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Spring is Pink

April 4, 2011

In Japan, the spring season is synonymous with cherry blossoms, or sakura.   And pink is a color associated with spring.
Sakura are a magnificently elusive color: the cherry blooms are the palest possible shade of pink.  They are a pink that is almost white–and it is this delicacy of color that lends elegance and refinement to an already beautiful flower.When seen in abundance, sakura are spellbinding.  For me, it is the color–that bright, pale, almost-non-color that is, well, pink–which is pure magic.To evoke the color of spring, today I am showing some pieces of benibana or safflower dyed hemp that are placed in a repaired Korean bowl which sits on a lacquer maker’s wooden shelves.The rolled textile in the center of the group is a north eastern Japanese shibori; the two other pieces are very faded fragments that, to me, capture something of the delicacy of the sakura.Spring is here.  Let’s enjoy it.

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A Boro Asa Textile: Beautiful Translucency

February 28, 2011

Japanese asa, or bast fiber cloth, is wonderful in so many ways, and I love the way patched hemp or ramie cloth looks against the light.This piece here is sewn from two one-loom-width pieces of indigo dyed hemp cloth; the cloth is recycled from a kimono, as we can tell by the two resist dyed family crests which appear on the piece.I’m not sure what was the intended function of this piece, but it’s finished on the top and the bottom.  I’m showing it on the webshop this week. It looks quite different there as it is not seen with light streaming trough it.Lovely patches–and some holes along the center seam.

Can you see one of the resist dyed family crests in the  photo, above?  The crest depicts two stylized cranes.

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A Boro Hemp Edo Komon Kimono: Pattern upon Pattern, Patches and Holes

February 25, 2011

This boro kimono, as it is, with its great distress, its heavy wear and its large, missing pieces of cloth, is evocative of a life of poverty in old Japan.

The original kimono, before the damage from heavy use, was a fine one: it is a 19th century hemp Edo komon kimono, or a kimono that has been stencil resist dyed with a very tiny, all-over pattern, like this one here.The inside of the kimono, glimpsed here, is rich in patches and mending: the use of the word “rich” carrying with it a profound irony as the owner of this heavily worn coat of recycled cloth was anything but rich.On the sleeve, below, we can see the original kimono’s komon pattern–and we can see that it was patched with other komon cloth of different patterns.

A closer view onto the pattern-on-pattern komon layering can be seen in these two photos, above and below.The photographs, below, show the kimono inside-out, for a better view onto the patches which are attached to the interior.  The patches are of hand spun cotton and hand plied hemp fragments.

Some boro garments and textiles can take a visual detour from being something wonderful to look to being something that gives one pause.  This kimono, which is such a stark reminder of poverty in old Japan, carries with it a feeling of the burden of an indigent life, and from this, we can think much more broadly about the human condition.

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A Boro Burlap Suit

February 19, 2011

What a marvelous thing: this is a Western styled boy’s–or man’s–suit sewn entirely from scraps of burlap.  It probably dates from the early twentieth century.The suit is unlined, and as you an imagine, it would be very scratchy on the skin were under garments not worn–or even if they were. From seeing this suit, with its non-Japanese buttons and pockets, with its belt loops, with its Western style collar and other non-traditional details, we know that this suit was made in an era when Western influence pervaded Japan, starting in the late nineteenth century.Even though the suit is made from salvaged cloth of the lowest possible quality, most likely this was a dressy suit for its owner who we have to surmise had very little money or social standing.Notice that the burlap is mended and is threadbare.  Imagine the life of the person who owned this, especially if this was his “Sunday best.”The suit is small; you’d think it would fit an adolescent boy.  Possibly it belonged to a man, but there is no way to know. The sewn details are beautiful.  The entire suit is heart-breakingly lovely.

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Gradient Indigo Blues and Greens: Kaya or Hemp Mosquito Netting

January 22, 2011

Kaya, or Japanese mosquito netting woven from hemp, is one of my favorite types of Japanese textiles.  Kaya’s open weave and its warm colors–ranging from natural to indigo to over-dyed indigo– are simply beautiful.Often the green colors are hard to convey in photographs as they are somewhere on the spectrum between blue and green.  That said, you may have to enrich the photos presented here with your imagination.

The texture is rustic and rich, and the weave is open.This configuration of blue and green kaya looks wonderful against the light.

Have a look at the tags to the right of this posting for previous discussions of kaya on this blog.

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A Large, Nine Panel Boro Hemp Kaya

November 20, 2010

Kaya, or mosquito netting, was a staple of life in old Japan: Japan’s hot, humid summers are a breeding ground for mosquitoes, so tents of woven hemp were a de rigueur fixture, even in humble or poor homes, all across Japan.

This fabulous, large, old, very repaired, boro, nine panel, loosely woven, hemp kaya is overdyed: it was first dipped in indigo, then dipped again in a yellow dye.  Like the post below this one, this kaya is from the Tohoku region, or rural northeast of Japan.The kaya would have originally been hung with the seams running vertically, not as shown.  This is a fragment from a large tent which would have been placed over a futon–or futons–for protection against pesky mosquitoes.The patching is fantastic.

Below is a historical woodblock print of a woman of means reclining on her futon, enclosed within a tent of kaya. Of course, the kaya shown in this post was not used in an upper class home such as pictured below, but it was used in exactly the same way as can be seen in the print shown here.Note the construction of the tent: the seams joining the sides and the top are sewn with cotton fabric, for strength and durability.

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A Work Coat Woven from Wisteria Yarn

October 17, 2010

In old Japan, of the many bast fibers used to weave cloth–ramie, hemp, linden, kudzu, paper mulberry–wisteria can be considered one of the rarest and most desirable.  This coat is woven entirely from wisteria yarn, the cloth being called fujifu.

One of the reasons that fujifu is so desirable is that there was not that much of this cloth made; the gathering of raw material and processing it into pliable thread which is able to be woven is arduous, to put it mildly.This coat is overdyed fujifu; it was probably dipped into kaki shibu, or green persimmon tannin, hence the coppery color of the cloth.   Undyed wisteria is a pale, wheat color.  This coat was entirely dip dyed into kaki shibu as is evidenced by the brown color in the indigo cotton details as well as the stitching, all of which have been tinted by kaki shibu.

Fujifu has a distinctive hand.  It is rugged but silken at the same time.  This coat most likely comes from northern Kyoto Prefecture, in a rural area near the Japan Sea, or possibly from neighboring Fukui Prefecture, another area where fujifu was woven.  Fujifu was also woven in other regions of Japan, such as present day Niigata and Ishikawa Prefectures.Imagine a surface texture that is not at all abrasive, as would be, say, burlap.  This yarn is tight and sleek.

Below, see  the kaki shibu dye that has mingled with the indigo cotton?

This coat probably dates to the Meiji Era (1868-1912).  It’s a treasure.

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Snow Bleaching or Yuki Sarashi: Echigo Jofu

September 5, 2010

A client came by yesterday and we started talking about Echigo jofu, the fine-as-silk ramie weaving from what is now Niigata, Japan.  One of the many striking features of this cloth is that it is snow bleached, meaning it is laid on snow and the intense rays of light reflecting off the snow “bleach” the fibers and lighten their color. Since it’s summer, and we all need a bit of cooling off, I thought I’d  talk about this refreshing topic.Above is  a photo of tanmono, or full kimono bolts laying in the snow in Niigata; the photo is taken from this site.*

Echigo jofu in an amazingly dense topic of discussion: ramie weaving this fine is something marvelous in itself, but imagine that in the past, the far-flung area of Japan that produces this cloth was trading directly with the Okinawan islands, and, therefore, the weaving of this remote, rural, north western prefecture was influenced by the prized weaving of the tropics.

Another reason I wanted to write just a bit about Echigo jofu was to showcase this wonderful UNESCO site that has fantastic information on this remarkable cloth and the people responsible for making it.  It’s fascinating.

*please note that this website says that Echigo jofu is woven from hemp; it is woven from ramie.

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An Indigo Dyed Kuzufu Vest: Kudzu Fiber Cloth

July 12, 2010

Yes.  Kudzu. The bane of gardeners and municipalities in the American south where this plant is an invasive weed, overtaking and consuming tracts of plants and trees in gardens, fields and on highways.

But in Japan, where this plant is native, it was used to make cloth–very often for elegant clothing–and is processed to make edible starch.As early at the 14th century, it has been recorded that kuzufu or kudzu cloth, was made in Kakegawa in Shizuoka PrefectureKuzu fiber is flat and has a sheen; in this regard it resembles an elegant cousin to woven raffia.  The benefits of the cloth is that it held up well, didn’t soften and dried quickly.  It was used to make traveling capes and elegant hakama for aristocratic clients.

In these photos, above and below, I am hoping to show the quality of the kuzu fiber, which is very distinctive, mainly, as mentioned above, because is is very flat and does not appear to be spun.

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A Length of Linden Bark Cloth: Shinafu

July 2, 2010

Today I am showing a length of rustic, asa or bast fiber cloth, this one being woven from yarns taken from the inner bark of the linden tree, the cloth being called shinafu.Shinafu is a very rough cloth–it’s almost abrasive to the touch, the yarns being almost wiry.  The color of shinafu has a characteristically coppery sheen.In order to obtain raw materials for this kind of cloth, women would make many trips into the forest to harvest the linden tree’s inner bark, which would then be arduously processed, washed, dried, split and then plied: this transformation from tree bark to usable yarn was very time consuming and required more effort, time and skill that is imaginable.Shinafu is a marvelous looking cloth; although I am not totally sure of this, I believe it was rarely used for clothing as it was so rough to the touch and seems not to soften with age or wear.   Notice the surface texture of this cloth, which I am trying to show through these detail photos: the surface is a bit irregular and the cloth is very stiff.This particular length of shinafu is a very handsome example for its condition, its length and its fine color.

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