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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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An Absolutely Gorgeous Hemp Komebukuro: Benibana Dyed Details

July 6, 2011

Komebukuro–or so-called “rice bags”–which are usually made from scraps of leftover cloth and configured to convey a festive air, are hardly ever more lovely than this one, which is hand stitched from hemp cloth.This one is in pristine condition and is sewn from about 18 separate pieces of hemp cloth–and the great joy of this bag is its ultra-pale pink-colored panels, the result of benibana or safflower dyeing.The pale pink against the indigo dyed kasuri cloth needs no explanation as to why it’s so lovely.  It just is.  And note the bag’s original drawstring which is hand braided from pale blue cotton yarns.And the bottom: just lovely.  Komebukuro were used to offer dry rice or beans to temples and shrines, mainly during festival times.  The pieced effect of the bags was to convey a joyous mood.  In truth, I’ve just acquired a group of old, cotton komebukuro that, when I’ve been sorting through them, have dropped a considerable amount of old, single grains of rice.  Clearly those komebukuro had been used.This drawstring bag seems not to have been used, it measures 8″ x 7″ x7″ or 20 cm x 17.5 cm x 17.5 cm and it most certainly dates to the 19th century.

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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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Piece Constructed Textiles: A Botanically Dyed 19th Century Silk Juban and Drawstring Bags

February 8, 2011

In old Japan, hand loomed and hand dyed cloth was constantly re-purposed.  Indigo dyed cotton cloth was often hand woven in the home from yarns which were hand spun by the weaver. The time and labor which went into the creation of cloth gave it great value.  It was not a disposable commodity.  The same is true of silks, which were also re-purposed.  Silks were likely not woven at home, but their intrinsic value was understood.  Today I am showing three piece constructed bags of indigo dyed cotton and I am highlighting a marvelous, 19th century silk yose juban, or an under kimono that is constructed from disparate fragments of botanically dyed silks.What a beautiful attempt at symmetry on the top half of the back of the juban: the many small fragments of safflower (benibana) and gromwell root (shikon) dyed crepe silks are stitched together in such a way as to create an appealing, ordered design.The benibana silks are dyed mainly in the itajime or kyokechi technique, whereby fabric is pressed between hand carved boards before they are dyed, the pressure of  the carvings against each other offering a resist to the dye and creating a white, figured pattern.There are so many hand stitched fragments of chirimen, or crepe silk cloth that the area of stitching is akin to shingling.  The slight variation in tones of safflower-derived orange dye is just lovely to see.Those of you who have seen 19th century Japanese piece constructed undergarments before have noticed that the predominant color palette is based on three basic dyes: shikon (purple), benibana (orange) and variations on ai (indigo).
The front of the juban, seen below, is as lovely as the back.  And what’s wonderful about this particular juban is its very good condition–aside, of course, from its very handsome arrangement of color, pattern, and texture.

Seen by themselves, the sleeves of this garment, one of them below, are just gorgeous.The benibana dyed silk lining, seen below, is a typical feature of these old juban which were often constructed with similarly dyed linings.

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An Asa Benibana Kimono: Shocking Pink Safflower Dye and Bast Fiber

May 19, 2010

This is a very richly colored kimono: it is made of  hand plied, hand woven hemp cloth that has been dyed using benibana, or a safflower-derived dye.

AsaBenibanaKimono1The color is gorgeous and the condition is superb: the benibana dye is still as vibrant as the day it was made.  Safflower dye can be very light-fugitive, so fading is a common problem with fabrics dyed in benibana.   The fact that this one is so beautifully intact and vivid is worth noting.AsaBenibanaKimono1aThe interior of the eri, or collar, is lined in chirimen, or crepe, silk which has been dyed in what appears to be a synthetic, red dye–not uncommon during the Meiji Era (1868-1912) which is the era I believe this kimono was made.AsaBenibanaKimono1bPictured on the cloth are images rendered in the shibori technique:  folding fans, plum blossoms, and chidori, or plovers which are depicted scampering through the surf.AsaBenibanaKimono1c

AsaBenibanaKimono1dThis kimono, for its fine condition and rich color, is a prime example of its type.

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A Very Layered, Very Stitched and Very Beautiful Boro Noragi with Benibana Patches

January 18, 2010

Of the many boro noragi, or patched and mended work coats, that I have seen over the years, this one, below, is a personal favorite.

This coat, probably a woman’s, is extremely thick from many layers of patching.  The patches are all of really rustic, homespun cotton cloth, so the textural quality of the noragi is amplified by the toothy, hand woven cottons that were used to mend it.


The faded blues and the naturally unbleached whites of this coat are in beautiful contrast to the soft salmon colored patches that were dyed in benibana or safflower.


Note the way the dense stitching has embedded itself in the many layers of mending; gorgeous.NoragiBeniBlog1c

Which is the best view onto this noragi?  The front, the back, the inside, the outside?  Any way you turn this coat, inside or out, it’s magnificent.


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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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