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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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Indigo Dyed Cotton Kasuri Warp Yarns from Kurume

August 24, 2009

Shown today are indigo dyed cotton yarns to use in the weaving of Kurume kasuri, a very distinctive form of ikat from Kurume on Kyushu Island that is characterized by its bold, geometric designs: white-on-blue.


These warp yarns, when rolled into balls as they are here, make beautiful objects: each is many, many meters long and are all the yarns are tied by hand before dyeing.


Last week I offered one for sale on my website; I will be offering these, too, in time.  If you find that you just can’t live without one, don’t hesitate writing me, I’ll be happy to make sure you get a good one.  The largest one is 11″ or 28 cm in diameter and in addition to the stark white-on-dark blue dye on this large ball, there are also some areas of a pale blue color, called asagi.


Have a look at a YouTube video showing some of the dyeing process of Kurume kasuri, here.

They’re really beautiful, aren’t they?  I believe they are from the 50s or 60s–possibly later.


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A Very Fine 19th Century Child’s Omi Jofu Kimono with an Elaborate Semamori Stitched on the Back

March 25, 2009

Omi jofu, or the exceptionally fine hemp or ramie cloth from Omi in Shiga Prefecture in Japan, is one of the most refined of Japan’s bast fiber cloth.  Along with the fine-as-silk Miyako jofu from Okinawa and Echigo jofu of Niigata Prefecture, Omi jofu ranks high in the top tier of Japanese traditional bast fiber weaving.

That said, the child who once owned this kimono must have been quite a fashion plate, certainly this was a child from a well-to-do family.   Note the intricate kasuri or ikat pattern that shows koi, bamboo leaves and swirling water; this pattern is repeated in a kind of mirror-image.  The swirling forms of the design smack of Art Nourveau design and this influence may or may not have been intentional.

Note the wonderful, chartreuse green silk sleeve lining and the marvelous semamori or semori protective stitch that runs up the back of the garment, terminating is a cluster of tasseled knots.  Semori is stitched with intention: it is meant to protect the wearer, so it carries with it a kind of magical power.

Notice the pieced cloth on the inside of the collar: this is a fragment of katazome dyed silk chuugata or middle figure cloth which was popular among those who could afford it in the 19th century.

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Indigo Dyed Cotton Kasuri Warp and Weft Yarns

December 19, 2008

My friend, Nao, in Kyoto, sent me these wonderful and mysterious indigo dyed cotton kasuri yarns: three bundles of weft yarns and three drums of their complementary warps.  I believe they may be the yarns used to make Kurume gasuri, the kind of ikat done in Kurume on Kyushu Island, but I’m not sure.  Not yet, at least.

Another good friend, Hiroko Takeda, a genius textile designer and weaver who lives nearby me in Brooklyn,  has been trained in the ‘folk textile’ traditions at Joshibi University in Tokyo.  Hiroko said she’ll come by one day and help me match weft yarns to the proper warps.  As Hiroko is expert in complex weaving techniques, I look forward to working with her on this as her feedback and insights will certainly be interesting.

I’m thrilled to own these ‘kasuri-in-the-raw’ yarns and I welcome any comments you may have.

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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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An Omi Jofu Child’s Kimono: Indigo Dyed Hemp or Ramie

October 30, 2008

Omi jofu is one of Japan’s most beautiful and highly regarded asa textiles.  Along with the fabulously refined asa cloth called Echigo jofu from Japan’s eastern region (present day Niigata) and the as-fine-as-silk Okinawan asa cloth, Miyako jofu, these three types of hemp or ramie cloth are the most elegant hand woven asa cloth in the country.

Omi jofu is woven in Shiga Prefecture, which neighbors Kyoto Prefecture; omi jofu is made from both hemp and ramie, and the best examples are of hand plied yarns.  In this child’s kimono, we see Omi jofu’s characteristic indigo dyed kasuri or ikat weave.  This small kimono bears the lovely pattern of paulownia flowers, folding fans and plum blossoms, images that suggest delicacy and fortitude simultaneously.

It is important to note that the fine asa cloth from Echigo and Omi are both directly influenced by the kasuri woven in Okinawa, and the importance of Okinawan fabrics on the Japanese culture cannot be overstated.  In fact, during the past centuries Echigo traded directly with Okinawa, and the impact of Okinawa’s kasuri on that of Echigo is evident.

Omi jofu, Echigo jofu and Miyako jofu are each very collectible due to their fine quality, and, as can be expected, each is highly priced and can be extremely valuable.

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