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Switches of Hemp Fiber

April 8, 2010

Today I am showing something akin to yarn: nicely braided and twisted skeins of hemp fiber which are waiting to be plied into weavable yarn.HempBlog1The ten skeins sit atop a tansu and beneath a beautiful, early 20th century child’s Omi jofu hemp kimono with a lavish semamori or stitched, protective amulet–and under the hemp switches is a marvelous curiosity: it is a 19th century indigo dyed koyori (twisted paper) braided bag which used to hold boxes containing Japanese swords.HempBlog1a


HempBlog1cIsn’t that small cascade of braiding, above, just beautiful? Doesn’t it resemble some kind of marvelous insect?HempBlog1dThis is a beautiful study of natural, bast texture.  The color is oddly beautiful, kind of like a slightly oxidized brass.HempBlog1e

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A Stack of Omi Jofu Zabutons

March 31, 2010

I love antique Japanese zabuton, which are traditional cushions that are still very much in daily use in Japan.  Here is a stack of fine, old ones that are made from the marvelously good Omi jofu, a kind of super fine hemp and ramie kasuri (ikat) from Shiga Prefecture.

Zabuton1aAren’t they beautiful?  The warm tone of the indigo and the very good kasuri is just wonderful–as is the old, cotton batting which fills out the cushions.  These old zabuton are thin with batting and they don’t provide a lot of  “cushion.”  Newer, commercial zabuton are quite thick and bouncy, but in old Japan, when cotton was expensive, the padding was minimal, as can be seen in these examples shown here.Zabuton1

Zabuton1bNote the contrasting, red cotton threads used to “quilt” the cushions.  Notice, as well, the lush pattern created mainly of folding fans and plum blossoms, both tradtional Japanese design motives.Zabuton1cI estimate that these cushions date to the 1920s or 1930s; for having been used and for having such age they are still in very good condition and are still amazingly attractive–and they are still very much able to be used in the home.  Zabuton1dThere are 11 of them and each measures 11″ x 21″/ 28 cm x 53.5 cm.

Just gorgeous.

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A Very Rare Group of Eight 19th Century Notebooks from a Kasuri Dyeworks in Omi

January 20, 2010

This set of eight books is a treasure.  The books are the journals of a kasuri weaver/dyer from Omi, an area of Japan (present-day Shiga Prefecture)  which produced some of Japan’s finest hemp and ramie kasuri textiles, known as Omi jofu.

OmibooksBlog1The books date from 1859 through the beginning of last century.  Within them are countless pages of sketches, notes, ideas, technical renderings and working drawings of the patterns and motives that will be dyed and woven by the atelier.  This is a remarkable archive.


By looking at the entries in these books, one has an intimate view onto the mind of a kasuri weaver.  Through these books we can see first hand how the weaver worked out patterns and plotted designs.

OmibooksBlog1bThe paper of these books is extremely soft and pliable from wear.  Obviously the books were handled a great deal during their lifetime.OmibooksBlog1c

The book, shown above,  is a sample book of swatches of kasuri dyed asa (hemp or ramie) cloth along with some bold sketches: it’s not clear if the samples were woven by the owner of these journals, or if they were culled from disparate sources, to be drawn on for inspiration.  Some of the patterns look remarkably like those from Okinawa, which is the artistic home of  Japanese kasuri weaving.





Aside from the information conveyed to us by these books, each page displays a kind of artistry that can be appreciated even if the subject of this book is not known.


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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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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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