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Archives for September, 2008


September 30, 2008

It is overcast here today so the photos I took of some of the sashiko pieces in my showroom reflect the grey weather.  As I wanted to post something on sashiko, I decided to go ahead with it, even if the ambient light isn’t the best.

Sashiko stitching is a hallmark of Japanese folk textiles and here you see a stack of sashiko stitched furoshiki (wrapping cloths) and, on the wall above the stack, are two sashiko stitched bags.   A quilting stitch, sashiko was first employed to add stability and to reinforce cloth, very often it was used to create layers of cloth for clothing. (The stack of brown cloth to the right of the sashiko furoshiki is a pile of sakabukuro or sake straining bags).

When cotton thread became widely available in Japan by the mid to late nineteenth century, sashiko stitching developed and became a more decorative stitch while still retaining its usefulness as a tool for reinforcement.  Sashiko furoshiki are stitched on the corners for the purpose of durability, for example.  As well, ‘fancy’ sashiko stitched utilitarian cloth was offered as part of a bridal trousseau and elaborately sashiko stitched clothing, more or less, were used for celebration and ceremony.

Kogin, the mind-bogglingly gorgeous sashiko from Japan’s far northern Aomori prefecture is a prime example of elaborate sashiko stitching.  (Go to the tag cloud to the right of this post and click on kogin to go directly to a post dedicated to this kind of stitching).

I love this heavily sashiko stitched bag: it’s on my website here.

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A Beautiful Nobori: Crashing Waves and Family Crest

September 27, 2008

This is a gorgeous, somewhat mysterious nobori, or a kind of standard/ banner, that is flown in the open air in Japan.  By mysterious I mean that it does not appear to be of the kind flown during Boys’ Day as the iconography–a crashing wave done here in resist dyed indigo–is not in keeping with the lexicon of motives used for traditional Boys’ Day banners.  Even though I’ve owned this nobori for a few years, I’ve hesitated posting it for sale on my site as I couldn’t explain it properly, so I thought I’d just enjoy it until something came to light.

Light was shed recently as I was looking through an amazing book called “Avvolti nel Mito: Tessuti e costumi tra Settecento e Novecento” which was given to me by my friend, Annie M. van Assche, the curator of the exhibition the book accompanies.  The exhibition is that of the collection of Jeffrey Montgomery and was shown in Genoa, Italy in 2005.  In “Avvolti nel Mito” there is shown a set of four nobori remarkably like this one: the accompanying caption says this kind of banner could have been used to celebrate a large catch (in fishing villages).  The encircled cross on this banner is a traditional Japanese family crest, however in the days when Christianity was not allowed in Japan, sometimes this same crest was used as a surreptitious communication between Christians.

In “Avvolti nel Mito”, the foreward is written by the brilliant Japanese cultural historian, Gian Carlo Calza, whose book, “Japan Style” one should seriously consider adding to one’s library.

Getting back to this particular nobori, it may have been cut down from a larger piece, but I am not sure.  It’s done on beautifully rustic hand spun, hand loomed cotton, probably dates from the mid-to-late nineteenth century–I think I’ll post this for sale in the next few weeks.

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A Shima Cho or Stripe Album of Hand Loomed Cottons

September 25, 2008

On today’s new posting at Sri, I am showing a really fine example of an antique shima cho.

Very collectible, a shima cho is a home made book showing small samples of hand woven cloth, many of which were purportedly woven at home by one family.  It has been said that these sample albums were created by a family to remember the weaving patterns done by family members, and it has also been said that brides would take this album to the home of her in-laws so as to remember the weaving traditions of her own family.

This shima cho is rich in hand woven cotton fragments, many of which are the dark, subtle narrow stripes popular in the late Edo era, ca. 1800-1868.  There are 4 1/2 leaves of samples showing 9 pages of fragments.

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A Nineteenth Century Folk Carving of Daruma

September 24, 2008

In Japan, Daruma is a ubiquitious presence and is a symbol of good luck–his most popular manifestation is that of a bright red, papier-mache, roly-poly tumbler doll, often whose eyes are left blank.  At new year, when you make your new year resolution, you paint in one of the eyes.  If you are able to acheive your goal for that year, you paint in the other eye.

One of my favorite local restaurants here in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Bozu, has a wonderful installation of papier-mache Darumas suspended by wires at the entrance to their restaurant.  Have a look: the Darumas are the third image of the slide show.  If you’re in the neighborhood I recommend you enjoying a meal there: the food is excellent.  And they make their own pickles.

Shown here is a nineteenth century folk art Daruma of carved wood.  In actual fact, Daruma is really the Indian sage Bodhidharma, who lived some time around the sixth century CE and who is the founder of Zen Buddhism.  His image is proliferated in temples around Japan, and his intense eyes and careful glare grab hold of you, to be sure.

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Kogin Embroidery from Aomori Prefecture

September 23, 2008

A view onto an exquisite kogin kimono: white cotton thread-counted embroidery on indigo dyed hemp.  Kogin were made on the northernmost point of Honshu, in remote and cold Aomori Prefecture; their production heydey was the late nineteenth century and the locus was Aomori’s Tsugaru District.  The Mingeikan or the Japan Folk Craft Museum in Tokyo–the international mecca for Japanese folk craft–shows a remarkable kogin which can be seen here.

Sashiko stitched patterns varied from place to place in Aomori Prefecture and precious white cotton thread–cotton was a luxury in that area in nineteenth century Japan–was thought to be reminiscent of the deep snow of Tsugaru.

It is the bodice that is stitched.  The skirt and arm areas are applied to the bodice and can be replaced.  Certain stitched patterns were thought to have the power to ward off evil.

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Antique Hinagata or Sewing Practice

September 22, 2008

Hinagata are miniature articles of clothing which are used to teach ladies how to create garments.  These are particularly interesting because they are all made in Japan, most likely during the Meiji era (1868-1912) or just thereafter, and they are all fashioned after Western styling.  Have a close look at the detail photos below and enjoy looking at the machine stitching, the tiny buttonholes, the smocking, the fastidious tailoring.

On the Sri website we list some hinagata, however we show tiny, practice kimono, as the one shown here.

These are absolutely wonderful to see in person.   Even though these tiny garments are Western-styled and mostly created from cotton, some of these garments are made of traditional Japanese asa (hemp or ramie) fabric, which makes this hybrid even more interesting.

On the dress below, note the tie: it’s made of very traditional Japanese fabric showing the asa-no-ha (hemp leaf) pattern, which is in sharp contrast to the otherwise Western pattern of the cotton dress.

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Edo Period Itajime Silk

September 20, 2008

These images are details from a late Edo Period (1603-1868) aigi or silk under-kimono which is made of fragments of silks dyed in the itajime method.   So much to say about this, but before we get into all of it, just know that these incredibly beautiful textiles–all dyed using botanical dyes–are NOT ‘printed’: they are the result of an intensely artistic and somewhat ancient process.

Itajime is a  dyeing process using clamps which exert great pressure on cloth, so the parts of cloth that are highly pressurized resist dye.  To achieve the designs on these textiles, an artisan had to carve a block with the designs shown; then another block, in mirror image to the original had to be carved and they would be set face-to-face.

Cloth would be slipped between the two carved blocks, the raised areas of the carving would clamp down on the cloth and would resist dye: a length of cloth would be fed through a  high stack of many identically carved blocks, the entire tower of blocks would be clamped, and this big,  bundle of cloth under pressure from layers of carved blocks would be lowered into a dye vat.  The white designs were under so much pressure that the dye did not penetrate those clamped portions of cloth.

On the top photo, from left to right, we see dyestuffs of gromwell root (purple), overdyed indigo (green), probably some kind of nut or maybe loquat (brown), and safflower (orange).

Here’s a stack of pieced aigi or juban, in my showroom: they are quite loud with color and pattern; these underkimonos were made from old clothing or borrowed scraps from family members.  In Akita Prefecture, in Nishi Monai, these undergarments are worn by women as kimono (not as under garments) during the late summer ancestor-honoring festival of O-Bon: the ladies of Nishi Monai wear these as ceremonial costumes (called hanui for this purpose) for their festival dancing in which they call upon their forbears.   See a photo here and read more about it here.

Here is another reference to itajime, from the Sri website.

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Beautiful Eggplants

September 19, 2008

My friend, Susan, stopped by yesterday afternoon and brought me these gorgeous, glossy, lavender-colored eggplants.  Some things look good enough to eat; these look too good to eat, but it would be a pity not to.

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Two Cinnabar Stamped Japanese Pilgrims’ Books

These are two Japanese pilgrim’s books that have just arrived; I think I’ll post one on my website next week.  I believe they are from the 88 Temple pilgrimage on Shikoku island, Japan and they probably date to the 1920s or 1930s.

Each page on the book on the left is completely covered with the oily red cinnabar stamps which the pilgrim received at each of the temples visited on his sacred pilgrimage cycle: I have never seen a pilgrim’s book with such a profusion of red stamps on each page; the book is still very fragrant from the cinnabar.

Shikoku island’s 88 Buddhist temples are sacred as Shikoku was the birthplace of  Kukai (known posthumously as Kobo-Daishi), 774-835 CE, the Japanese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar and artist who brought Esoteric Buddhism to Japan from China.  In Japan it is known as Shingon.   Pilgrims would literally bushwhack their way around the island in an attempt to visit all the sacred temples, and this long trip would be arduous and, in some cases, fatal.   Most likely these books, being from the modern era, belonged to pilgrims who did not brave the elements to the extent of their forebears, but still, completing the pilgrimage takes devotion, determination and faith.

Have a look at the coats that pilgrims would wear by going here.

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Antique Temari

September 18, 2008

Temari are decorative balls of  wound and stitched threads.  In olden times in Japan temari were created from leftover threads and were intended to give to children: in some cases within the core of a temari would be a wish for the child in the form of a crumpled note, or a bell–the bell lending a playful aspect to this wondrous thing which was intended to amuse a child.  These particular ones, I think, are beautiful for their faded colors and abstract geometric patterns.

And today, our “for sale” website, Sri, is updated with new products, so have a look!

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