear, presumably from the strap of a burden basket.

The weaving of the body of the coat is tight and regular; a sakiori garment woven from indigo dyed weft is desirable. The sashiko stitching on the neck reinforcement is just wonderful: the tight stitching gives added strength that area of the coat, and zigzag pattern is the traditional yabane or arrow feather motif.The interlocking circle motif, again, beautifully stitched on the sleeves, is a traditional Japanese motif which is borrowed from the Chinese.  In Japan it is called shippo tsunagi and it is a representation of the “seven Buddhist jewels” mentioned in Buddhist sutras: agate, amber, coral, gold, lapis lazuli, pearl and silver.I find this coat to be phenomenally handsome.  It’s very lightly used and most likely it dates to the mid-twentieth century.  Traditional work coats were still being hand woven and hand sewn well into the twentieth century in rural Japan.

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A Curious 19th Century Indigo Dyed Jacket: Insects and Radiating Lines

August 21, 2010

What a fanciful garment: this is an indigo dyed cotton han juban which is a woman’s half-under-kimono, that has been dyed in using the stencil resist method called katazome.
By fanciful, I mean the pattern on the han juban, not the garment itself.   It’s wonderful to see the repeat pattern of what appears to be bumblebees amid a network of angled, radiating, dotted lines.  This linear pattern evokes a spiderweb, which I think this is not.
The cotton of this piece is just what you’d want to see on an old, Japanese textile: hand spun cotton that has been hand loomed.  The condition of this piece, too, is very good, with the indigo still very strong and clear, and devoid of stains or distracting patina.  This han juban was made in the mid to late 19th century.A repeat pattern of insects, such as this, is not usually seen on old textiles, so this is a treat to contemplate.

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A Gorgeous and Intricately Sashiko Stitched Kotatsugake

August 18, 2010

Every time I look at this wonderfully sashiko stitched, cotton kotatsugake, I am amazed by its complex beauty.  This fantastic, layered cotton square was presumably used to cover the kotatsu, a kind of brazier-heated table that was ubiquitous in old Japan–and which is still used now, however the heating element is electric. Notice that the stitched design is based on alternating blocks of  sashiko patterns: small cross-stitches and a stylized persimmon flower design, both which are commonly used sashiko designs.  The effect is subtle.

Aside from the wonderful idea of separating two designs and depicting each in staggered blocks, seeing these designs overlayed on the base cloth of hand woven, wide-striped, indigo dyed cotton is fantastic.  This layered effect adds to the overall design complexity, as well as to our visual enjoyment.I’d say this sashiko stitched textile dates to the second quarter of the 20th century or so.It measures 52″ x 48″ or 132 cm x 122 cm.

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A Small, Sashiko Stitched Coat

August 14, 2010

This is a wonderful-looking, small, very sashiko stitched, indigo dyed cotton coat, dating to the mid-twentieth century or so.  It most likely was intended to be worn by a child.The area of  stitched decoration on the coat is in equal proportion on top and bottom: the top half is a densely stitched field of small, cross shapes, while the bottom is a more open, lattice pattern.The lining is of a beautiful, asagi, or sky blue, indigo dyed cotton.The coat measures 30″ or 76 cm from hem to shoulder and 30″ or 76 cm from sleeve tip to sleeve tip.  If this is a child’s coat, as I believe it to be, it would have been a long coat used at local, town celebrations.

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A Large, Pieced Cotton Futon Cover

August 11, 2010

This a marvelously sedate–but very variegated–piece-constructed cotton futon cover.  Each of the cotton fragments that comprise this piece  measures about 3 1/2″ x 13″ or 9 cm x 33 cm and the overall size is 69″ x 66″ or 175 cm x 167.5  cm.

If you notice some light colored edges along some of the horizontal pieces, this is something interesting: these pieces were taken from the end of a bolt of kimono cotton; the entirety of this futon cover was pieced from fairly lightweight,  recycled kimono cottons.This futon cover is completely hand-stitched and was probably made around the first quarter of the 20th century.I think this embodies a masculine kind of beauty and is just stunning overall.

The cloth which sits under this futon cover is shown on my website, here.

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A Rare and Unusual Indigo Dyed Cotton Kyokechi Boro Mat

August 8, 2010

This layered and tattered indigo dyed mat–possibly a sleeping mat for a child–is constructed entirely from a fairly rare and impressive old Japanese cloth.  It is very unusual to find a boro piece made entirely of this cloth, which is clamp resist dyed in a process called itajime or kyokechi.

The cotton used is a kind of twill structure cotton which has been clamp resist dyed.   Rare to find are garments, such as jackets, made of this indigo dyed cloth: this is the first time I’ve seen so much of this type of cotton recycled and used in this fashion.Kyokechi or itajime is a laborious and ingenious dyeing process using hand carved wood boards: cloth is clamped under great pressure between the carved boards, so the parts of cloth that are highly pressurized resist dye.  To achieve the designs shown on the boro piece shown here, an artisan hand carved the surface of a wood block with a particular design.  Then another block, in mirror image to the original had to be carved and they would be set face-to-face.Cloth would be slipped between the two carved blocks, the raised areas of the carving would clamp down on the cloth and would resist dye: a length of cloth would be fed through a  high stack of many identically carved blocks, the entire tower of blocks would be clamped, and this big,  bundle of cloth under pressure from layers of carved blocks would be lowered into a dye vat.  The patterns you see on the cloth on the post here are the result of the cloth being under so much pressure that the dye did not penetrate those clamped portions of cloth.  Of course, before the cloth was clamp dyed, it was first dyed a pale blue, which is the base color of the cloth.The dark, horizontal bands seen on the cloth in the photos posted here represents the area of cloth between two boards which was not under pressure and was fully exposed to the indigo dye bath.This mat is tattered in places, but it is still so amazing in that it is fully made of itajime cloth: even on old, boro futon covers, it’s rare to find even a scrap of this kind of cloth used as a patch: this kind of cotton was not produced in great quantity, so examples of it are not readily available.The cotton of this piece dates to the mid 19th century or so.

This piece measures 42″ x 27″ or 106.5 cm x 68.5 cm

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Have You Ever Looked into the Eyes of a Butterfly?

August 5, 2010

Few have, but thanks to Japanese folk textiles, we are all given this rare opportunity.Some time ago, when looking at a large depiction of a butterfly on a tsutsugaki futon cover, I discovered that Japanese textile artisans sometimes show the butterfly up-close and head on: you can literally lock eyes with the beauty, as you can do here, on this four-panel furoshiki, or traditional wrapping cloth.Very unusual–especially since the face of a butterfly lacks the elegance of its wings, which is the reason the Japanese admire the butterfly, for its delicacy and its ethereal elegance.

This is a  marvelous, 19th century cotton furoshiki: it is dyed in the tsutsugaki method whereby rice paste is applied freehand directly to cloth; where there is rice paste, dye will be resisted.  The furoshiki was first dyed in indigo then it was overdyed using a yellow dyestuff, yielding a rich, mossy green color.  Said butterfly is at the center of the design; it is surrounded by a traditional “snowflake” form and the remaining ground around the central design is decorated by free-form, very animated pairs of pine needles.The cotton yarn is hand spun and the cloth is hand woven.  This piece is rich in ito aji or “thread taste,” which is something one should always look for when acquiring old, Japanese folk cotton.  There is nothing more beautiful than wonderfully hand spun cotton cloth.The depiction of pine needles is wonderfully spirited.  The Japanese often associate pine needles with conjugal fidelity since the pine is a symbol of long life and pine needles fall in pairs.The furoshiki measures 55″ x 52″ or 140 cm x 132 cm.  It’s fantastic.

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A Long Boro Noragi: Sankuzushi Cloth

August 2, 2010

As boro noragi, or patched and mended work coats go, this one is as handsome as they get.  The patches are beautifully placed; there is just the right amount of uncontrolled eccentricity in their arrangement and stitching.

However, for me, what makes this coat special is the base cloth, an indigo dyed cotton whose woven pattern is referred to in Japan as sankuzushi.In the photo above, and the two below, I’ve focused in on some of the stitched details, since they are so marvelous.  In the last photo, at the bottom of this post, I’ve zeroed in on the sankuzushi cloth, so you can have a better look at it.
In the photo below you will see the woven pattern that is one of my favorites: sometimes in Japan sankuzushi is called ajiro or “split bamboo mat.”   In any case, this kind of pattern was popular in 19th century Japan.  Its popularity probably had to do with its intricacy and its small pattern–keep in mind that throughout Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868) sumptuary laws were levied on the general population, controlling, among other things, the kind of cloth one could wear.  Most Japanese were required to wear subtle clothing in somber colors. Another element that may have made this cloth attractive was its exotic origins.  My understanding is that this kind of cloth was first woven as export cloth in India and was subsequently copied in China.  Ultimately, the Japanese starting weaving their own version of this woven-looking cloth although it is still possible to find Indian and Chinese examples in Japan.

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