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Archives for July, 2012

A Mended Open Weave “Sweat-Catcher”: Leno Weave or Mojiri-ori

July 30, 2012

It’s still hot and humid here in New York–which reminds me of the even more hot and humid Japanese summers.  Which is why I’m showing an asehajiki or a traditional Japanese “sweat repeller” on today’s post.This asehajiki is worn under a kimono and it is meant to provide a cushion of air between the body and the garment, while, at the same time, maybe mopping up a bit of sweat.It is woven from hemp, the warp being a mix of indigo and bleached yarns; the weft being bleached hemp yarns.  The sleeves, too, are hemp.The open weave is a mesh which is called mojiri-ori or leno, as it’s called in the West.  It’s as stiff as kaya, the traditional Japanese mosquito netting–which, by the way, is usually not woven using the mojiri-ori technique.I love the meandering white cotton stitches that are used to mend weak passages of cloth.

The general color feel of this indigo-and-white woven cloth appears to be a soft grey tone when seen from a distance.Sometimes asehajiki are woven from cotton, also in the mojiori-ori technique.  But others are plaited from recycled paper yarn: paper’s probably a more effective sweat sponge than hemp.

Lovely–and unusual–isn’t it?  My guess is that it dates from the late 19th.

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A Tsutsugaki Yuage: A Baby Towel from Izumo

July 28, 2012

This very distinctive indigo dyed cloth, made in Izumo, with its prominent, red-dyed corner, is referred to as yuage.  Typically, it is a gift given to the parents of a newly-born child by the baby’s maternal grandparents.Taken from “Country Textiles of Japan: The Art of Tsutsugaki,” by Reiko Mochinaga Brandon:

“One of the special characteristics of baby towels from Izumo is a bright red patch of color–traditionally dyed with madder (akane) or safflower (benibana) in a triangular shape–that appears in the upper right part of the design and most often in the right top corner.  The color red was believed to expel evil and prevent smallpox, a devastating childhood disease for which no cure was known in Edo times.There is basis for this belief.  The fact is most natural dyes used in the countryside came from plants that were known to have medicinal properties.  In the pharmacopeia of Chinese medicine which was practiced in Japan, madder was prescribed for bleeding, jaundice, or rheumatism and safflower for fever, high blood pressure, and irregular menses.  Red was also very special because it was one of the colors prohibited to commoners during the Edo period.  Red was therefore considered a precious color, allied with power and status.  The towel’s red area was only used to wipe the baby’s face, while other parts of the towel were used to wipe the baby’s body.”And just as this very special towel is charged with medicinal powers, its imagery is equally potent in symbolism.  The hand resist dyed, or tsutsugaki drawing shows a crane and a turtle at opposing corners in the design, and also seen is the traditional pine/  bamboo/ plum motif called shochikubai.  Shochikubai  conveys good wishes for a long life: plum shows courage as its blossoms, the first of the year, burst forth from under ice; the bamboo is resilience since it bends but does not break and the pine is a symbol of long life–and also of a faithful marriage as its needles fall in pairs.  The crane and tortoise, too, are well-known symbols wishing a long life.This yuage measures 32″ x 25 1/2″ or 81 cm x 65 cm.  Its cotton is woven from hand spun yarns and it dates to the late nineteenth, early twentieth century.

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A Pair of Edo Period Cotton Kyahan: Leg Protectors

July 24, 2012

Kyahan, or leg protectors, or gaiters, were worn by all those who lived in old Japan from rich to poor.  These kyahan are made from elaborately stencil resist dyed or katazome cotton, which indicates that the owner of these kyahan was a person of means.The very small pattern on the kyahan tells us that this cloth was made in the late Edo period, about mid-nineteenth century.  At that time, the Japanese government imposed sumptuary laws on their citizens; one of the aspects of these complex and far-reaching laws was to forbid the wearing of bright colors, flashy patterned cloth and silks to those whose station in life was lower than the samurai class.Hence, those who could afford it–merchants, etc.,–got around these laws by wearing very elaborately decorated cloth that was patterned with discreet, tiny, and complicated designs such as this one.   This cloth shows the pine bark or matsukawa bishi motif.  This small figured cloth is referred to as Edo komon, or, “Edo period all-over pattern.”As is obvious by seeing the back of one kyahan, the cotton used to make these is hand spun: the slubby texture tells us this.  Note the findings used to close the back of the gaiter: this “hook and eye” closure is a customary one in old Japan and is also used on tabi, or split toe socks.   The “buttonhole,” above, is not a buttonhole as buttons were not widely used in Japan until approximately the Meiji era (1868-1924).  When worn, the kyahan’s tie was passed through this buttonhole-like opening.I really like the gently curved, almost-lyrical shape of kyahan.  Their undulating, arched edges remind me of a ray.  Soon I’ll be offering these for sale on the webshop, but tomorrow, 25 July, I’ll be offering an Edo komon bag like this one.  If you like Edo komon, you may like one of these bags.

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A Bashofu Kimono: Kasuri in Banana Fiber

July 17, 2012

Many of you are familiar with bashofu, the famous banana fiber cloth woven in the Ryukyu Islands, or Okinawa.  Today I’m showing a very good kasuri or ikat kimono woven from bashofu.You can see that the cloth is double kasuri, meaning both the warp and weft yarns are tied before dyeing in order to create a pattern once they are woven.  The warp yarns are dyed in a brown dye called sharinbai while the weft yarns are dyed using Okinawan indigo or Ryukyu ai.As can be seen in the photo, above, there is a stitched pleat that encircles the garment about a 18 inches above the bottom hem: for some reason the owner of this kimono shortened the coat this way.  At first I thought this seam was the joining of two pieces, but when I examined the inside of the kimono I noticed the kimono was uncut.The indigo weft yarns are subtle but beautiful.  And as is not the case with most bashofu kimono, this one shows virtually no wear or damage.  I estimate that it was woven in the early 20th century.This garment would have been worn by a commoner, but its a very good example of a bashofu kimono that shows an attractive pattern and is in very fine condition.

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A Full Bolt of Shifu: Cotton Warp and Paper/Cotton Weft

July 12, 2012

About a year ago, on a shopping trip to Japan, I bought a full bolt (about 13 yards  or 12 meters) of shifu, or cloth woven with paper yarns.  Here it is: the bolt is warped with cotton yarns and the weft is paper and cotton intermittently.At the time I found this, I was hesitant to buy it as it was expensive–handwoven shifu always is.  But I couldn’t resist.  In these details you can see the slubby nature of the cloth; these slubs are the paper yarns.  Really lovely, aren’t they?In old Yamagata prefecture, known as Shonai, there was a tradition of paper/cotton weaving, and my hunch was that this bolt is from Shonai as it looks like the kind of paper/cotton weaving from that area.  The person from whom I acquired this bolt said it isn’t Shonai, but I have my doubts.Likely this bolt was intended for use as a futon cover; in fact, I had (and sold) a Shonai paper/cotton futon cover that very much resembled this, which further reinforces my gut feeling that this is Shonai.I love the cobalt blue quality of the indigo–and the slubby texture.  One of the many interesting things about shifu is its weight: because paper yarn is less dense than cotton or bast, it’s usually lighter in the hand than cotton or bast woven cloth.This cloth is thick, so the full bolt is quite hefty in volume.   It’s also in pristine condition: it appears that this piece was woven, stored, and never touched.  I think it’s beautiful.

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A Cascade of Cooling Blues

July 5, 2012

It’s HOT in New York–and humid, too.  That said, there is nothing like the stifling heat and humidity of a  Japanese summer to put New York to shame.  Japan’s a wet furnace in high summer, and there is little escape, except to never leave air conditioning, which is nearly impossible to do.Enter cooling patterns on hemp or ramie textiles which are rendered in asagi or pale blue.  The mere sight of these lyrical images and the icy blue color brings a bit of psychological relief from the pressing heat–and this is exactly what these textiles were meant to do: suggest subtle breezes, running mountain water, a cool clearing in the forest.

These panels are taken from a summer futon cover: the linen feel of ramie or hemp cloth is much preferable to the heavier touch of water-saturating cotton cloth.  Ramie and hemp textiles are crisp and they graze the body; they don’t cling to you in the same was that cotton does.

The swirling patterns, too, help conjure cooling thoughts.  On a particularly hot summer day in Japan, I remember welcoming the sight of rich, blue hydrangeas, whose color shaved ten degrees off the heat.  Or so it seemed.

Summer yukatas or the unlined, casual kimonos that are often worn at onsen or hot springs, are usually patterned with these heat-alleviating designs.  On a very hot day, which leads to a very hot evening, any help to escape the uncomfortable temperatures is welcome, even if help comes in the form of a pretty pattern.

And I bet that you feel a few degrees cooler just looking at these photos….don’t you?

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