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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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Zanshi-ori: Cloth Woven from Leftover Threads

June 25, 2010

Today I am showing a group of zanshi-ori, or cloth woven from leftover, cotton yarns.  The centerpiece of this group is a work coat, or noragi, unusual for its lining of zanshi-ori, shown here as the coat’s exterior.

For some reason, zanshi-ori is most often woven and used as bedding, so seeing it applied to a garment is refreshing.  This particular coat seems not to have been worn, and its proper exterior is not of zanshi-ori, but of a hand woven, checked cotton.  This coat most likely dates from the mid-twentieth century.Zanshi-ori is usually distinguished by its randomly spaced pattern of stripes seen on the weft.  In most cases, the warp is fixed–as in the case with this coat–and the weft is fed with an assortment of yarns that have been knotted together:  the result is this intermittent striping.Zanshi-ori is one of my personal favorite categories of Japanese country textiles: not only is it distinctive and beautiful, its origins in thrift and resourcefulness are inspiring, and something of a life lesson.  Below, on the right-hand side, you’ll see a length of zanshi-ori cotton that belies what I said above, that the warp is fixed with a non-zanshi yarn and the weft is fed with zanshi threads.  In this case, the cloth is woven from a warp made from leftover kasuri threads and the weft is a regular pattern of stripes.What I love about the zanshi-ori futon cover, below, is there is evidence that kasuri or ikat threads were used in weaving this piece, as little blips of weft kasuri images appear on this cloth, as can be seen below.

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A Very Patched and Layered Zanshi Boro Textile

January 9, 2010

Zanshi, or cloth which is handwoven from leftover yarns, is one of my favorite of the many different types of Japanese folk textiles.  Today I am showing a small, boro cloth that is rich and deep in many applied patches on one side, and on the other side, we see deliciously abraded zanshi cotton.

This zanshi boro piece, which is literally congested with patches, is one favorite from my collection of boro.


Below is shown the gorgeous zanshi base cloth onto which many patches were sewn: apparently this three panel cloth, which measures 43″ x 38″ or 109 cm x 96.5 cm, was taken from a futon cover.


Notice the irregular striping–blue/white, white/blue–that occurs up the length of the cloth: leftover cotton yarns were tied together to form the weft, the result is a random patterning from these tied yarns.


This piece was used hard: note ALL that abrasion, and then refer to the other side, the top two photos shown here.  Now it’s clear just why so many patches were applied; the zanshi cloth had grown threadbare from use.


Now think about this: the zanshi cloth was woven from leftover yarns.  This life of this cloth, borne of “recycled” materials, was further extended by patching and mending: this is a clear indication how people in old Japan valued the hand woven cloth they produced–and it also is a vivid illustration of  their frugality.


I find this zanshi fragment a wonderful thing to look at and to contemplate–and the softness of the cotton and the layers upon layers of patches lend a wonderful tactility that adds even more appreciation to the enjoyment of this old cloth.

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A Wonderfully Rustic Papier-Mache Basket

December 30, 2008

You can call this a boro basket of sorts: what a gorgeous, rustic and wonderful-looking thing.  This is a woven basket which is covered with a random smattering of pieces of paper, applied in many, many layers and all held together with glue.  It measures 10″, 25 cm high by 11″, 28 cm in diameter.

The brown patina of the basket could very well be the result of the application of kaki shibu or green persimmon tannin.  Kaki shibu was used on myriad household and everyday items in old Japan, including umbrellas.  Kaki shibu gives a very distinctive, rich brown color and it is the same stuff applied to sakabukuro or the very collectible sake straining bags.

The form of the basket is a kind of loosely rendered and squat cylinder.  The shape of the lip, however, is irregular and its backward curve suggests that the basket beneath the papier mache may have originally been a burden basket or a hanging storage basket.

In keeping with the spirit of recycling and reuse, the backdrop for the basket in these photos is a trio of panels of  hand woven zanshi cotton, zanshi being a kind of cloth which is woven from the leftovers of spools of yarn.  Of the many varieties of Japanese folk textiles, zanshi ranks near the top of my personal favorites and I will be offering these pieces on my website in the near future.

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