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A Beautifully Rustic Indigo Dyed Kasuri Futon Cover

December 17, 2009

My taste in kasuri, or Japanese ikat weaving, is quite narrow, and I tend not to collect many pieces.  I could not help myself when I found this piece, the subject of today’s posting.
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I had seen this on a previous trip to Japan and was really intrigued by the rustic beauty of this very simple, resist dyed pattern.  I didn’t buy this piece when I first saw it, but when I returned six months later and saw it again, my mind was made up.

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I absolutely love that the pattern is not regular, that the large, white blocks are not perfectly formed and that they have some “skids” of stray indigo dye within them.

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I also love the pared-down design, and how it is not reaching to be complex or sophisticated in any way.  In its beautiful, “flawed” simplicity, the appeal of this kasuri futon cover is almost “tribal”, if you get what I mean.

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I am not sure if this futon cover was dyed and woven in Kurume (on Kyushu Island) or in Iyo (Matsuyama City on Shikoko Island), however I think this piece probably comes from Kurume. Most definitely the cotton yarn is home spun and the piece is hand woven.  And it is spectacularly beautiful, to my eye, at least.

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A Fully Intact Tsutsugaki Boro Futon Cover

December 4, 2009

Today I am showing a Meiji Era (1868-1912) boro tsutsugaki futon cover in its original state: most often we see boro textiles that have been removed from a larger piece such as the one highlighted here.   I thought showing this intact  futon cover would provide a nice context for better understanding boro textiles.
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This futon cover would have been stuffed with some kind of fill and used as a comforter: in this case, the futonji was stuffed with cotton wadding (now removed), but rice straw and okuso were also used as padding for warmth.

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A tsutsugaki yogi, or a kimono-shaped duvet, was re-fashioned to become the flat futon cover we see here: obviously the yogi’s original parts were disassembled and then re-stitched.  Patches, too, were used to cover holes or to reinforce areas that were worn thin from stress.  This re-working and re-stitching provides the wonderfully disjointed “modernist” image we see above: a family crest, peonies and a butterfly, the continuity of which is fractured by having been re-worked.

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Above you’ll see that the futon cover was set into a mitered “frame” which was also made from re-assembled scraps of indigo dyed cotton.

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Notice how the a patch bearing a similar motif to the original fabric was used to mend the central area: clearly the home maker who was mending this piece was attempting a kind of design continuity between the new cloth patch and the textile’s original base cloth.

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Above and below, in more detail, you’ll see how the hole in the center of this tsutsugaki peony was mended in a way that creates a gentle visual transition between the original cloth and the applied patch.

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Below see a full-on image of the back of the futon cover: the opening you see is a seam that was ripped to remove the cotton batting.

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Now, look inside.  Here is where the real beauty of the boro can be seen: many more patches than are visible on the “public” side of this futon cover are sewn onto the side hidden from view.  It is a treasure trove of mending.

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When pieces such as this come to the marketplace, very often they are taken apart, and it is the inside that is displayed.  The back side of boro textiles (above and below) very often show a profusion of patches and this is what is considered by some to be the most beautiful aspect of the cloth.

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This futon cover is a treat to share and wonderful to own.

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Two Magnificent Boro Futon Covers

December 8, 2008

Today I am presenting two beautiful boro futonji or futon covers.  As is the case with most boro futon covers seen on the market, these are fragments from a larger piece: an intact futon cover is usually constructed like a very large pillow case into which stuffing was inserted, exactly like the duvet covers that we know today.

In rural areas in Japan where cotton was scarce, where it was not native and where it was too pricey to buy, cotton rags were used to create a futon cover as were the ones shown here.  Cotton rags, however, were purchased from rag sellers who were ubiquitous in old Japan.  The stuffing of the futon might not have been cotton batting as we are accustomed to, but most likely it would have been crudely plied or leftover bast fibers (hemp, ramie, etc.) that would have been stuffed into futonji for warmth.

Boro futonji such as these are almost impossible to date exactly since the scraps of cotton used could be quite old, probably dating to the mid-nineteenth century or so; the actual construction of a boro futonji could have been ongoing for a generation after it was first made since the futonji would have been mended, patched and altered as needed.

I estimate these two futonji to be old pieces; the one on the left seems to be from the nineteenth century; the one on the right could date to this same period or could be slightly ‘younger’, dating from the early twentieth.

Look carefully at the detail photos of the piece on the left and you will see small scraps of very old cloth which has been intensely layered and stitched.  The piece on the right has marvelously eccentric stitching done in white thread.

Below is shown a clump of okuso, or left-over hemp fiber or hemp “waste.”  It is this material that would have been used as stuffing in old futonji such as these.  Also, it is this material that was spun into crude yarn to create work garments, shown here.

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