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A Bashofu Kimono: Kasuri in Banana Fiber

July 17, 2012

Many of you are familiar with bashofu, the famous banana fiber cloth woven in the Ryukyu Islands, or Okinawa.  Today I’m showing a very good kasuri or ikat kimono woven from bashofu.You can see that the cloth is double kasuri, meaning both the warp and weft yarns are tied before dyeing in order to create a pattern once they are woven.  The warp yarns are dyed in a brown dye called sharinbai while the weft yarns are dyed using Okinawan indigo or Ryukyu ai.As can be seen in the photo, above, there is a stitched pleat that encircles the garment about a 18 inches above the bottom hem: for some reason the owner of this kimono shortened the coat this way.  At first I thought this seam was the joining of two pieces, but when I examined the inside of the kimono I noticed the kimono was uncut.The indigo weft yarns are subtle but beautiful.  And as is not the case with most bashofu kimono, this one shows virtually no wear or damage.  I estimate that it was woven in the early 20th century.This garment would have been worn by a commoner, but its a very good example of a bashofu kimono that shows an attractive pattern and is in very fine condition.

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Mottainai The Fabric of Life: Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan

November 6, 2011

The exhibition at the Portland Japanese Garden, Mottainai, The Fabric of Life: Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan opened on 4 November.  Here are some installation shots.
I’m exhibiting with my friend, Kei Kawasaki of Gallery Kei in Kyoto.   Kei and I decided that I would show indigo dyed cotton boro pieces and she would show bast fiber and paper pieces.  The items I have contributed to the show can be seen below.Above and below is a large, woven cotton boro mosquito netting or kaya.

Above and below are sashiko stitched pieces.  Centrally place above is a large, sashiko stitched kotatugake.  To the left and right are garments from Yamagata prefecture.Stitched aprons and zokin can be seen above.

Above and below are sakiori garments.

Above is pictured a boro yogi or sleeping kimono, while below you can see noragi or work coats.Below is a fantastic boro futonji or futon cover.This piece, below, a shinafu or linden fiber tsunobukuro or horn bag is filled with balls of shredded indigo dyed cotton yarn and twisted paper yarn.   Kei brought this to the show to act as a transition between her bast fiber textiles and my indigo dyed cotton ones.  It’s an amazing object.  Kei’s other textiles can be seen in the images below.

Above and below are some woven paper garments.  On the photo, above, situated on the right is an okuso zakkuri or a coat made of woven hemp waste.  Below, seen in the middle, is a fujifu or woven wisteria garment and a shinafu or linden fiber garment to its left.

Below are two elm fiber garments: to the right is a traditional Ainu attush, to the left is an unusual dochugi or traveling coat, made from ohyo or elm fiber.  Since this dochugi is made from traditional Ainu cloth, we can assume that the cloth was traded with the Ainu by a merchant from Honsu island.

A marvelous, resist dyed ramie kazuki from Yamagata prefecture can be seen above and below.  A kazuki is a kimono-shaped veil which was worn on the head by upper class women.Below are repurposed paper items. A splendid bashofu or banana fiber kimono from Okinawa can be seen below.All of the pieces are for sale through the Portland Japanese Garden.  If any are interesting to you, please let me know and I will put you in touch with the Garden.

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Three Lengths of Okinawan Bashofu: Woven Banana Leaf Fiber

July 9, 2010

Bashofu, or cloth woven from the fibers obtained from the leaves of the “thread banana” plant (ito basho) is synonymous with the Okinawan Islands (Ryukyu Islands), where it was produced for at least 500 years.From the essay, “Bashofu, The Mingei Movement, and the Creation of a New Okinawa” by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum published in the exhibition catalog “Material Choices: Refashioning Bast and Leaf Fibers in Asia and the Pacific“:

“The first written evidence of bashofu in the Ryukyu Islands appears in an eyewitness account, dated 1546, reported by Pak Son and eleven other shipwrecked Koreans from Cheju Island.  Reaching Ryukyu in 1542, they returned to Korean four years later.  Their report includes descriptions of clothing, agriculture, and the cultivation of banana plants for making cloth:The larger trees are the size of a house pillar.  These are harvested, and the outermost skin stripped off. The sheaths inside are sorted into three grades.  The fineness or coarseness of the finished cloth depends on whether the fiber is taken from the outer or inner layers.  The innermost layer yields the thinnest and most lustrous fiber, and the color is as pure as snow.  It is incomparable.  Women’s clothing of high quality is made from this. (ikeya et al. 2005, 1:121)”Bashofu is still very much appreciated all over the globe for its beauty and its depth of character.  It is one of Japan’s most precious and esteemed textiles–it is difficult to convey the high admiration the Japanese hold for bashofu.  Rare and  historical examples are often prohibitively expensive–should they be brought to market–which is rare.

These three lengths were taken from everyday kimonos: the fragment on the left is a very small warp ikat, the center piece is a cotton/banana combination and the example on the far right is a plain, striped bashofu length.  I find them exceptionally beautiful.

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A Bashofu Sleeve: Banana Fiber Cloth from Okinawa

December 14, 2009

Bashofu is the famous banana leaf fiber cloth that is almost immediately associated with the Okinawan Islands, which are now politically consolidated and comprise Japan’s southernmost prefecture.

This length of cloth is a sleeve from a dancer’s kimono: the base is of bashofu, and the decorative bars of color are woven from cotton: the blue is a kasuri or ikat dyed in Okinawan indigo and the orange/pink and white bars are undyed cotton and cotton dyed in benibana or safflower.  Cloth of this type comes from Taketomijima Island.


Okinawa’s impact on Japanese cloth is tremendous, with kasuri, or ikat weaving, being one of the more notable influences on Japan.  The Japanese, to this day, look toward the cloth of Okinawa—bashofu, bingata, hana ori, Miyako jofu—with profound interest and appreciation.

The simplicity and the beauty of this cloth does not need much description.

Bashofu1cBashofu is one of the more precious fibers in what is now present-day Japan.



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Part Two: An Exhbition of Japanese Country Textiles at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin

October 22, 2009

I just received installation shots from the exhibition of Japanese textiles currently on view at The Douglas Hyde Gallery at Trinity College in Dublin.  I’ve introduced the exhibition in an earlier post, so please scroll down and have a look.

Above are shown, from left to right, an Ainu elm bark (ohyo) attush, an Okinawan banana leaf fiber (bashofu) kimono, an indigo dyed shifu or woven paper noragi or work coat, a sakiori or rag woven hanten with sashiko stitched cotton sleeves and a very fine okusozakkuri or work coat woven from hemp debris.

Above, to the right of the okusozakkuri shown in the first photo are a hemp stitched indigo dyed cotton boro noragi and, finally, a kogin stitched kimono from Tsugaru, Aomori Precture at the Easternmost tip of Honshu Island.

The director and staff of The Douglas Hyde Gallery did a marvelous job installing this exhibit and I’m terribly proud to have collaborated with them on this show.

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A Bashofu Child’s Kimono: Banana Fiber from Okinawa

November 21, 2008

Bashofu, or cloth woven from yarn obtained from fibers of the leaf bases of the Musa balbisiana, a variety of banana tree, is the cultural signifier of the people of Okinawa, both internally and from abroad.  Bashofu in varying grades was worn by everyone in Okinawa since the sixteenth century, from the impoverished who would wear garments of bashofu rags to the ruling class who would wear kimono of the rarest quality, woven with the most extravagant patterns.  Although Musa balbisiana is not native to Okinawa, its cloth is now synonymous with the Okinawan archipelago.

Bashofu is a highly collectible cloth and it is extremely distinctive in appearance and texture.  Because it is woven from fibers taken from leaves, it is not considered a bast fiber like hemp, ramie or wisteria, but rather it is thought of as a leaf fiber.

This is a child’s kimono, with modified, semi-“Western” sleeves; note that the shoulders are darted and the waistline is tacked up: this is due to two factors: the standard loom width is too wide for a child’s shoulders and therefore they are modified without cutting the cloth; likewise, the length is drawn up so as the child grows the length can adjusted, again, without cutting precious cloth.  The closure for this small kimono is made from two long white cotton pieces which was tied as a kind of sash.

This bashofu child’s kimono is dyed in the kasuri or ikat method which produces the repeat pattern seen on this small, gorgeous thing.  This is a warp kasuri, meaning only the “vertical” threads are dyed.

Getting into the kasuri (ikat) traditions of Okinawa and their impact on the development of Japanese kasuri weaving is a vouminous study–too complex to get into here–but suffice it to say that for centuries the mainland Japanese admired Okinawan cloth. The Japanese ikat weaving was directly affected by Okinawan patterns and concepts, especially as adapted by the asa weaving traditions of omi jofu and echigo jofu.

To this day, the Japanese admiration of Okinawan textile traditions is unabated, and for centuries Japan has borrowed much from the weavers of Okinawa.

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