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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: Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan

November 6, 2011

The exhibition at the Portland Japanese Garden, Mottainai, The Fabric of Life: Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan opened on 4 November.  Here are some installation shots.
I’m exhibiting with my friend, Kei Kawasaki of Gallery Kei in Kyoto.   Kei and I decided that I would show indigo dyed cotton boro pieces and she would show bast fiber and paper pieces.  The items I have contributed to the show can be seen below.Above and below is a large, woven cotton boro mosquito netting or kaya.

Above and below are sashiko stitched pieces.  Centrally place above is a large, sashiko stitched kotatugake.  To the left and right are garments from Yamagata prefecture.Stitched aprons and zokin can be seen above.

Above and below are sakiori garments.

Above is pictured a boro yogi or sleeping kimono, while below you can see noragi or work coats.Below is a fantastic boro futonji or futon cover.This piece, below, a shinafu or linden fiber tsunobukuro or horn bag is filled with balls of shredded indigo dyed cotton yarn and twisted paper yarn.   Kei brought this to the show to act as a transition between her bast fiber textiles and my indigo dyed cotton ones.  It’s an amazing object.  Kei’s other textiles can be seen in the images below.

Above and below are some woven paper garments.  On the photo, above, situated on the right is an okuso zakkuri or a coat made of woven hemp waste.  Below, seen in the middle, is a fujifu or woven wisteria garment and a shinafu or linden fiber garment to its left.

Below are two elm fiber garments: to the right is a traditional Ainu attush, to the left is an unusual dochugi or traveling coat, made from ohyo or elm fiber.  Since this dochugi is made from traditional Ainu cloth, we can assume that the cloth was traded with the Ainu by a merchant from Honsu island.

A marvelous, resist dyed ramie kazuki from Yamagata prefecture can be seen above and below.  A kazuki is a kimono-shaped veil which was worn on the head by upper class women.Below are repurposed paper items. A splendid bashofu or banana fiber kimono from Okinawa can be seen below.All of the pieces are for sale through the Portland Japanese Garden.  If any are interesting to you, please let me know and I will put you in touch with the Garden.

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A Zanshi-ori Yogi

October 10, 2011

I’m just back from a buying trip to Japan and today I’m showing one of my recent acquisitions: a simply beautiful indigo dyed cotton zanshi-ori yogi, or a sleeping kimono that is made from cloth which is woven from left over yarns.I am showing the inside of the yogi.  In its original state the yogi was stuffed with cotton wadding: both the lining and the wadding have been removed, so what we see here is the “shell” of the yogi.For those who don’t know, a yogi is a kimono shaped sleeping cover, a duvet.  It was not worn, but rather it was laid on top of and splayed over the person, the sleeves and the sides of the kimono falling over the body to add extra warmth while sleeping.This one is wonderful: the hand woven texture, the deep indigo color, the extremely good condition.  I plan to offer it on the webshop in the near future.It probably dates to the first half of the twentieth century–maybe mid-century.  It measures 57″ x 51″ or 144.5 cm x 129.5 cm.

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A Superb Boro Yogi: Part Two

February 15, 2011

Just before the new year, I posted photos of a fantastic, boro yogi–but I just showed its front.  Today, I’m showing its other side, which some of you may prefer to the front.  For me it’s a toss-up.The layers of hand loomed cotton patches are delicious–as is the variety of cottons used in the mending and reinforcement of this sleeping kimono.

Look at all the different patterns of katazome or stencil resist dyed cloth used in constructing this yogi: clearly whoever made this took delight in applying these patterned patches to this yogi.

I thought this magnificent thing needed a second look.  I hope you enjoyed it.

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A Superb Boro Yogi

December 26, 2010

This is the kind of boro garment that, when one finds it, one holds on to it.  The age, the layers, the hand loomed cotton, the variety of patches, the stitching, the wear: this type of high quality boro garment is getting increasingly hard to find. This is a yogi, which is a sleeping kimono intended to provide warmth.  Shown here is the yogi’s outer layer.In its original state, this yogi would have had a lining, and would have been stuffed with either cotton wadding, or, probably more realistically, okuso, or the leftover fiber from the hemp yarn making process. The reason that some yogi were stuffed with okuso is simple: cotton wadding was something of a luxury for rural folk and okuso was material that was more available.Even though yogis are kimono shaped, they were not  worn as a garment.  The functioned as a duvet or comforter: you slept under this yogi which was draped on top of you as you lay on your futon.This is a beautiful, old, boro textile.  It measures 57″ x 48″ or 145 cm x 122 cm.

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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 Indigo Dyed Patched Boro Yogi: Sleeping Kimono

August 17, 2009

Today I am posting images of a very nice example of a boro yogi, or sleeping kimono.   Originally, this yogi would have been stuffed with cotton wadding and would have been quilted: as it is now, the stuffing has been removed, and what we see here is its shell, viewed inside-out because all the gorgeous stitching and patches are best seen on the inside.

Even though this yogi is shaped like an over sized kimono (it measures 51″ x 52″ or 130 cm x 132 cm) it was not worn as a garment: instead, this heavily padded garment-shaped thing would have been used in the same manner as a duvet or a quilt is used, as a cover for a person sleeping underneath it.  Japanese people say that the extra flaps of the arms and the collar areas envelope the body in a good way, trapping much-needed heat around the sleeping person.


Have a look at all the wonderful, small scraps of indigo dyed cotton that are used to create this yogi.  Notice, as well, that a good portion of the stitching is done with hemp thread; I tend to like to see the presence of hemp thread in the stitching of boro items.  To me, it indicates age or suggests the piece is very rural: keep in mind that in the initial phase of making cotton garments from scraps, rural folk had no accessibility to cotton, therefore they did not have cotton thread, so hemp or other bast fiber threads were used for sewing.

This yogi was most likely constructed sometime during the late nineteenth or early twentieth century; the material used in the sewing could be much older.


In most cases, not all, yogis are constructed with a central panel running vertically down the center of the back as can be seen in the photo above: this is a kind of gusset that adds width and area to the piece.


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A Big, Heavily Patched Boro Yogi or Sleeping Kimono

December 12, 2008

This is a wonderful boro yogi, or sleeping kimono.   A yogi is a kimono-shaped duvet or comforter; yogi are lined and then stuffed with either cotton batting or bast fiber and are used for warmth during sleeping.

Although the shape of a yogi is that of a garment, it is not worn like a garment.  Instead, it is placed over the sleeping person, exactly in the same way a comforter is used.  This particular yogi is exceedingly rich in patches and stitching of indigo dyed cotton, its lining and batting have been removed, and because of this, we can see the amazing blizzard of patches inside and out.

Notice the wonderful texture created by so many patches and all the hand stitching.  As I mentioned in earlier entries, precise dating for pieces like this is almost impossible as the making/remaking/repair/addition to a garment like this can span a generation or more, however I believe this yogi is from the late nineteenth/ early twentieth century.

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A Close up on a Katazome Yogi

September 16, 2008

This is a katazome yogi that was shown in a long shot in yesterday’s post.  I wanted to show it up-close as I think it deserves a bit more of a serious look: it is indigo dyed cotton, probably dates from the first half of the twentieth century and the central mon, or family crest, is of the crossed feathers motif.  (That’s my favorite Noguchi lamp in the left hand side of the frame, by the way.)

A yogi is a kimono-shaped comforter that would have been laid on top of the person who’s asleep like a quilt or blanket; it wouldn’t have been worn.  The repeat pattern is that of peonies amid a very florid trailing vine called karakusa in Japan.  Katazome is a stencil resist technique and the hand-cut stencils (called katagami) used to imprint designs are made of mulberry paper saturated with persimmon tannin and they themselves are works of art and are highly collectible.  I think I’ll talk more about the katazome technique in later blog entries.

The absolutely amazing thing about this katazome cloth is that it is double-sided: the clear impression is equally bright on each side, which means that the katazome artisan had to stencil resist both sides of the cloth, registering the stencil exactly and perfectly, front and back.  Mind boggling if you think about it.

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