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Archives for May, 2011

Genki Tenugui: A Message from Tokyo

May 27, 2011

Even though news reports of the Fukushima nuclear power plant are not on the  front page days, the problems for the Japanese people have not abated, and the overall mood in Japan is tense.  Still.   Amy Katoh, the author of many fine books on Japan and Japanese culture, has transformed the window of her famous Tokyo shop, Blue & White:  Amy has posted messages of fortitude in her window, and has created a tenugui bearing the same words, shown here.Here’s what Blue & White has to say about this tenugui:

On March 11, when the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated Tohoku, Sayoko Hayasawa started brushing words of encouragement and hung them in the window of Blue & White to comfort passersby and give them courage.  People smiled and even cried when they saw the messages and drew so much strength from them that we decided to dye our Genki tenugui to help people get through the shock of the multiple disasters.

Itsumo Isshouni: Always Together
Kibou: Hope
Te wo tsunagou: Let’s Join Hands
Yuuki: Courage
Makeruna: Don’t Give Up
Minna no chikara: The Power of Everyone
Genki: Energy
Gambarou: Let’s Go Forward
Daijobu: It is alright

Japan still needs help.  Please consider giving a small amount to the Japanese Red Cross Society.

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A Shibori Juban: Hand Spun Cotton and Botanical Indigo

May 24, 2011

With the weeks of rain we’ve been experiencing this spring here in New York, I had to show a shibori juban that’s all about rain, birds and a spring-like feeling.
A juban is a garment worn under a kimono; in the past they were often piece-constructed from “flashy” or contrasting textiles, many of which were “recycled.”  The bodice of this juban is of hand spun, hand woven cotton that has been shibori dyed in botanical indigo. The particular passage, shown below, feels like spring: new blossoms, a soaring bird–and  tendrils of what may be weeping cherry branches suggest rain.The indigo color of this juban is beautifully rich and clear–and the toothy, hand spun cotton is the perfect vehicle to accentuate the rich, blue color of the dye.And the rustically rendered umbrella, below, which is set in a gloomy patch of dark indigo, really matches the wet, cold, brooding weather of the east coast.
The sleeves and the eri, or collar, of this juban are made of commercially produced cotton; very often juban were made of a mixture of cloth, and, that said, very often the sleeves and collars of garments in old Japan were repeatedly taken off and replaced due to wear.On the hem of the garment, above, seen on the lower left just next to the umbrella image, you’ll see an image from Genji ko, or an incense naming game that dates back to the 11th century.  Even the partial lining of the juban, seen below, has a wonderful fragment of old shibori.  The bodice of this juban probably dates to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century–the sleeves and the collar are younger.

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Jun Tomita Textile Studio

May 21, 2011

Jun Tomita is one of Japan’s most renowned textile artists–and he has just launched a website that shows his work and that of Mayo Horinouchi.
Tomita’s  innovative woven textiles–what can be described as “post-kasuri” or “painted kasuri”–have been exhibited around the world for over twenty years. His work is in the collection of major public galleries and has been shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Tomita’s light-filled studio is located in a beautifully situated rural area of Kyoto Prefecture.I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to write a profile on Tomita and his work which is available in the current issue of Hali magazine.

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Gorgeous Cloth from Tsushima

May 19, 2011

Tsushima is a remote island group located off the coast of Kyushu–a mere 50 km from Busan, South Korea.  The rural life in this far-flung area of Japan is discussed in detail in the book The Forgotten Japanese: Encounters with Rural Life and Folklore.The classic garment of Tsushima is the marvelously understated, unlined kimono of the type shown here: it is a hemp/cotton combination.  Above you can see the warp yarns are indigo dyed cotton as well as hemp.I love this cloth.  The hand is heavy, the texture is rough but the surface is beautifully supple.And the color is just beautifully earthy, rich and slightly variegated.

From a distance the color of this cloth has a muddy grey or drab appearance.  As you approach the surface of the kimono, the subtle colors and stripes of the cloth start revealing themselves.This garment probably dates to the late nineteenth, early twentieth century.

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Indigo Artist Rowland Ricketts Speaking in New York, 18 May, 7 PM

May 17, 2011

Many of you know the work of the textile artist, Rowland Ricketts.

On Wednesday, 18 May, the Textile Study Group of New York has asked him to speak at their monthly program.

Rowland will be speaking at 7 PM at Community Church of New York, Unitarian Universalist, 40 E. 35th Street.  Here’s a link to more information.


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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

May 14, 2011

A paulownia tree, that is.  Coincidentally, Betty Smith’s famous novel from 1943 is set in my neighborhood, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, just where this tree is blooming.
Paulownia, or kiri as it is known in Japan, is one of that country’s most popular family crests and it is a well-used motif in textile and lacquer design, among others.  It is loaded with historical and legendary significance–and the actual tree shows beautiful blooms, as can be seen here.The kiri motif is borrowed from China.  In Chinese lore it is believed that the mythical phoenix (called Hoo-oo in Japan), when it comes to earth, will alight only on the branches of this tree–and it will only eat the seeds of bamboo.

During the late Heian Period, the kiri motif became fashionable among the aristocracy and it is often associated with this class of Japanese society.  The world’s first psychological novel, The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century, opens at the aristocratic Paulownia Court. And here’s more, quoted from this wonderful website:

According to legend (mostly from China), the Hō-ō appears very rarely, and only to mark the beginning of a new era — the birth of a virtuous ruler, for example. In other traditions, the Hō-ō appears only in peaceful and prosperous times (nesting, it is said, in paulownia trees), and hides itself when there is trouble.

As the herald of a new age, the Hō-ō decends from heaven to earth to do good deeds, and then it returns to its celestial abode to await a new era. It is both a symbol of peace (when the bird appears) and a symbol of disharmony (when the bird disappears).

In China, early artifacts show the Phoenix (female) as intimately associated with the Dragon (male) — the two are portrayed either as mortal enemies or as blissful lovers. When shown together, the two symbolize both conflict and wedded bliss, and are a common design motif even today in many parts of Asia.Above is a kiri-karakusa or paulownia-arabesque pattern done in the katazome method; this cloth is from a futon cover.And these images, above and below, show the kiri motif on a boro futon cover, rendered in the tsutsugaki method.

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A Cotton Kasuri Furoshiki: Alternating Dark and Light Indigo

May 10, 2011

When I saw this on my recent trip to Japan, I had to have it: I love when kasuri, or ikat, is faintly resisted as this one is.  What I mean by that is that I like graphic kasuri where the resisted “white” areas show bleeding and skidding from not being tied tightly before dyeing.
Kasuri, or ikat, as it is called, is a resist dyeing method whereby the yarns are tied before being dyed.  When woven properly, the resisted areas–which should remain white–create a pattern or, in some cases, an image.This is a furoshiki or a traditional wrapping cloth–it has never been used.  I believe it dates to the mid twentieth century.I really like the subtlety to be found in the light areas of the cloth: the variegated blues are beautiful.  Or so I think.This piece is fairly large.  It measures 57″ x 54″ or 144.5 cm x 137 cm.  It is completely hand stitched and it is hand loomed.

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A Sashiko Stitched Vest from Tohoku

May 7, 2011

This sleeveless garment–referred to as sodenashi or dogi–is from Aomori Prefecture in the far northeastern region of Honshu, which is a remote and rural area.
It is made of repurposed cotton katazome cloth which has been heavily sashiko stitched, the stitching creating a blurred effect to the figured, resist dyed base cloth.Although Aomori Prefecture is very rural, it is this region which produced some of Japan’s most intricately sashiko stitched textiles, such as kogin, the famous stitching from Aomori’s Tsugaru region, which is the origin of this garment. Aomori can receive a great deal of snow in winter and some historians have conjectured that the heavy, white sashiko stitching of this area is a visual allusion to snowfall.This particular vest is made of repurposed parts as can be seen in the the photo above, and below: sometimes the body of  such vests from Aomori are sewn from one type of figured cloth, not of  two as is the case here.Amazingly tight stitching.Notice that the collar and the side panels are sewn from kasuri or ikat cloth–the inclusion of kasuri cloth on these sodenashi is typical of this form of garment.This kind of vest is said to come from Hirosaki in the Tsugaru region of Aomori. It dates to the late nineteenth, early twentieth century.This kind of vest could have been worn layered over a coat, or directly over an undergarment.  See a similar example in Beyond the Tanabata Bridge: Traditional Japanese Textiles, pp. 113-114.

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A Beautifully Rustic Sashiko Stitched Apron

May 4, 2011

As those who dip into this blog from time to time know, I love traditional Japanese aprons.   Today I’m showing a rustic and beautifully sashiko stitched example.
This is a country apron made of a base of pieced cottons that has been heavily sashiko stitched.  The apron is sitting on a sashiko stitched kotasugake, or a hearth cover.  I estimate that each of these sashiko textiles dates to the mid twentieth century or so.The apron measures 24″ x 17″ or 61 cm x 43 cm–and I just love it.Isn’t this simply beautiful?

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Children of Hiroshima: A Film by Kaneto Shindo

In a previous posting I mentioned that the Brooklyn Academy of Music is hosting a retrospective of the films of Kaneto Shindo.

As Shindo is a native of Hiroshima, many of his films concern the decimation of his city by an atom bomb dropped on 6 August 1945 by the United States Air Forces.  His film, Children of Hiroshima, is a dramatic reflection on its aftermath.

I’m showing a clip from this moving film, here.  The reason I am doing so is to show actors wearing boro clothing, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to share these images and to see boro clothing in situ, more or less.

Please keep in mind that in the context of this film these actors are destitute because of complications of bombing, and they are wearing rags because they’ve lost everything due to this horrific event–and the scene shown here is fraught with sadness.  Of course this is a different scenario from farmers, fisherman and other rural people who wore boro garments on a daily basis–I just wanted to make this clear.

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