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Archives for November, 2010

A Stunningly Artful Mid-Century Boro Textile

November 28, 2010

What a beautifully layered, patched and arranged boro textile, and one that shows fabrics from nineteenth century hand woven indigo cottons to mid twentieth century, commercially produced textiles.The way the patches are crowded toward the left half  of the piece–and the sheer variety of textures, colors and stitching to be found–is so engaging to look at.Some boro connoisseurs can be purists and will only consider boro textiles that are made entirely of hand spun, hand woven, indigo dyed cloth, much like this one shown here. I know of one Japanese textile dealer who only collects boro cloth of pure, old blue cotton and hemp: he will not collect boros that are constructed of striped or patterned cloth, even if they are nineteenth century.I bring this up for some perspective: the person I just mentioned, above, would not have a high regard for this piece because it shows so many commercially produced fabrics.  I understand his purity of vision, and I agree with him that the more “valuable” boros are sewn from very old cloth, but I can certainly appreciate this piece for its artftulness–and also because this kind of textile is indeed very authentic to old Japan, even if it was made in the 1930s or 40s.   People made and used this kind of cloth for themselves well into the twentieth century.

Note the patch of faux kanoko shibori or fawn dappled shibori, above.Even though my “purist” colleague has narrow parameters for collecting boro, I have to admit that I really like the way the woven cotton damask patch, seen above, works as a foil to the other patches that surround it.  This piece was either a kotatsugake or a futon cover.  A kotatsugake is a thickly woven or patched textile that is used to retain heat from a central heating brazier called a kotatsu; a table is set up over the brazier and thick cloth is draped over it.  Family members would have sat around the brazier, with their laps under the draped fabric, and in this way, they would have been kept warm.This piece measures 59″ x 50″ or 150 cm x 127 cm.

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A Set of Five Wooden Tabi Forms

November 23, 2010

Today I am showing a group of five carved, wooden forms used in the making of tabi, or Japan’s traditional split-toe “socks.”These forms are arranged in graded sizes, from small to large, and as folk art, they are really charming.The surface of these lasts is beautifully burnished from use, and the deep color is most likely from oxidation as well as from years of  handling.

Most likely these tabi forms date to the early twentieth century, perhaps earlier.

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A Large, Nine Panel Boro Hemp Kaya

November 20, 2010

Kaya, or mosquito netting, was a staple of life in old Japan: Japan’s hot, humid summers are a breeding ground for mosquitoes, so tents of woven hemp were a de rigueur fixture, even in humble or poor homes, all across Japan.

This fabulous, large, old, very repaired, boro, nine panel, loosely woven, hemp kaya is overdyed: it was first dipped in indigo, then dipped again in a yellow dye.  Like the post below this one, this kaya is from the Tohoku region, or rural northeast of Japan.The kaya would have originally been hung with the seams running vertically, not as shown.  This is a fragment from a large tent which would have been placed over a futon–or futons–for protection against pesky mosquitoes.The patching is fantastic.

Below is a historical woodblock print of a woman of means reclining on her futon, enclosed within a tent of kaya. Of course, the kaya shown in this post was not used in an upper class home such as pictured below, but it was used in exactly the same way as can be seen in the print shown here.Note the construction of the tent: the seams joining the sides and the top are sewn with cotton fabric, for strength and durability.

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A Wood and Bamboo Spinning Wheel and a Shibori Futon Cover

November 17, 2010

Today I am showing two items from Tohoku, or the rural north east region of Japan: a spinning wheel used to spin nettle yarn and a shikon (gromwell root) dyed futon cover.The spinning wheel is from what is now the city of Hanamaki in Iwate Prefecture; the beautiful, muted and warm shibori dyed cotton futon cover could be from Akita, or Iwate Prefectures as shikon dyeing was practiced in this region.

The spinning wheel still turns very gracefully and with great ease; it is an extremely delicate contraption that no doubt worked hard in its lifetime.  The futon cover is resist dyed using a stitched form of shibori and the pattern is that of a fishing net.  It is remarkably regular in its design and execution: very impressive.This five panel futon cover is truly an eye dazzler, and those of you who know about Japanese natural dyeing know how rare it is to find good examples of shikon dyeing.  The color is rich and subtle: it is a very warm purple, at times it seems infused with red, other times it seems to have a bluish cast.  As well, the kumo, or spiderweb forms inside each “net” shape are amazingly regular in size and intensity.  I’m loving this futon cover right now, and I have it hanging so it can catch my eye from wherever I happen to be standing.

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Two Beautiful Itajime Dyed Han Juban: Hemp Leaf and Cherry Blossoms

November 14, 2010

On my previous post, situated just below this one, I showed hand carved wooden boards used in the kyokechi or itajime dyeing process.  Have a quick look at the previous post to learn a bit about this process which uses carving and pressure as an agent for resist in the dyeing process.

The same kind of boards shown below, and the same process described in the previous post, were used to dye these two cotton han juban or half under kimonos which date to the late nineteenth, early twentieth century. The pattern shown above and below may already be familiar to you as it is a very popular, traditional Japanese design motif: it is the asa no ha or hemp leaf pattern.  If you notice the red horizontal lines within the repeat pattern, this will show the limit of width of the single, carved board and this is where the design repeat occurs.

And of course, sakura, or the beloved cherry blossom motif.  Again, notice the bars of red which show the repeat.

Most likely these two han juban are not dyed in botanical dyes.  The cotton is hand woven, and the garment is hand sewn.  Still, I find each of these graphically beautiful and very stimulating to the eye–and terrifically bold examples of kyokechi dyeing.

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A Rare Glimpse at Hand Carved Itajime Dyeing Boards

November 11, 2010

The antique, hand carved boards used in the itajime or kyokechi dyeing process have become increasingly difficult to find, which is why I call this posting a “rare glimpse.”
On this blog, in the past, I’ve shown textiles that have been dyed using these boards, but I’ve not yet had the opportunity to show the boards themselves.Kyokechi or itajime is a laborious and ingenious dyeing process using these hand carved wooden boards: cloth is clamped under great pressure between the boards, so the parts of cloth that are highly pressurized resist dye.   Sometimes boards are carved and fitted with drilled holes which let dye in in very specific areas (the boards shown above), or, in other cases, boards are carved in relief and in sets of mirror-image.  These relief carved boards would be clamped face-to-face and the raised areas would meet when clamped, and would resist dye (the boards shown below).

In these detail photos, above and below, you can see the holes which are intended to allow the flow of dye.  The pattern on the top photo is of wooden box measures, or masu, while below is shown cranes amid wisteria.On the relief block, below, we see roundels of cherry blossoms and masu.Below we see cherry blossoms and maple leaves that are host to hemp leaf and tortoise shell motives.The backs of the boards are shown below.

The network of holes on the back of the two examples of kyokechi boards is very interesting, and to the taste of some, moreso than the carvings on the front.This kind of clamp resist dyeing has a long history, and it was introduced to Japan from China. probably around the early 8th century.

Historical examples of both early Japanese and Tang Dynasty itajime cloth are carefully preserved at Japan’s Shosoin, the treasure house of Nara’s Todai-ji, where some of Japan’s most important cultural property resides.

Each board measures approximately 9″ x 18″ or 23 cm x 45.5 cm and dates from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century.

These boards come from the store house of a family of  itajime dyers in Kyoto.

In my next posting I will be showing two garments dyed using the kyokechi process.  Stay tuned.

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A Faded, Abraded and Beautifully Colored Layered Ralli

November 8, 2010

Today I am showing a magnificently worn, off-square, stitched and appliqued cotton ralli which was made in the Sindh region of Pakistan. A ralli is a quilted textile made from layers of discarded cloth; rallis are sewn into various sizes for various purposes.  This piece measures 29″ x 29″ or 73.5 cm x 73.5 cm and was most likely used as a seating cushion of sorts.The name ralli is derived from the local Sindhi word ralanna which means to mix or to connect. Rallis can be used as dowry items as well as symbol of a family’s wealth.This ralli is magnificently destroyed by wear; the layers of this quilted cloth are all exposed by years of abrasion and use, so colors that were once hidden are now revealed through the action of usage and wear.

The strong diagonal composition of this ralli is dynamic–and unusual.  The soft colors are just gorgeous.

Those of you familiar with the Japanese resist dye technique, shibori, will see similarities between the areas of abrasion on this ralli, below, and the shibori technique called mokumeMokume shibori is achieved by sewing a running stitch, bundling and pulling tight the stitched cloth and dyeing it, the result being a motif that suggests wood grain.

This strange and wonderful ralli most likely dates to the middle of the twentieth century.

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An Edo Period Painted Paper Carpet

November 4, 2010

Today I am showing something which I consider beautiful, although I am not going to speak much about it.The reason that I am not narrating the photos I’ve posted here is that I don’t have a lot of information on this stenciled, paper carpet which dates from the late Edo Period (1603-1868). My understanding is that this type of painted rug was used by Japan’s elite for purposes related the tea ceremony.Since my interest is Japanese folk textiles, this carpet–which was used by people of means for a rarefied purpose–falls outside the category of strictly utilitarian textiles and therefore I don’t know much about it.  Still, I was highly intrigued by this piece which is made of two sheets of thick paper, inside which is a “padding” of what appears to be okuso or the refuse collected from the hemp yarn making process.

Certainly the design which has been stenciled onto the carpet is not Japanese in origin: it smacks of Central Asian tribal carpets or of Persian rugs, and, in the context of Edo Period Japan, this kind of design was meant to be an allusion to the exotic, or to something of foreign origin.I love the wear patterns on the piece; the rug is decorated on both sides, as can be seen in the photos below.The carpet measures 40 1/2″ x 25 1/2″ or 103 cm x 63.5 cm.

And of course if anyone knows more about these kind of paper carpets, and if you’d like to share your knowledge, please do.

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