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A Whole Lot of Zokin: Sashiko Stitched Dustrags

September 17, 2013

Zokin12Those of you who follow my webshop know that I regularly offer for sale zokin.  Zokin are traditional Japanese dust rags which are hand stitched from leftover or re-purposed cotton cloth.

Zokin12aI just love zokin.  Each time I travel to Japan I buy all those that I can find if I’m lucky to find any at all.  I’m voracious in acquiring them not only because I like them so much, but also because they are harder and harder to find, like all Japanese folk textiles.

Zokin12bAsk any Japanese friend and they’ll tell you that they stitched their own zokin in first grade and that they used it to clean their desk and classroom.  Zokin are ingrained in Japanese culture.

Zokin12cMost zokin are hand stitched from about four layers of recycled cloth and they are usually stitched in the manner of those shown here, using broad sashiko stitching.  Sometimes they show fancier sashiko stitching, but the type on this page are most common.

Zokin12dMany of those who buy these zokin actually use them in the home, either as a place mat or for presentation, placing a zokin under a special ceramic piece or a vase of flowers.  Stay tuned to the webshop as I will be listing these zokin from time to time.

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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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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 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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Three Cones of Hand Spun Cotton Yarn

April 3, 2010

Today I am showing three, small cones of hand spun cotton–Japanese of course.

HandSpun1In the  Japanese language, hand spun cotton is referred to as te-tsumugi and when considering old, cotton, Japanese folk textiles, the ideal pieces are sewn from hand spun, hand woven cotton.HandSpun1aIt’s a real treat to be able to study this hand spun cotton yarn–and it’s even better that the yarn is wound into such wonderful forms.HandSpun1bThe three cones are sitting upon a vintage Japanese zokin, which is a sashiko stitched, cotton dust cloth.

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Wonderful Hemp Stitched Zokin

March 15, 2010

I think that many readers of this blog who are Japanese textile enthusiasts love sashiko stitching and, if you have come to discover zokin, the heavily sashiko stitched pads made of recycled cottons, you probably have been smitten by them.

ZokinHemp1Each piece in the group that I am showing today is made from scraps of old, indigo dyed cotton and is stitched in hemp thread.  These beauties are all from my personal collection.ZokinHemp1aThe stitched pattern on the zokin pictured left, above is called “persimmon flower.”ZokinHemp1bZokin are used for housekeeping, for cleaning and for dusting: each Japanese child makes one in first grade to help tidy up their desk and classroom.  Very often each child will stitch their name onto the zokin.ZokinHemp1cThe hand plied, hemp thread used for stitching is quite raw, very thick and is barely pliant.   These zokin are rustic and are very scratchy.  Imagine stitching with this wiry, harsh thread?ZokinHemp1dThe results, though, are indeed beautiful.ZokinHemp1e

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A Boro Futon Cover and the Versatility of Zokin

February 1, 2010

Pictured hanging on the wall in the photo below  is a wonderful and large boro futon cover; on the floor is an arrangement of zokin or  sashiko stitched dust cloths made from recycled cottons which are laid out to make a kind of rug.
Because zokin are usually made from several layers of cloth, and because they are usually heavily stitched, they are durable—and they beg to be revitalized and put to use in another incarnation.   When I came across these photos, above and below, I remembered a large bed cover I hand stitched entirely from old zokin.

And here is that very bed cover, shown below.

When I first started Sri about ten years ago, I began by hand making home accessories from antique cloth: everything was hand stitched.  I soon realized, though, that I was more interested in the actual cloth than in making things from it, so I phased my business from being an artisan workshop into being a proper gallery of antique textiles.  I’m much happier now that I’ve made this transition.

Still, this bed cover remains one of the favorite things I made: a wonderful client bought it and is living with it, which is great to know.  It’s incredibly durable, and I am sure it keeps my client very warm up there in New England.


Of course this bed cover was made during the days when zokin were more available than they are now so I had many to choose from to stitch this piece.  As you can imagine, textiles of beauty and age are harder and harder to come by as the time goes on.




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A Large, Layered and Very Stitched Boro Furoshiki and a Collection of Sashiko Stitched Zokin

April 24, 2009

Today’s post features a large, very layered and very eccentrically sashiko stitched, boro furoshiki, or wrapping cloth which is  flanked by a collection of densely stitched zokin or dustrags made from  re-used, re-purposed cloth.

The furoshiki measures 68″ x 60″/ 173 cm x 152.5 cm and it is an elegant mess of scraps of cotton cloth that are layered in areas and arranged with no regard for symmetry: the entire wrapping cloth is pierced by a heavy network of sashiko stitching which travels strange paths in odd directions, often pooling up in tight, eddies of thread.

Below the furoshiki you’ll see a stack of vintage, hemp cloth zabuton and a large, 19th century silk drawstring bag.




Which is front and which is back?  Each side is a similarly interesting exploration of re-using cloth scraps and employing stitching as a means to strengthen and reinforce re-purposed materials.  Even though this furoshiki contains scraps of cloth from the late 19th century, most of the cloth is from the 20th, and my guess is that this was made in the 1930s or 40s.


The images of two zokin, below, show a tough little work horse of a cloth: each is a concentrated pad made of layers of recycled coton which has been thoroughly and completely stitched.

As with the furoshiki shown here, I’ll be offering the zokin for sale on my website in the next week or so.



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