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A Kogin Stitching Sampler: Nambu-hishizashi Embroidery from Aomori Prefecture

November 16, 2012

Those of you who know about sashiko stitching probably know something about kogin sashiko the intricate, complex, counted-thread stitching of Aomori prefecture, one of Japan’s most remote and rural areas.Aomori resides at the most northeastern tip of Honshu island and it is known for its harsh, inhospitable winters and its lavish, heavy snowfalls.  There is some irony in that some of Japan’s most magnificent, hand embroidered, cotton sashiko stitching comes from a place where cotton could never grow, and where it was only seen by trading cotton rags which probably arrived to Aomori sometime well into the 19th century.  Until then, the people of Aomori were clothed in garments woven from bast fiber.The kogin stitching of snowy Tsugaru is widely known.  It is characterized by white cotton thread stitched in blocks of tight geometric shapes onto an indigo dyed, hemp ground, like the example that can be seen here.In Nambu, a more southern and eastern area of Aomori, where the climate is a bit less harsh than in Tsugaru, Nambu-hishizashi embroidery was done.  Shown here is a sampler of the distinctive, colored, lozenge shapes that are characteristic of Nambu-hishizashi work.Traditional Nambu-hishizashi stitching was done in cotton thread on hemp cloth.  This sampler, with its ultra-fine work, is cotton on cotton.  Later on, in the early twentieth century, wool threads were used to augment the cotton stitched embroidery.  Very often, the colorful, lozenge shaped embroidery of Nambu, (similar to these examples) was used as the central panel on a three panel, traditional apron called maedare.Most likely this little sampler dates to the Meiji era (1868-1912), and by looking carefully at these photos, you can see how fine and intricate this stitching is

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A Beautiful and Unusual Kogin Kimono: Sashiko Stitching from Aomori

January 16, 2012

This katazome dyed hemp kimono with a heavily sashiko stitched bodice is a variant on the traditional kogin kimono, kogin being a kind of sashiko stitching from the Tsugaru district in Aomori prefecture in Japan’s Tohoku region.Kogin stitching is emblematic of this very rural part of Japan, Honshu island’s northern or easternmost point.  From Kogin and Sashiko Stitch from the Kyoto Shoin’s Art Library of Japanese Textiles, Vol. 13:

The Tsugaru district in the western part of Aomori prefecture is famous for deep snow.  Due to the extreme cold, cotton is hard to grow; and, as cotton that was grown and brought in from the western part of Japan was too expensive, people living in the district were compelled to wear hemp clothes.  The kogin stitch was produced under these conditions.  The white stitches, sewn with valuable cotton thread, are reminiscent of the deep snow of Tsugaru.In referencing the above captioned book to understand this example better, it seems that this kogin is called higashi-kogin, as the design and stitching style comes from areas east of Mt. Iwaki.Generally we see kogin kimono which are constructed from a deep blue indigo dyed hemp and a sashiko stitched bodice, the cotton stitching worked on a hemp base.  This stitched bodice is a separate piece and sleeves, a skirt and collar area are all stitched to this kogin stitched bodice, the sides of which are closed and form the side seams of the garment.In this case, things are not as just described.  A rustic, stencil resist dyed hemp cloth kimono–in this case the hemp cloth is called Nambu katazome–is used for a base, and a kogin bodice is overlayed onto the existing garment and is firmly stitched to the base.  Kogin, as you can imagine, is extremely valuable, so it will be used and reused over time.  Examples showing this kind of re-use and this kind of katazome kimono base are fairly rare.The stitching is done with fairly thick cotton threads and is extremely dense.The kogin stitching dates to the late nineteenth century, the Nambu katazome kimono could be later, and it probably is.  The garment measures 45 1/2″ x 44″ or 115.5 cm x 112 cm.

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