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Mottainai The Fabric of Life: Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan

Written on November 6, 2011

The exhibition at the Portland Japanese Garden, Mottainai, The Fabric of Life: Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan opened on 4 November.  Here are some installation shots.
I’m exhibiting with my friend, Kei Kawasaki of Gallery Kei in Kyoto.   Kei and I decided that I would show indigo dyed cotton boro pieces and she would show bast fiber and paper pieces.  The items I have contributed to the show can be seen below.Above and below is a large, woven cotton boro mosquito netting or kaya.

Above and below are sashiko stitched pieces.  Centrally place above is a large, sashiko stitched kotatugake.  To the left and right are garments from Yamagata prefecture.Stitched aprons and zokin can be seen above.

Above and below are sakiori garments.

Above is pictured a boro yogi or sleeping kimono, while below you can see noragi or work coats.Below is a fantastic boro futonji or futon cover.This piece, below, a shinafu or linden fiber tsunobukuro or horn bag is filled with balls of shredded indigo dyed cotton yarn and twisted paper yarn.   Kei brought this to the show to act as a transition between her bast fiber textiles and my indigo dyed cotton ones.  It’s an amazing object.  Kei’s other textiles can be seen in the images below.

Above and below are some woven paper garments.  On the photo, above, situated on the right is an okuso zakkuri or a coat made of woven hemp waste.  Below, seen in the middle, is a fujifu or woven wisteria garment and a shinafu or linden fiber garment to its left.

Below are two elm fiber garments: to the right is a traditional Ainu attush, to the left is an unusual dochugi or traveling coat, made from ohyo or elm fiber.  Since this dochugi is made from traditional Ainu cloth, we can assume that the cloth was traded with the Ainu by a merchant from Honsu island.

A marvelous, resist dyed ramie kazuki from Yamagata prefecture can be seen above and below.  A kazuki is a kimono-shaped veil which was worn on the head by upper class women.Below are repurposed paper items. A splendid bashofu or banana fiber kimono from Okinawa can be seen below.All of the pieces are for sale through the Portland Japanese Garden.  If any are interesting to you, please let me know and I will put you in touch with the Garden.


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  1. Comment by Amy:

    Wow! I wish I could be there to see it in person!

    November 6, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

  2. Comment by paula253:

    It was fabulous! And i shouldn’t use the past tense: i believe it’s on display through the month of November. The Garden itself is also worth a visit if you haven’t been (this was my first trip).

    November 7, 2011 @ 12:06 am

  3. Comment by Jean Betts:

    amazing collection, it seems a shame to break it up. wish I could get there to see it, will order the catalogue.

    November 7, 2011 @ 11:57 am

  4. Comment by Jean De Maiffe:

    This display was such a joy for me. Thank you so very much for sharing it.

    November 7, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

  5. Comment by caro:

    What an astonishing show. This should really travel. Other museums would love to have it. And well… I would love to see it, but can’t get to Portland. Maybe if it were in NYC sometime….? In any case, congratulations to you and Kei. It must be very gratifying to have put this together.

    November 7, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

  6. Comment by Inge Boesch:

    Thank you so much for these marvellous pictures, one gets the idea how great it would be to see this fantastic collection.

    I would love to go there and see it in person.

    November 17, 2011 @ 5:28 am

  7. Comment by Erin:

    How amazingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.

    November 17, 2011 @ 11:49 pm

  8. Comment by CW:

    I just went to see this yesterday. It was wonderful to see the pieces in person after seeing the photos here. Lovely.

    November 21, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  9. Comment by linda summers:

    I saw this entry on Tuesday and was able to go to Portland yesterday. It is a three hour drive from Seattle and it was worth every minute of it. I spent two hours looking at the pieces. What an exciting time. Thank you so much for sharing. I always want to come to Brooklyn and I was thrilled that you came to me.

    November 26, 2011 @ 2:01 pm