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Sashiko Stitched Hand Guards

October 26, 2013

Handcovers09I just returned from a buying trip to Japan, and when I’m there I never know what I’ll find–and what I won’t find.  Luckily, this past time I happened upon things I rarely see, sashiko stitched hand guards.  And I didn’t find just one pair–I found three.

Handcovers09aThe pair shown above is my favorite for its age, its good stitching and its wear.  But I’m thrilled to own all three of them.  They probably date to the early to mid twentieth century.

Handcovers09bAlthough I can’t be sure, I have a hunch, based on the situation where I acquired these, that the two pairs shown above are from Japan’s northern or eastern area.

Handcovers09cThe pair shown above is wonderful for its base cloth of kasuri or ikat woven cotton.  The white dots, which are the result of all-over sashiko stitching, are a wonderful design foil to the kasuri cloth which composes most of each of the gloves.

As I’m so enamored of these pairs of mittens I am in no rush to sell them. But do have a look at my webshop from time to time to see if I’ve decided to list a pair for sale.


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Sourcing Textiles in Japan: Some Impressions from Koya san

October 8, 2013

Koyasan1aAfter many trips to Japan sourcing textiles, where I am now, I have finally made it to Koya san, a city of temples which is situated deep in the woods,  high on a magical, mountain top. Here are some impressions.












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An Exhibition of My Collection of Rustic Ko Ema at The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin

September 30, 2013


I am thrilled to be showing my collection of 73 ko ema or small, rustic Shinto-Japanese votive paintings at The Douglas Hyde Gallery at Trinity College in Dublin.  The Douglas Hyde Gallery runs a program of world-class contemporary art exhibitions, and I am honored that this exhibition is my second at this esteemed gallery.  The first show, in fall 2009, was a selection from my collection of Japanese folk textiles.

VotiveShowBlog1I am particularly happy about this exhibition because I am especially fond of my collection of ko ema or small, rustic votive plaques which date to the early-to-mid 20th century.  Ko ema are not easily found, and amassing a group this large and diverse was a challenge.  I am grateful to the gallery’s director, John Hutchinson, for sharing my enthusiasm for this material and for offering to produce a full-scale exhibition.

VotiveShowBlog1jThe word ema means, literally, “picture horse.”  The reason for this is that in centuries past horses were offered as gifts by the faithful to Shinto shrines.  As this practice was a serious and often unattainable one for many, giving painted images of horses became popular.


Here we see many non-horse images.  Ema are used as petitions for prayers to be answered, or in thanks for a prayer which was answered. Each of the images on these ema represents a personal request from an individual, and the images relate to the nature of the request.

VotiveShowBlog1cAn ema showing eyes is asking for help with a malady of the eyes; an ema showing hands is similar.  An ema showing legs represents a petition for help with gynecological or sexual problems.

VotiveShowBlog1dSome ema offered to shrines by wealthy patrons are of large size and are elaborately painted, showing battle scenes or ships at sea, for example. Ko ema such as these are small and quickly painted.  Each measures about 5″ x 8″ or 13 cm x 20 cm, give or take.  These were painted by itinerant artisans who sold these plaques to those visiting a Shinto shrine.

VotiveShowBlog1fThose of you who have visited Japan and have gone to temples or shrines have seen multitudinous layers of ema hanging outside a shrine. I imagine the ko ema in this exhibition once were hanging in similar way.


VotiveShowBlog1gAlthough this collection is set, I am still on the hunt for more ema, particularly those that depict subject matter not included in this collection. This will take some time, patience, and the help of friends in Japan.



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A Whole Lot of Zokin: Sashiko Stitched Dustrags

September 17, 2013

Zokin12Those of you who follow my webshop know that I regularly offer for sale zokin.  Zokin are traditional Japanese dust rags which are hand stitched from leftover or re-purposed cotton cloth.

Zokin12aI just love zokin.  Each time I travel to Japan I buy all those that I can find if I’m lucky to find any at all.  I’m voracious in acquiring them not only because I like them so much, but also because they are harder and harder to find, like all Japanese folk textiles.

Zokin12bAsk any Japanese friend and they’ll tell you that they stitched their own zokin in first grade and that they used it to clean their desk and classroom.  Zokin are ingrained in Japanese culture.

Zokin12cMost zokin are hand stitched from about four layers of recycled cloth and they are usually stitched in the manner of those shown here, using broad sashiko stitching.  Sometimes they show fancier sashiko stitching, but the type on this page are most common.

Zokin12dMany of those who buy these zokin actually use them in the home, either as a place mat or for presentation, placing a zokin under a special ceramic piece or a vase of flowers.  Stay tuned to the webshop as I will be listing these zokin from time to time.

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A Rustic Okkochizome Shibori Kimono: Heavy Striped Cotton

September 5, 2013

KyushuShibori01Since I acquired this kimono a few years ago I’ve loved it.  It’s a dip-dyed or okkochizome shibori garment which is made of heavy, hand loomed, striped cotton and it was made in Kyushu.

KyushuShibori01aThe indigo is deep, velvety and warm in color.  The shibori is stitched, and the images are raw, bold and rustic–most of their meanings I am unable to decipher.

KyushuShibori01bWhat’s interesting is that the cotton is of such a heavy weight which is unusual for this type of garment; the weight is almost like a very light weight cotton canvas.

KyushuShibori01cI love that the images are so large in relation to the garment.  For example, the flower shown above measures 11 1/2″ in diameter.

KyushuShibori01dThe kimono itself measures 53″ x 50″ or 134.5 cm x 127 cm.  It was probably made in the second quarter of the twentieth century.


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A Sri Event at Hickoree’s in Brooklyn: 23 August-15 September

August 23, 2013

Hickorees1I am really pleased to have been invited by Hickoree’s to mount a exhibition in their store here in Brooklyn: I’ve had a wonderful working relationship with them for some time now, and they’re some of the most gracious people you can meet, so I accepted their invitation without any hesitation.

Hickorees1aThe show is opening tonight, 23 August from 7 – 9 PM, so please come if you can.  I’ll be giving an informal talk on Japanese folk textiles, and this exhibition will be running for one week–and there are a lot of textiles on view to purchase.  After this show closes, Hickoree’s will keep a lot of the textiles on view and accessible.

Hickorees1bThere’s a beautiful, indigo dyed cotton noren that welcomes you at the top of the stairs leading to the exhibition.

Hickorees1cThe owners of Hickoree’s, Emil and Sandy, asked their talented sister Liza to customize a blackboard for the event, above.

Hickorees1dAnd here are some views onto the show.  Above you’ll see a 19th century fireman’s coat from Yamagata city: it’s layers of cotton that are sashiko stitched together.

Hickorees1eAbove you see another view onto the show: the jacket on the left is a sashiko stitched work coat from Yamagata prefecture.  Behind the striped cloth in the center of the photo is a contemporary jacket by Blue Blue Japan, a detail is shown below.


Hickorees1fA very wearable sakiori hanten, or rag weave work coat, can be seen above, hanging over a table covered in a large, sashiko stitched furoshiki.

Hickorees1gBelow is a remarkable noragi that I’ve shown on this blog.  This old Japanese work clothing integrates so well into Hickoree’s, who sells wonderful men’s clothing from small makers, many of them Japanese.


Hickorees1iAbove is an old komebukuro or rice bag which sits atop a much younger kotatsugake which dates to the mid twentieth century.

Hickorees1jThe Hickoree’s staff did a wonderful job placing these old Japanese textiles in the midst of the contemporary inventory.


Hickorees1mPlease try to visit!


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A Group of Eight Traditional Zabuton: Three Different Hand Loomed Plaids

August 13, 2013

Zabuton01I love old, Japanese zabuton, or traditional seating cushions, and whenever I am able to find them in Japan (not so easy), I always buy them.  I found this group of eight on my most recent trip to Japan this past spring.

Zabuton01aThese eight pieces show what I like about traditional zabuton: hand loomed, indigo dyed cotton (mainly), hand stitching and soft cotton batting for its fill.  Inserted on the face of these zabuton is a panel of commercially produced cotton, a take on sarasa or Indian trade cloth.  I prefer the proper “back” side of the zabuton where this panel is not evident.  Were I to live with these, I’d turn them face down.

Zabuton02The indigo dyed cotton is hand loomed and was probably made in the early twentieth century or earlier.   The cloth was most likely intended to be used for bedding, and, in fact, it may have been taken from a futon cover and recycled to become zabuton.  I think these zabuton were made sometime in the 1920s or 1930s.

Zabuton02aThe pale green quilting stitches are of hemp; some are broken.

Zabuton03Each cushion measures 22″ x 19″ x 1″ or 56 cm x 48 cm x 2.5 cm.  These zabuton are available for sale, so if you’d like to know more, feel free to email me.




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A Boro Noragi: Interesting Inside and Out

August 7, 2013

BoroNoragi1bVery often in considering a boro garment or textile we admire its patching and mending: the patches and mending were originally intended to be hidden from view, so we generally look only at one side of a boro textile. This noragi, beautiful inside and out, is an exception.  Okay, its inside is shown in the photo above, but have a look at is out side, below: it’s still very beautiful, isn’t it?

BoroNoragi1aThe same is true of its two front views shown below.  Both the inside and the outside have visual merits of their own.

BoroNoragi1This is a fantastic piece.  It probably dates to the early-to-mid twentieth century, although the base cloth, the indigo dyed cotton of the bodice of the coat, is probably older than, say, the sleeves.  Sleeves tended to be taken on and off, or replaced, over time.

BoroNoragi1cThe noragi measures 33″ x 55 3/4″ or  83 cm x 142 cm.


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A Small Book of Magic Symbols: Stitched Amulets

July 30, 2013

SemamoriCho03In Japan, there is a certain magic associated with stitching: the act of enclosing a body in cloth is rich in meaning and stitching a garment closed has power in it.  It’s no wonder that stitches applied to children’s garments are done so intentionally, and that they are meant to protect the child from harm.

SemamoriCho03aThese protective stitches are called semamori, and shown here today is a semamori cho, or a practice album of decorative stitches that, when stitched on a child’s garment, would have been held in place one of the kimono’s two ties.

SemamoriCho03bThese semamori are decorative; some are auspicious, like the crane, above left, which is a wish for longevity.  Sometimes semamori are a series of stitches on the back of a kimono, not decorative, like the kind shown here.


SemamoriCho03dAbove, right, is a folding fan that is made of arrow feathers.  Below, right, are pine trees.

SemamoriCho03eThe paulownia flower is shown below left, and the genji ko, a marker in an incense memory game, is shown next to it.

SemamoriCho03f Below, left, is a crane that is also a folding fan.  Pines are to its right.

SemamoriCho03gThis little book measures 5″ x 3 1/4″, 13 cm x 8 cm and contains 26 pages showing 52 different stitched semamori images.   It probably dates to the first half of the twentieth century.

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A Small Exhibition in Greenwich Village: At MAN

July 26, 2013

MANshow1At the generous suggestion of Hickoree’s and The Hill-Side, I was asked to mount a temporary exhibition at MAN, a small and beautifully curated Paris-based menswear trade show that was held at Industria Superstudio from 21-24 July.  The show was meant to provide an interesting context, and give texture to, the MAN show who took up Hickoree’s suggestion and invited me to show.

MANshow1aI brought a good group of things to exhibit:  my aim was to put on view a broad range of textiles for sale, from superior pieces from my own collection to others that have age and interest, but that are affordable. Above is a nice group of hemp kaya or mosquito netting in blues and greens.  To the right of the kaya are rolls of shinafu or linden bark thread-based cloth.

MANshow1bAbove are rolls of wonderful, indigo dyed, 19th century cottons.  All of them are taken from futon covers.

MANshow1cAbove is a fantastic, old boro noragi: so many patches and a lot of mending.  Many of the patches are of pieces of cloth from the 19th century.  Below is an amazingly repaired sleeveless work garment, however my hunch is that the sleeves were removed by the person who brought this treasure to market.  No matter: in old Japan sleeves were routinely taken off and put back onto garments on a rotating basis.

MANshow1dA group of five super sakabukuro, below.  These are cotton bags that were dipped in kaki shibu or green persimmon tannin that were used as filters in the sake making process.

MANshow1eAnd below is another view onto the show.  At the center of the photo is a wonderful sakiori hanten, one of the most elaborate and best I’ve seen.

MANshow1fThanks Emil, Sandy, Mitch, William, Ken, Vicken, Antoine, Romain, Olivier and Antoine for inviting me to your event.


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