August 9, 2014
Cloth from the Ryukyu Islands, or Okinawa as it is now called, is some of the most admired and prized cloth in the Japanese cultural sphere. Of the several types of traditional textiles produced in Okinawa–Miyako jofu, bingata, hana ori–it is bashofu, or cloth woven from fibers taken from the banana leaf stem, which is the most widely known.
Bashofu shows very distinctive characteristics: it is lightweight, almost translucent and extremely durable, which is why it has been is likened to a dragonfly’s wing.
First, the resist dyed pattern on the cloth is unusual and second, and maybe more importantly, this is a hybrid costume: it is a traditional kimono-shaped garment that has been re-worked to become something of a dress.
You can see the machine stitched seams (above) and Western tailoring (also seen above) that would never have been seen in the Ryukyu Islands until the early twentieth century. The fusion of two distinct cultures captured as they are in this garment is a fascinating comment on Okinawa’s developing history.
And getting back to bashofu‘s translucency, the photo above attempts to give a sense of this quality. What else can be seen is the repair to the cloth and the sprinkling of pinprick-sized holes, both evidence that this finished garment had a much different life when it was first created as a kimono-shaped one and was entirely hand stitched. The age of this garment could easily span from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century.
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