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

Written on 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.





Comments closed

  1. Comment by velma:

    magnificent, and the paper piecing is lovely. i like the back story on this one, the one we don’t know, can’t read, or even if we can is all about finances or something, not the quilt. wonderful!

    January 11, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

  2. Comment by jean betts:

    fascinating piece, have to wonder why it wasn’t finished. the piecing pattern is a form of “log cabin”, something I have done on a backing of old sheeting – the paper is more interesting.

    January 12, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

  3. Comment by Beverly Seavey:

    What? You don’t have any unfinished projects?

    January 23, 2013 @ 11:12 am

  4. Comment by Wendy:

    This post reminds me what a wonderful resource your blog is- the links to related textiles you’ve covered before make this one all the more fascinating. Thank you.

    January 30, 2013 @ 11:28 am

  5. Comment by Stephen:

    Very nice of you, Wendy. I’m glad you are enjoying this blog!

    January 30, 2013 @ 11:39 am