[ Content | Sidebar ]

Archives for January, 2012

A Tsutsugaki Futon Cover: Tsurukame, Kamon and Faux Shibori

January 30, 2012

Today I’m showing a stark and interesting four panel, indigo dyed cotton futon cover that is decorated using a free hand paste resist technique called tsutsugaki.  The images on this futon cover are concise yet celebratory: the tortoise and crane (tsuru and kame in Japanese) and a centrally placed, large kamon or family crest.The kamon is interesting: first, it is a rendition of stripes whose source has a martial background.  During wartime in feudal Japan a general’s encampment would be surrounded by curtains of alternating colors in order to distinguish his from the rest.  This kind of stripe or hikiryo is the basis of this mon or family crest.Notice how this mon is designed using a fake kanoko or fawn dappled shibori pattern.  Really charming.And the crane and the tortoise–it is fairly well known that these animals symbolize longevity in the language of Chinese and Japanese design.Not only does the crane represent long life, its elegant form conveys a sense of beauty.  Also, the crane is a symbol of conjugal fidelity as cranes mate for life.These tortoises are charmingly rendered–and once when I was traveling in China I saw hairy shelled turtles, much like these.This futon cover was most likely created for a wedding trousseau.  In the Meiji Era (1868-1912) there was an easing of government strictures upon Japanese citizens and at this time ordinary people could produce showy bridal trousseaux and could present them in a lavish fashion with great ceremony to a newly married couple.

In feudal Japan, which essentially ended at the end of the Edo period in the mid-nineteenth century, ordinary people would not have been allowed to create such an ostentatious show of wedding gifts as started being customary with the onset of  the Meiji period–nor would common folk have had the money to have commissioned such beautifully decorated utilitarian textiles as this one.


In: Tags: , - Comments closed

A Good, Large Shimacho: Home Weaving Samples

January 24, 2012

As many of you know, a shimacho–or stripe album–is a keepsake of home weaving swatches which was composed by families to remember the cloth they’ve woven.It’s been said that girls leaving their homes upon marriage would carry such an album with them to their husband’s family’s home in order to replicate or be inspired by her family’s woven cloth.Most likely these descriptions are true to some extent, but my personal feeling is that the use of these was a bit broader and a bit less sentimental than that.  In a culture and time where weaving was done in every home, my hunch is that there was a lot of swapping of fragments between families and neighbors, as there must have been a lot of mutual admiration and intrigue between household weavers, and these weavers wanted to compile as much inspiration as possible.Shimacho show us a very good cross section of the type of cloth which was being woven and worn in the 19th century, when most of these books were made.  The preponderance of dark tones and subtle stripes is due to sumptuary laws: during the Edo period (1603- 1868) the government dictated what a person could wear.  For the most part, common people had to dress in cotton or bast fiber clothing with dark colors and small repeats: bright colors, silks and textiles showing large repeats were relegated to the upper or ruling classes.This shimacho is typical of most: slivers of cloth were pasted into an already-existing book, the leaves of which were filled as swatches were gathered.It measures 9″ x 6″ or 23 cm x 15.25 cm and contains 15 leaves–and many worm holes, a common feature of almost any shimacho.

In: Tags: - Comments closed

A Super Subtle Very Sashiko Stitched Work Coat: Kagasuri

January 21, 2012

I really like this work jacket but I was wondering if I should post images of it.  I thought that in photos the dark indigo cotton cloth too murkily masks the subtle details of the jacket: the details are easier to see in person.The coat is densely stitched with tiny stitches of dark blue threads on a dark blue background.  In photos this is a bit lost, but in daylight, when standing in front of the piece, this detail is beautifully evident.  In the photos posted here, any slight undulation to the surface of the coat is due to the countless stitches which hold the two or three layers of cotton cloth together, making this a durable, warm garment.Add to that, the cloth on the exterior of the garment is something special, it’s referred to as mosquito kasuri or kagasuri: the intersections of white, resisted areas of the warp and weft yarns are as tiny as mosquitoes.  Imagine the great skill needed to weave such a delicate pattern.The interior of the coat, below, with its lighter color, shows a bit more evidence of the coat’s stitching–and many hand tied knots can be seen.The lining, too, is of kagasuri–and the entire coat is made of recycled cloth.When looking at the coat head-on, as in the first photo shown, above, the bold placement of the central patch on the back of the jacket is a visual treat, and is one of the things that tempted me to acquire this softspoken beauty.  And the color, the rich, sapphire blue was hard to resist.

Most likely this dates to the early-to-middle part of the 20th century and measures 44″ x 49″ or 112 x 124.5 cm.



In: Tags: , , - Comments closed

A Beautiful and Unusual Kogin Kimono: Sashiko Stitching from Aomori

January 16, 2012

This katazome dyed hemp kimono with a heavily sashiko stitched bodice is a variant on the traditional kogin kimono, kogin being a kind of sashiko stitching from the Tsugaru district in Aomori prefecture in Japan’s Tohoku region.Kogin stitching is emblematic of this very rural part of Japan, Honshu island’s northern or easternmost point.  From Kogin and Sashiko Stitch from the Kyoto Shoin’s Art Library of Japanese Textiles, Vol. 13:

The Tsugaru district in the western part of Aomori prefecture is famous for deep snow.  Due to the extreme cold, cotton is hard to grow; and, as cotton that was grown and brought in from the western part of Japan was too expensive, people living in the district were compelled to wear hemp clothes.  The kogin stitch was produced under these conditions.  The white stitches, sewn with valuable cotton thread, are reminiscent of the deep snow of Tsugaru.In referencing the above captioned book to understand this example better, it seems that this kogin is called higashi-kogin, as the design and stitching style comes from areas east of Mt. Iwaki.Generally we see kogin kimono which are constructed from a deep blue indigo dyed hemp and a sashiko stitched bodice, the cotton stitching worked on a hemp base.  This stitched bodice is a separate piece and sleeves, a skirt and collar area are all stitched to this kogin stitched bodice, the sides of which are closed and form the side seams of the garment.In this case, things are not as just described.  A rustic, stencil resist dyed hemp cloth kimono–in this case the hemp cloth is called Nambu katazome–is used for a base, and a kogin bodice is overlayed onto the existing garment and is firmly stitched to the base.  Kogin, as you can imagine, is extremely valuable, so it will be used and reused over time.  Examples showing this kind of re-use and this kind of katazome kimono base are fairly rare.The stitching is done with fairly thick cotton threads and is extremely dense.The kogin stitching dates to the late nineteenth century, the Nambu katazome kimono could be later, and it probably is.  The garment measures 45 1/2″ x 44″ or 115.5 cm x 112 cm.

In: Tags: , , - Comments closed

A Large 19th Century Silk Yogi: Phoenix, Paulownia and Tsutsugaki

January 12, 2012

This voluminous beauty is an indigo dyed silk yogi which is dyed in the tsutsugaki method showing a rich and resplendent phoenix or hoo-oo hovering over a spray of paulownia leaves and flowers.The legendary phoenix is an import to Japan from China and it carries with it great symbolic significance. Taken from onmarkproductions.com is this succinct and vibrant description of the phoenix in China and Japan: In Japan, as earlier in China, the mythical Phoenix was adopted as a symbol of the imperial household, particularily the empress. This mythical bird represents fire, the sun, justice, obedience, fidelity, and the southern star constellations.

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 descends 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

You can see the careful attention to detail paid by the tsutsugaki artist: he made sure to create gradient tones, a variety of vibrant colors and to use his tsutsu to depict a variety of textures and surfaces with a sure economy of line.The kiri or paulownia is an often-seen motif in Japanese folk textiles, usually depicted in a highly stylized form as can be seen here.  The yogi is stitched from silk.   A yogi is a kimono-shaped duvet that is padded with some kind of fill– in the mid to late nineteenth century cotton batting was often used– and was splayed over a person as they lay sleeping, much in the same was a bedcover would be used.  A yogi was not worn as a garment. This one is large, it measures 75″ x 60″ or 190.5 cm x 152.5 cm and it dates to the Meiji Era (1868 -1912).  Its condition is excellent.


In: Tags: , - Comments closed

Historical Photos of Rural Japan

January 7, 2012

It’s hard for many people to believe that some of the boro garments and textiles on my webshop were actually made as late as the mid-twentieth century.  The photos presented here were taken by anthropologist John W. Bennett who was conducting research in Allied occupied Japan during the years 1948-1951.
The voluminous photos he shot in this brief span of time were conceived as a book.  Bennett’s words:  “The book has several identities. It is, first, a personal and photographic memoir of a unique episode in the author’s career. It is, as well, a report–but sans professional details–of a unique experiment in social analysis and research. And it is–at least to some extent–a picture of Japan after the Pacific War and before the country experienced its full national revival. The present book could be considered a last report in the series produced by the Research in Japanese Social Relations Project at The Ohio State University, funded by the Office of Naval Research and the Rockefeller Foundation.”
This portfolio of photos shows rural Japan, although Bennett documented the urban environment and also shot important cultural sites during his stint in Japan.For those of you familiar with Japanese farm clothing, these photos are an invaluable glimpse into the daily life of old Japan, and it’s startling to realize these images are less than 70 years old.By all means visit John W. Bennett’s website which is hosted by Ohio State University.  Bennett’s photographic prints, negatives, and documentary material  have since been donated to The Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at The Ohio State University.


In: Tags: - Comments closed

Two Rustic Ema

January 3, 2012

An ema is a pictorial votive offering generally painted on a flat wooden surface. 

Seen as the messenger of human wishes to the world of the gods, horses were once given to Shinto shrines.  They were eventually replaced by ema (literally “picture horses”). 

For many years ema were presented as offering to heal physical disorders or illness, and they were painted with related symbols: eyes for eye problems, a catfish for skin problems, an octopus for warts, and so on. 

They were also offered when making a wish for success in battle or as thanks for a wish that had been granted.  In recent years their use has come to include wishes for success on tests, in marriage, in childbirth and so on. 

-From “The Forgotten Japanese: Encounters with Rural Life and Folklore,” Miyamoto TsuneichiThese two rustic ema illustrate very well the quote which leads in this post.   Obviously the ema, above, has to do with ailments of the hands, while the one below, has to do with the eyes.  Each probably dates to the mid twentieth century or so.And each is small: the ema depicting hands measures 5 1/4″ x 6″ or 13.25 cm x 15 cm while the ema depicting eyes measures 6 1/2″ x 7″ or 16.5 cm x 17.75 cm.

You can tell by the weathering and wear to each piece that they were hung outside in the elements for some time.

I really love these old, rustic, folk emas: with disembodied human organs set on a stage that is festooned with cloth bunting or crudely rendered heavenly clouds, they are wonderfully surreal.   I have others which I may show over time, if there is interest to see more.

In: - Comments closed