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A Rare and Unusual Indigo Dyed Cotton Kyokechi Boro Mat

Written on 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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3 Comments

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  1. Comment by india Flint:

    it’s exquisite…suspect the maker thought very highly of the small person for whom it was originally intended
    putting their most precious pieces into the work?

    August 8, 2010 @ 9:02 pm

  2. Comment by velma bolyard:

    in the second and fifth photos you can glimpse the inside of the cloth which is clearer, so beautiful to see the brighter pattern as well as the worn. very fine.

    August 9, 2010 @ 4:51 pm

  3. Comment by The Muse of The Day:

    I am in awe at it’s beauty.

    August 9, 2010 @ 9:07 pm