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Archives for January, 2013

A 19th Century Boro Work Coat: Great Old Cottons

January 31, 2013

Noragi12Sometimes it happens that I discover something really wonderful that I bought a long time ago and that I forgot about.  Finding it is often a revelation, as was the case when I recently came upon  this very good old work coat.

Noragi12aI don’t know how–or why–I forgot about it, but often seeing something after a long time gives you “new eyes” and makes you appreciate it more. That’s the case with this boro coat.

Noragi12bIt’s a very nice one.  It is hand stitched from old  home spun, hand woven cottons of great variety.  There’s wonderful sashiko stitching–and the indigo blue is beautifully faded and worn.  But for me it’s the ito aji or thread flavor that makes me admire this piece so much.

Noragi12cCan you see that this is an older piece?  There is an indescribable eloquence in its character which comes from the warmth of human wear.

Noragi12dIt more than likely dates to the late nineteenth century.  It measures 49″ x 47″ or 124.5 cm x 119.5 cm.

Noragi12eThe cottons are really good.  I love the small checks which are emblematic of the 19th century, especially those that appear to be woven bamboo.  This pattern is called sankuzushi, and it’s one of my favorites.




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A Beautiful, Big, Boro Hemp Noren

January 19, 2013

TatteredNoren09I really love this piece.  It’s a five panel, hand plied hemp, boro noren.  It’s wonderfully mended and the patches are beautifully placed.  I love the oversized kanji, too.

TatteredNoren09aA noren is a kind of curtain or doorway cover.  Noren can be long, as this one is, or very short, as some of you may have seen.  Noren don’t always cover doorways, often they are used to demarcate space and address a psychological transition between spaces, interior or exterior.

TatteredNoren09cNoren can also be shop signs, as this one is.  Noren are hung outside businesses when the business is open, and they often have the name of the business written on it or they show some kind of image that is associated with the business.



TatteredNoren09j I believe this one dates to the Meiji era (1868- 1912).  It measures 60″ x 59″ or 152.5 cm x 149.75 cm.

TatteredNoren09k And both sides are equally interesting.


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A Pieced, Silk Altar Cloth from the 1930s: Recycled Paper Backing

January 11, 2013

AltarCloth23aThis is an unfinished, piece-constructed silk cloth that was destined for use as an altar cloth at a Buddhist temple.  The silks, all chemical dyed, most of them machine-made, are freely yet intricately pieced together.

AltarCloth23This cloth is entirely hand stitched as will be seen very clearly when the back is shown, below.  But first a bit about pieced cloth in Buddhist textiles.

AltarCloth23bIn Japan there was a tradition of patrons donating fancy silks to temples, often the silks were elaborate kimono.  These silks would be used to create ecclesiastical cloth of the type seen here.  Previously on the blog I’ve shown other examples–older than the one shown on this post–and you can have a look here and here and here.   And currently, on the webshop, I am offering a Buddhist bell cushion which is not too dissimilar to this piece.  Have a look here.

AltarCloth23cAs you can see, the piecing can get very intense.


AltarCloth23eI know next-to-nothing about quilting, but I do know that sometimes paper is used as a backing when making squares.  Such is the case here.  Recycled ledger papers were used and were stitched through to create patterns of pieced cloth.   Washi is a good paper to use for this backing as its so flexible, unlike cellulose-based papers that are more brittle.

AltarCloth23fThe advantage for us that this piece is unfinished is that it allows us to see the back.   Eventually this cloth would have been backed, probably in cotton, and likely there’d have been a hand written inscription on the blank cotton backing.  The inscription would have noted the date.  It would have possibly have mentioned the occasion for which this cloth was made, and, even, it may have listed the names of the donors of the silks.



AltarCloth23iThe piece measures 62″ x 33″ or 157.5 cm x 84 cm.   Sixty squares compose this cloth.



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A Length of Twice Itajime Dyed Cotton: Carved Boards

January 6, 2013

Itajime-Crows1In a past blog I’ve shown a glimpse of this wonderful cloth, but today I decided to talk about it a little bit.  It is a length of hand spun, hand woven cotton that has been dyed using the itajime or kyokechi method, a technique where carved boards are employed to resist dye and to imprint designs onto cloth.

Itajime-Crows1aItajime is a complex process because the boards used to dye the cloth are intricately carved–you can see a blog entry where I show the boards here.  Essentially, many pairs of boards are carved with designs in mirror image; cloth is fed in between the boards and the result is a stack of carved boards, face-to-face with a bolt of cloth interwoven between them.  Pressure is applied to the stack of compressed cloth, the block of boards and cloth are dipped in a dye bath, and where there was pressure on the cloth, no dye can penetrate, the result being a resist dyed image.

Itajime-Crows1bOr, the carved blocks can be made in such a way as to both resist AND to let in dye, which yields a “positive” image, such as the crows we see here.  The background is resisted according to the first method described, and the pattern of the background is the well-used hemp leaf pattern or asa no ha.

Itajime-Crows1c The crows are beautifully–and efficiently–rendered.

Itajime-Crows1dThis cloth was made in Izumo, Japan, where there was great activity surrounding itajime or kyokechi dyeing.  Likely it dates to the late nineteenth century.

Itajime-Crows1eBeautiful, isn’t it?


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