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Have You Ever Looked into the Eyes of a Butterfly?

August 5, 2010

Few have, but thanks to Japanese folk textiles, we are all given this rare opportunity.Some time ago, when looking at a large depiction of a butterfly on a tsutsugaki futon cover, I discovered that Japanese textile artisans sometimes show the butterfly up-close and head on: you can literally lock eyes with the beauty, as you can do here, on this four-panel furoshiki, or traditional wrapping cloth.Very unusual–especially since the face of a butterfly lacks the elegance of its wings, which is the reason the Japanese admire the butterfly, for its delicacy and its ethereal elegance.

This is a  marvelous, 19th century cotton furoshiki: it is dyed in the tsutsugaki method whereby rice paste is applied freehand directly to cloth; where there is rice paste, dye will be resisted.  The furoshiki was first dyed in indigo then it was overdyed using a yellow dyestuff, yielding a rich, mossy green color.  Said butterfly is at the center of the design; it is surrounded by a traditional “snowflake” form and the remaining ground around the central design is decorated by free-form, very animated pairs of pine needles.The cotton yarn is hand spun and the cloth is hand woven.  This piece is rich in ito aji or “thread taste,” which is something one should always look for when acquiring old, Japanese folk cotton.  There is nothing more beautiful than wonderfully hand spun cotton cloth.The depiction of pine needles is wonderfully spirited.  The Japanese often associate pine needles with conjugal fidelity since the pine is a symbol of long life and pine needles fall in pairs.The furoshiki measures 55″ x 52″ or 140 cm x 132 cm.  It’s fantastic.

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A Nineteenth Century Tsutsugaki Yogi: Sleeping Kimono

June 30, 2010

Shown today is a mid-to-late nineteenth century, indigo dyed cotton tsutsugaki yogi, a sleeping kimono onto which auspicious symbols have been hand drawn and resist-dyed.

Most likely this yogi was part of a larger trousseau of items that were offered to a newly married couple, the trousseau usually consisting of one or more futon covers, diapers, furoshiki or wrapping cloths and the like.  This yogi is not worn on the body, but rather it is laid over the body as a duvet would be: this yogi would have been stuffed with some kind of wadding–cotton or other–to provide warmth.  The original wadding has been taken from this sleeping kimono.The top, central roundel design shows a tortoise and a crane.   The crane is a symbol of long life and conjugal fidelity as cranes mate for life.  The tortoise, too, is a wish for longevity, both for the life of the couple and for that of the marriage.The image, below, is that of the pine.  Again, pine–being evergreen–is a symbol of long life, but as its needles fall in pairs, it is also a talisman bestowing good things to the married couple.Bamboo, below, is a wonderful symbol as it suggests resilience–it bends but does not break.This yogi is hand woven from hand spun cotton and is faded beautifully.  As well, it is nicely patched and mended as it has been used very well since it was made, well over 100 years ago.

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A Striking and Luminous Tsutsugaki Yogi

May 13, 2010

As much as I love the art of tsutsugaki, I don’t collect this material in force.  I have to really, really be impressed with a piece to want to acquire it—and this is the case with how I came to collect this tsutsugaki yogi, which I consider to be very impressive and extraordinarily beautiful.YogiCrane1Small format photos don’t do this piece justice.  What may or may not translate in photos is what, for me, is the magic of this piece, which is a luminous quality: the yogi seems almost back- lit, as if there is light shining out of it.YogiCrane1aThis effect is partially due to all that wonderful asagi or pale blue that forms a halo around the young pines, which are so abundant in this design.  The asagi also illuminates the ground on which the magical crane stands.YogiCrane1bAs well, to further enhance this lustrous image  are the soft edges of the deep blue indigo–quite unusual.   Look carefully at some of the detail photos below, and focus on the smudged, inky blue  that surrounds the ground area under the plants.  The same, smudged blue enhances the horizontal areas of the landscape.   Most likely when the final rice paste resist was placed over the entire image so as to dye the body of the yogi that deep, deep blue color, the artisan used a stiff brush and stippled the rice pasted over the pale blue, thus creating this gradient edge.YogiCrane1cI love the almost Cubist stance of this crane and the way it is folded onto itself, so we get to see all sides of it by looking directly on to it.  Quite a skillful drawing, to be sure.YogiCrane1dWhen you see this yogi “in person” you will notice how judicious is placement of that spot of red on the crane’s head: it is perfectly targeted to draw just the right amount of subtle attention to that area.YogiCrane1e


YogiCrane1gThis yogi was probably made in the mid nineteenth century.  The large, family crest seen on top, center of the garment is the tachibana or mandarin orange.

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An Elegant, Six Panel Resist Dyed Indigo Noren

March 5, 2010

What a striking, paste resist, indigo dyed cotton noren or door covering.  It is sewn from six panels which creates an almost monumental presence, the actual size being 68″ x 73″ or 163 cm x 185.5 cm.

Noren1Centrally placed is the large, mon, or  family crest, in this case it is an unusual, stylized rendering of kashiwa or oak.  Beneath the mon in stepped formation is the wonderfully zigzag matsukawa bishi or pine bark motif.Noren01This noren probably dates to the early twentieth century–perhaps just a bit earlier.  Its size indicates that it was probably meant to hang in front of a building; also indicative of this is the very tightly woven, heavy cotton which would have been strong enough to withstand the elements, street traffic and its dust and dirt.Noren01bNotice how the matsukawa bishi pattern interlocks and creates another iteration of itself in the negative spaces?  Notice, too, how the selvedge edge of each panel is finished: each edge is back stitched in contrasting, white thread.Noren01cThis is a beautifully designed, beautifully executed old noren.

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A Tsutsugaki Rabbit, Waves and Moonlight

February 15, 2010

Collectors of tsutsugaki textiles generally consider the rabbit to be one of the most desirable images to acquire.  The rabbit motif is rich in meaning and allusion, and, aside from being adorable when rendered well by a tsutsugaki artisan, it also references a great deal of  ancient Japanese lore.
BunnyBlog1The white rabbit has numerous auspicious and quasi-religious associations in Japanese tradition.  It was thought to embody the spirit of the moon and in some early texts from the Heian Period (794-1185) the rabbit fit into myths with the tortoise and crane, and symbolized long life.

The Japanese look at the moon, and even today, the folklore is to see a rabbit pounding mochi, using a mortar and pestle, making glutenous rice.  We in the West see a “man in the moon.”BunnyBlog1aThere is another myth concerning the rabbit and the ocean, that is very dramatic and complex and of which are several variations.BunnyBlog1cThe story, is eloquently and succintly told at the website, Myth Encyclopedia, and is captioned from that site, below:

“The Izumo Cycle. The Izumo Cycle of myths features the god Ôkuninushi, a descendant of Susano-ô. One of the most famous stories is about Ôkuninushi and the White Rabbit.

According to this tale, Ôkuninushi had 80 brothers, each of whom wanted to marry the same beautiful princess. On a journey to see the princess, the brothers came upon a rabbit with no fur in great pain at the side of the road. They told the animal that it could get its fur back by bathing in saltwater, but this only made the pain worse. A little while later, Ôkuninushi arrived and saw the suffering rabbit. When he asked what had happened, the rabbit told him how it had lost its fur.

According to Japanese myth, the goddess Amaterasu established the imperial family of Japan. She began by sending her grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto, to live on earth. Before Ninigi left heaven, the goddess gave him the mirror that drew her from the cave, as well as jewels and a sword belonging to the god Susano-ô. When Ninigi arrived on earth, he was accepted as the ruler of Japan, and the gifts he brought from Amaterasu became treasures of the imperial family. Ninigi married the goddess of Mount Fuji, who bore him three sons. One of the sons was the father of Jimmu Tenno, the first historical emperor of Japan. By tradition, the Japanese imperial family traces its ancestry to Jimmu Tenno.

One day while traveling between two islands, the rabbit persuaded some crocodiles to form a bridge so it could cross the water. In return the rabbit promised to count the crocodiles to see whether they were more numerous than the creatures of the sea. As the rabbit neared the far shore, the crocodiles realized that the promise was only a trick to get the rabbit across the water. Furious, the last crocodile seized the rabbit and tore off its skin.

After hearing this story, Ôkuninushi told the rabbit to bathe in clear water and then roll in some grass pollen on the ground. The rabbit followed this plan, and new white fur soon grew on its body. The rabbit, who was actually a god, rewarded Ôkuninushi by promising that he would marry the beautiful princess. Ôkuninushi’s success angered his brothers, and a number of other myths in the Izumo Cycle tell about the struggles between them.”

BunnyBlog1dThis beautiful indigo dyed cotton tstutsugaki panel is shown here in part: not shown is its upper half on which is rendered a resist dyed famly crest, the subject being stylized  folding fans.  The entire piece measures 83″ x 13″/211 cm x 33 cm and it dates to the late 19th century.  This is a panel from a futon cover; the futon cover was reconfigured from a yogi, or sleeping kimono.

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A Katazome Dyed, Sashiko Stitched Diaper

December 28, 2009

Sometimes the most humble of things can continue to fascinate, the reasons for which are not easy to describe—or may not ever be fully understood.  Such is my interest in the anchor motif, and in particular as it is depicted on this wonderful and modest sashiko stitched diaper.  The anchor is rendered in the stencil resist dye method called katazome.

I just love the anchor form, which is popular in Japanese folk textiles, however it is not commonly used.  It mainly appears on items used for the wedding trousseau, such as this diaper, as the anchor symbolizes holding the bride secure in her new life.

Most likely this diaper comes from Izumo or present day Shimane: diapers such as this one were included as a set of seven in a wedding trousseau–often a customary gift from the bride’s family to the groom’s family–as they were auspicious tokens that welcomed and celebrated new life.  This diaper dates to the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and measures 22″ x 12″, 56 cm x 12.5 cm.

This anchor motif ties in to the subject of my next posting which will welcome the new year.  Stay tuned!


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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.
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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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

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A Tsutsu Forest

July 24, 2009

Today I am showing a “forest” of tsutsus.  A tsutsu is paper cone whose brown color is the result of the paper being saturated with kaki shibu, or the tannin of green persimmons.  A tsutsu is the drawing tool used in the free hand paste resist dyeing techinque called tsutsugaki: the cone is filled with rice paste which is applied directly to cloth; the tsutsu is used much in the same way as you would use a pastry bag in cooking or baking.


You may notice the decorative ball in the center of the photo: this is a temari, an elaborately wound ball of leftover threads that was originally conceived as a child’s toy.  This is an old one–probably about 75 years old, or more, and it’s one of the nicest I’ve seen.  I’ve written about temari before on this blog, and you can see those entries here. In this same archived blog, I talk a bit about the two curious figures that also inhabit the “forest,” that of Daruma, the “father”of Zen Buddhism in Japan and, a widely-loved figure in popular culture.


If these tsutsus interest you, I will be offering them on my website in the future, or write me at [email protected] for more information.


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Sometsukasa Yoshioka 染司よしおか, A Botanical Dyer’s Atelier: Post #3, Blue

June 17, 2009

Enjoy some photos of “blue” which were shot at Sometsukasa Yoshioka, the atelier of Kyoto’s master dyer, Sashio Yoshioka, who is the fifth generation dyer in his family’s dyeworks.





In this third post on the remarkable Renaissance man, Sachio Yoshioka, we are glimpsing some images of indigo dyeing at Sometsuka Yoshioka, located in Uji, Japan.  (Feel free to scroll down to see the two prior posts which introduce Yoshioka and his work).

Below, the indigo dyer at the workshop is holding a tsutsu or a cone fashioned from mulberry paper that is saturated in kaki shibu, or green persimmon tannin.  With this tsutsu, rice paste is applied to cloth before it is dyed in order to resist the dye of the bath; this process of freehand resist drawing is called tsutsugaki.  You can see a bit of rice paste at the tip of the tube.

The day I visited the workshop, this dyer was working on an order of cotton tsutsugaki furoshiki or wrapping cloths which you’ll see in photos below.


Immersing cloth in the indigo vat, below.

In the photo, below, the dyer is rinsing a finished piece and checking that the rice paste is entirely removed from the cloth.  Notice the bright white dot: this is the white cotton that resisted the indigo dye.


Some photos below of another furoshiki which has just been dipped in the bath and is dripping dry.  Note the encrustations of dried rice paste on the cloth; these areas will resist the dye and remain white, as in the photo above.



Fully resisted white-on-dyed blue, below:


Many fragments of cottton taped to a piece of paper allow the dyer to monitor the consistency of color produced by the dye bath, below.





Below is a clamp dyed (itajime) cloth, clamped and dyed in two directions.  Sometsuka Yoshioka sells this kind of item in their Kyoto shop, and in a later post we’ll browse the store.


In the next post I’ll show some photos of the wonderful blacks to be found in and around Sometsuka Yoshioka.

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