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Four Indigo Dyed Karakusa Patterns: Katazome Cotton

Written on July 5, 2013

Blog03Katazome dyed cottons were popular in Japan for centuries, and the four examples I’m showing here date to the mid-to-late nineteenth through early twentieth century.  Katazome dyeing utilizes hand cut stencils as a guide for applying rice paste to specific areas of the surface of  cotton cloth. The cloth which is covered in rice paste resists dye and produces these wonderful designs.

Blog03aI chose four examples that are based on karakusa, an arabesque design, of which there are thousands of variants in the canon of katazome designs.

Blog03bThe design below shows karakusa and paulownia flowers.  I have a feeling this particular design is meant to suggest the look of a richly woven brocade silk.  The ochre color was probably hand applied directly to the cloth after it was resist dyed.

Blog03cThe cloth below also show ochre details which were done in the same manner as the cloth above.  The medallion patterns that stud the field of karakusa are fascinating:  they represent the traditional shochikubai motif which combines plum, bamboo and pine.  This combination carries great auspicious meaning: plum shows courage as it blossoms in late winter, bursting 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.

Blog03dThe textile below is just wonderfully odd.   The flowers are very strange: the centers are stylized chrysanthemum, and the petal shapes are plum blossoms.  However, have a closer look at the petals: they are ocean waves.

Blog03eThe pattern seen below shows roundels of phoenixes, the legendary bird which is said to alight on earth only on the paulownia tree, the blooms of which are also pictured on this cloth.  Although the content of this pattern is very Japanese in theme, it has a bit of a Western or “Victorian” look, which could very well be.  In the late 19th century there was a burgeoning yet powerful communication between the West and Japan, and influences flowed steadily between these two parts of the world.

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