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Mottainai: The Fabric of Life at the Portland Japanese Garden 4-27 November

October 29, 2011

I’m really pleased to say that the Portland Japanese Garden has asked my close friend and colleague, Kei Kawasaki of Gallery Kei in Kyoto, and me, to mount an exhibition which will run through November.The show, called “Mottainai: The Fabric of Life, Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan,” opens on 4 November and is on view until 27 November.Both Kei and I are planning to show some of the highlights from our collections and we will be exhibiting some extraordinary and rare pieces.  In order to illustrate the breadth of traditional Japanese textiles Kei will be showing bast fiber textiles: wisteria, linden, hemp, ramie, paper, paper mulberry, etc., and I will be showing cotton boro textiles.  I’ll be exhibiting a range of types, from everyday utilitarian textiles to large, complex garments.The images here are details of some of my pieces which will be in the show.We’ll both be in Portland this coming week setting up the show: I’m really looking forward to it.  Kei has produced a beautifully illustrated catalog for the show for which both she and I have contributed essays.  I’ll let you know when it is available.I will be updating the webshop as per usual this Wednesday at 11 AM New York time.  *As I’ll be in Portland until 5 November, any order placed from 30 October through 5 November will be shipped on Monday, 7 November.*If I’m able to do so, this coming week I’ll blog some images from the set-up at the Garden.  Stay tuned….

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An Intricately Sashiko Stitched Maekake

July 25, 2011

A few weeks ago I showed a pair of fantastic, sashiko stitched tabi which were sitting on a very good, sashiko stitched maekake.  I’m showing that maekake today.
The pattern is a unusual: it’s a web of diamonds, the kaku shippo or “angled seven treasures” motif.The stitching is tight and the stitches are very small.  This maekake, or traditional apron, dates to the mid twentieth century or so–and it is in very good condition.

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A Pair of Blue-on-White Sashiko Stitched Tabi

July 9, 2011

Today I am showing a pair of exceptionally fancy, yet rustic, tabi or the traditional split-toe “socks” of Japan.  These white cotton tabi are hand sashiko-stitched in indigo dyed cotton yarn. You can see that the body of the tabi are stitched in the traditional asa-no-ha or hemp leaf pattern; the toe areas are stitched in a complex grid made of dark and light triangles.And quite unusual is the applied, diagonally placed banding stitched in the yabane or arrow feather motif: obviously this is meant to provide wear against the traditional waraji, or the hand braided straw sandals that would have been worn over these tabi.The hand stitching on these tabi is spectacularly good.  As is the condition: they seem not to have been worn.My guess is that they were made in the Tohoku region or north east area of Japan, probably some time mid-twentieth century.These tabi are sitting on an intensely sashiko stitched maekake or apron.

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A Sashiko Stitched Vest from Tohoku

May 7, 2011

This sleeveless garment–referred to as sodenashi or dogi–is from Aomori Prefecture in the far northeastern region of Honshu, which is a remote and rural area.
It is made of repurposed cotton katazome cloth which has been heavily sashiko stitched, the stitching creating a blurred effect to the figured, resist dyed base cloth.Although Aomori Prefecture is very rural, it is this region which produced some of Japan’s most intricately sashiko stitched textiles, such as kogin, the famous stitching from Aomori’s Tsugaru region, which is the origin of this garment. Aomori can receive a great deal of snow in winter and some historians have conjectured that the heavy, white sashiko stitching of this area is a visual allusion to snowfall.This particular vest is made of repurposed parts as can be seen in the the photo above, and below: sometimes the body of  such vests from Aomori are sewn from one type of figured cloth, not of  two as is the case here.Amazingly tight stitching.Notice that the collar and the side panels are sewn from kasuri or ikat cloth–the inclusion of kasuri cloth on these sodenashi is typical of this form of garment.This kind of vest is said to come from Hirosaki in the Tsugaru region of Aomori. It dates to the late nineteenth, early twentieth century.This kind of vest could have been worn layered over a coat, or directly over an undergarment.  See a similar example in Beyond the Tanabata Bridge: Traditional Japanese Textiles, pp. 113-114.

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A Beautifully Rustic Sashiko Stitched Apron

May 4, 2011

As those who dip into this blog from time to time know, I love traditional Japanese aprons.   Today I’m showing a rustic and beautifully sashiko stitched example.
This is a country apron made of a base of pieced cottons that has been heavily sashiko stitched.  The apron is sitting on a sashiko stitched kotasugake, or a hearth cover.  I estimate that each of these sashiko textiles dates to the mid twentieth century or so.The apron measures 24″ x 17″ or 61 cm x 43 cm–and I just love it.Isn’t this simply beautiful?

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A Sashiko Stitched Jacket from Shonai

April 19, 2011

This marvelously sashiko stitched indigo dyed noragi or work coat is from the Shonai area of Yamagata Prefecture, in Japan’s Tokohu, or northeast region.  The texture you are seeing on the surface of the coat is the result of the coat being completely covered in sashiko stitches.Shonai sashiko stitched garments are often covered in tiny stitches arranged in formation of squares as is the case here.   Often indigo thread is used to stitch on an indigo ground.  Again, such is the case here.  However, what’s wonderful about this jacket is the small patch that is stitched with white thread on the proper left shoulder area of this noragi.The Shonai district is a well-known rice producing center.  That said, this square-patterned sashiko stitching represents the masu, or a square-shaped grain measure.  Notice the density of small stitches which cover this coat in regular formation.  This type of sashiko is very much associated with Shonai–and it’s absolutely beautiful.  Looking at the coat’s interior, you can get a clear sense of the structure of the stitching.And please visit our newly revamped webshop–if you’d like to receive a weekly email announcing new items to the shop, please enter your email address on the sign-up field to the right of this posting.

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A Large, Complex, Beautifully Stitched Boro Futon Cover

February 12, 2011

I’m crazy about the boro futon cover I”m showing today and it’s a wonder that I haven’t yet posted it on this blog.  In a way I have, because it’s the source for the blog’s banner, above, but I think it merits a closer look–and a bit of appreciation.

It’s a big bear of a thing, with large, contrasting patches of blue and brown cottons and fantastically marvelous meanderings of mending stitches.The indigo dyed cottons are old pieces that are hand woven from hand spun cotton yarns.  Some of the brown patches date to the early twentieth century.  Note the kasuri flower patch, below.  It looks as if it is niko niko kasuri, a kind of semi-mechanized ikat cloth that was produced in the early twentieth century.

The back of the futon cover–which would have been the proper, outside of the textile when in use–is beautifully battered.

This beauty measures 79″ x 64″ or 200.5 cm x 162.5 cm.

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A Beautifully Sashiko Stitched Maekake or Maedare

February 2, 2011

I love Japanese aprons–and luckily for me there are a lot to love.  Aprons of some fashion were worn every day by almost every woman–and some men–in old Japan, so there are some interesting examples still available to be seen.This very fancifully stitched apron is a knock-out, and with such an elaborate field of sashiko stitching, it’s hard to imagine that this was worn everyday, around the house, or while working outside.  Most likely this was reserved for special occasions.The layout of the stitched design is beautifully regular–it’s almost architectural in its design.It’s astonishing to see the expert work on this apron and then to consider that so much of the sashiko stitching of this type that we see is of equally good quality.  Or better.  Thinking about this makes you realize that in old Japan, expert hand work and stitching was rampant and widespread, that in most households there would have been at least one woman who had a fantastic facility with needle and thread.Even more astonishing to think about is that in the traditional Japanese home there is very little light–and at nights, when some stitching was done, especially in times past, you can only assume that the interior was shadowy or was illuminated with soft or indirect lighting.Not to mention the fact that many of the women in old Japan, of course, were poor.  Maybe they didn’t have eyeglasses.  Imagine doing this kind of detail work with the naked eye?Beautiful.This indigo dyed cotton apron was probably made in the first half of the twentieth century.   Shown above and below is the apron’s back.

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An Extraordinary Sakiori Hanten: Hemp Warp, Cotton Weft, Sashiko Stitched Sleeves

January 26, 2011

This sakiori hanten has it all: indigo cotton rag weft, hemp warp, great condition, nice proportions, good mending– and a fine, old age.   These characteristics make for a grade A sakiori garment.What sends it over the top, however, are the asagi (pale blue) cotton sleeves which are densely sashiko stitched and so worn that the stitches seem embedded in the fibers of the cloth.Isn’t this sleeve, below, a thing of beauty?  The color, the texture, the patina, the wear–and when paired with the coat itself, it looks even better.It’s interesting that such “fancy” sleeves were attached to such a hardy work coat.  Sleeves were put on and taken off coats during their lifetime, but these seem as if they were attached to this coat for a very long time.   Unless, of course, they were taken from another garment and affixed to this one at some point.  This is highly possible.Since the sleeves ARE so fancy, it has me wondering if this garment was worn by a rural person to go to town or on special occasions.In my estimation, if you are looking for a superb sakiori garment, you’d want to see a bast warp, an indigo cotton rag weft and you’ll want it to have some age.  It has to be in good condition, of course.Sakiori garments are difficult place in time: they were worn from the late eighteenth century well into the mid twentieth century, so one needs to use conjecture to date such garments.  Unless, of course, you are given some kind of history from the family who owned the garment.   This is not the case with this one, though.  I’d guess this to be from the 1930s or so.  It may be older; it may be younger.  There’s just no way of zeroing in on an exact date in this case.It measures 117 cm x 112 cm or 46″ x 44″.

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A Pair of Tsutsugaki Zokin: Lyrical Dust Rags

January 13, 2011

It’s funny to think that something so common as a dust rag can be decorative and can be made of  hand dyed, hand woven cloth.  The pair I am showing today is just that.On today’s post is pair of zokin, or dust rags, which are beautiful and unusual: they are sewn from tsutsugaki dyed cotton and are very heavily sashiko stitched. As zokin are sewn from scraps of “recycled” cloth, these are no exception.  The cloth which makes this pair was culled from a larger piece, most likely a tsutsugaki futon cover which was probably part of a Meiji era (1868-1912) couple’s wedding trousseau.The tsutsugaki cloth on the right-hand zokin shows a faded spray of flowers situated by the edge of a stream; on the left-hand zokin is a beautiful, lattice-fenced foot bridge which crosses the same stream.Equally beautiful, but slightly less lyrical from the image standpoint, are the backs of the zokin, shown below.I believe these zokin were sewn in the mid -twentieth century, and it seems pretty clear that the lady who stitched these zokin carefully chose the cloth and framed the tsutsugaki images with care.

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