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A Tsutsugaki Yuage: A Baby Towel from Izumo

July 28, 2012

This very distinctive indigo dyed cloth, made in Izumo, with its prominent, red-dyed corner, is referred to as yuage.  Typically, it is a gift given to the parents of a newly-born child by the baby’s maternal grandparents.Taken from “Country Textiles of Japan: The Art of Tsutsugaki,” by Reiko Mochinaga Brandon:

“One of the special characteristics of baby towels from Izumo is a bright red patch of color–traditionally dyed with madder (akane) or safflower (benibana) in a triangular shape–that appears in the upper right part of the design and most often in the right top corner.  The color red was believed to expel evil and prevent smallpox, a devastating childhood disease for which no cure was known in Edo times.There is basis for this belief.  The fact is most natural dyes used in the countryside came from plants that were known to have medicinal properties.  In the pharmacopeia of Chinese medicine which was practiced in Japan, madder was prescribed for bleeding, jaundice, or rheumatism and safflower for fever, high blood pressure, and irregular menses.  Red was also very special because it was one of the colors prohibited to commoners during the Edo period.  Red was therefore considered a precious color, allied with power and status.  The towel’s red area was only used to wipe the baby’s face, while other parts of the towel were used to wipe the baby’s body.”And just as this very special towel is charged with medicinal powers, its imagery is equally potent in symbolism.  The hand resist dyed, or tsutsugaki drawing shows a crane and a turtle at opposing corners in the design, and also seen is the traditional pine/  bamboo/ plum motif called shochikubai.  Shochikubai  conveys good wishes for a long life: plum shows courage as its blossoms, the first of the year, burst forth from under ice; the bamboo is resilience since it bends but does not break and the pine is a symbol of long life–and also of a faithful marriage as its needles fall in pairs.  The crane and tortoise, too, are well-known symbols wishing a long life.This yuage measures 32″ x 25 1/2″ or 81 cm x 65 cm.  Its cotton is woven from hand spun yarns and it dates to the late nineteenth, early twentieth century.

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A Magnificently Beautiful 18th Century Ramie Boro: Formal Kimono

May 1, 2012

This fragile, delicate and beautiful boro cloth is hand stitched from elegant, hand decorated 18th century kimono pieces.  The kimono, which once belonged to a woman of means, is made from indigo dyed, hand-plied ramie cloth.The ramie is extremely finely woven from hair-thin yarns.  It is almost silky in the hand.  As a kimono it was probably unlined.The decorations are resisted; the hand applied color which would have been very clear when first made is now faded away, leaving barely a trace.The cloth is soft and delicate–it flutters even in the most subtle breeze.

And on these photos you can see that the cloth is translucent.Most likely this cloth was fashioned as a futon cover; its small size suggests it was made for a child, but this would have been a pampered child who would have needed very good manners.

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A Tsutsugaki Futon Cover: Tsurukame, Kamon and Faux Shibori

January 30, 2012

Today I’m showing a stark and interesting four panel, indigo dyed cotton futon cover that is decorated using a free hand paste resist technique called tsutsugaki.  The images on this futon cover are concise yet celebratory: the tortoise and crane (tsuru and kame in Japanese) and a centrally placed, large kamon or family crest.The kamon is interesting: first, it is a rendition of stripes whose source has a martial background.  During wartime in feudal Japan a general’s encampment would be surrounded by curtains of alternating colors in order to distinguish his from the rest.  This kind of stripe or hikiryo is the basis of this mon or family crest.Notice how this mon is designed using a fake kanoko or fawn dappled shibori pattern.  Really charming.And the crane and the tortoise–it is fairly well known that these animals symbolize longevity in the language of Chinese and Japanese design.Not only does the crane represent long life, its elegant form conveys a sense of beauty.  Also, the crane is a symbol of conjugal fidelity as cranes mate for life.These tortoises are charmingly rendered–and once when I was traveling in China I saw hairy shelled turtles, much like these.This futon cover was most likely created for a wedding trousseau.  In the Meiji Era (1868-1912) there was an easing of government strictures upon Japanese citizens and at this time ordinary people could produce showy bridal trousseaux and could present them in a lavish fashion with great ceremony to a newly married couple.

In feudal Japan, which essentially ended at the end of the Edo period in the mid-nineteenth century, ordinary people would not have been allowed to create such an ostentatious show of wedding gifts as started being customary with the onset of  the Meiji period–nor would common folk have had the money to have commissioned such beautifully decorated utilitarian textiles as this one.

 

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A Large 19th Century Silk Yogi: Phoenix, Paulownia and Tsutsugaki

January 12, 2012

This voluminous beauty is an indigo dyed silk yogi which is dyed in the tsutsugaki method showing a rich and resplendent phoenix or hoo-oo hovering over a spray of paulownia leaves and flowers.The legendary phoenix is an import to Japan from China and it carries with it great symbolic significance. Taken from onmarkproductions.com is this succinct and vibrant description of the phoenix in China and Japan: In Japan, as earlier in China, the mythical Phoenix was adopted as a symbol of the imperial household, particularily the empress. This mythical bird represents fire, the sun, justice, obedience, fidelity, and the southern star constellations.

According to legend (mostly from China), the Hō-ō appears very rarely, and only to mark the beginning of a new era — the birth of a virtuous ruler, for example. In other traditions, the Hō-ō appears only in peaceful and prosperous times (nesting, it is said, in paulownia trees), and hides itself when there is trouble. As the herald of a new age, the Hō-ō descends from heaven to earth to do good deeds, and then it returns to its celestial abode to await a new era. It is both a symbol of peace (when the bird appears) and a symbol of disharmony (when the bird disappears). In China, early artifacts show the Phoenix (female) as intimately associated with the Dragon (male) — the two are portrayed either as mortal enemies or as blissful lovers. When shown together, the two symbolize both conflict and wedded bliss, and are a common design motif even today in many parts of Asia

You can see the careful attention to detail paid by the tsutsugaki artist: he made sure to create gradient tones, a variety of vibrant colors and to use his tsutsu to depict a variety of textures and surfaces with a sure economy of line.The kiri or paulownia is an often-seen motif in Japanese folk textiles, usually depicted in a highly stylized form as can be seen here.  The yogi is stitched from silk.   A yogi is a kimono-shaped duvet that is padded with some kind of fill– in the mid to late nineteenth century cotton batting was often used– and was splayed over a person as they lay sleeping, much in the same was a bedcover would be used.  A yogi was not worn as a garment. This one is large, it measures 75″ x 60″ or 190.5 cm x 152.5 cm and it dates to the Meiji Era (1868 -1912).  Its condition is excellent.

 

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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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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

May 14, 2011

A paulownia tree, that is.  Coincidentally, Betty Smith’s famous novel from 1943 is set in my neighborhood, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, just where this tree is blooming.
Paulownia, or kiri as it is known in Japan, is one of that country’s most popular family crests and it is a well-used motif in textile and lacquer design, among others.  It is loaded with historical and legendary significance–and the actual tree shows beautiful blooms, as can be seen here.The kiri motif is borrowed from China.  In Chinese lore it is believed that the mythical phoenix (called Hoo-oo in Japan), when it comes to earth, will alight only on the branches of this tree–and it will only eat the seeds of bamboo.

During the late Heian Period, the kiri motif became fashionable among the aristocracy and it is often associated with this class of Japanese society.  The world’s first psychological novel, The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century, opens at the aristocratic Paulownia Court. And here’s more, quoted from this wonderful website:

According to legend (mostly from China), the Hō-ō appears very rarely, and only to mark the beginning of a new era — the birth of a virtuous ruler, for example. In other traditions, the Hō-ō appears only in peaceful and prosperous times (nesting, it is said, in paulownia trees), and hides itself when there is trouble.

As the herald of a new age, the Hō-ō decends from heaven to earth to do good deeds, and then it returns to its celestial abode to await a new era. It is both a symbol of peace (when the bird appears) and a symbol of disharmony (when the bird disappears).

In China, early artifacts show the Phoenix (female) as intimately associated with the Dragon (male) — the two are portrayed either as mortal enemies or as blissful lovers. When shown together, the two symbolize both conflict and wedded bliss, and are a common design motif even today in many parts of Asia.Above is a kiri-karakusa or paulownia-arabesque pattern done in the katazome method; this cloth is from a futon cover.And these images, above and below, show the kiri motif on a boro futon cover, rendered in the tsutsugaki method.

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A Large, Magnificently Dyed Noren: Stylized Wisteria Crest

April 22, 2011

What a marvelous design, an over sized family crest or kamon, depicting stylized wisteria, or fuji, beautifully centered on a four panel indigo dyed cotton noren, or traditional door covering.
Of course I am showing this hand spun, hand woven indigo cotton noren now: in just a few weeks we will be seeing wisteria in full bloom.The crest is resist dyed–the Japanese resist method uses rice paste to cover and protect an area of cloth from dye.  In the case of this noren, I am not so sure the mon was drawn by hand using the tsutsugaki method as is often the case: a very large stencil may have been used to guide the rice paste onto the cloth–but maybe not.The circular forms are so perfectly circular.  To me this is really impressive.  And the resist dyeing on this is clean, clear and very elegant.I love the way the stylized wisteria flowers cascade downward in a gentle curve and become incrementally smaller as they bend; there is almost a fractal-like quality to this traditional design motif.The cotton is beautiful.  The selvedges are rough and wonderful.  The size proportion of the mon in relation to the size of the noren is just right.  Most likely this noren dates to the late nineteenth century.This beauty measures 65″ x 55″ or 165 cm x 139.5 cm.

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A Group of Tsutsus

April 12, 2011

A long time ago on this blog I showed a group of tsutsus, the shibugami or persimmon tannin paper cones used to draw images in the tsutsugaki dyeing process.   On my recent trip to Japan, I found quite a number of unused ones, and I wanted to show this visually arresting group.

Each measures 6″ x 1 1/2″ or 15 cm x 4 cm and I have about 15 of these.

And I know I’ve been saying this for a while, but my new webshop is almost finished!  I will be launching the new site in the next day or two…

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Back from Japan: A Very Large Hemp Tstutsugaki Furoshiki– A Freehand Drawn Auspicious Motif

March 24, 2011

I arrived back from Japan late at night on the day before yesterday.  With the Japanese disaster weighing heavily on my mind, I thought it would be a good time to show a traditional Japanese motif that conveys good wishes.
Shown today is a very large, six panel, tsutsugaki furoshiki made from hemp; this furoshiki was likely part of a bridal trousseau.  The image is auspicious, it depicts a bundle of noshi, or ceremonial dried abalone.Noshi is dried abalone that is stretched into long, ribbon like strips.  The word noshi is a homonyn for the word “prolong,” so it became customary to include noshi with a gift as a symbol of longevity and prolonged happiness.The fact that the noshi depicted here reaches into so many different areas is symbolic of fortune finding its way in all directions.Shown here is the back of the furoshiki in order to highlight the many, attractive kasuri woven hemp patches that are used to mend and strengthen this traditional wrapping cloth.In my opinion, this is an excellent example of an old tsutsugaki furoshiki.  The indigo is wonderfully faded, the image is rustic and lively, the hemp cloth is rich and is in very good condition.  Most likely this piece dates to the Meiji Era (1868-1912).This gorgeous tsutsugaki furoshiki measures 60″ x 65″, 152.5 cm x 165 cm.

…and a quick update on the webshop: it’s taking a bit longer to produce than expected, so I appreciate you hanging in there with me while it is being developed.

Again, if you are interested in joining our mailing list, please do send an email to me at stephen@srithreads.com and I’ll sign you up!

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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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