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Archives for May, 2009

Savoring the Subtle Beauty in Japanese Shoji

May 31, 2009

A few years ago while in Kyoto, I booked an appointment to visit Katsura Detached Palace, the world-famous 17th century princely retreat, and one of Japan’s most beautiful architectural treasures.  Katsura-rikyu, as it is also called, is studied world-wide for the perfection in its proportions and details, and for the magnificent beauty of its restrained elegance.


Katsura-rikyu’s architectural details are fascinating and endless.  I’m showing here a few details of shoji from but one corner of the palace.  This set of photos is  a mere sliver off the top of an Everest of stunning visual delights which Katsura-rikyu offers.


You can see why I stopped to look carefully at these windows: I loved seeing the wood fretting of the windows through an overlay of washi paper, the seams of which are in counter-rhythm to that of the interior fenestration.


Even though Katsura-rikyu is basically a heaven-on-earth and the abode of ancient Japanese royalty, staggeringly beautiful details in traditional Japanese architecture abound in all parts of Japan, from historically important public buildings to the homes of simple families.  Have a look at these photos–and enjoy!




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Some Natural Fibers

May 29, 2009


Two balls of hand plied Japanese hemp yarn and a skein of raw cotton yarn, sitting in a mended trough from Gilgit, Pakistan, seen in soft light.

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A Group of Nine Pre-War Stencil-Dyed Paper Pouches

May 25, 2009

This is a selection of nine different, hand stenciled paper pouches–by pouch I mean that each is a folded piece of paper which is machine sewn on three sides with the exception of an unsewn length of about 6″/15 cm on one of the short sides.   The group dates to the early Showa Period (1926-1989).


From left to right, the patterns are: chrysanthemum, grape and squirrel, hanabishi (or “diamond flower”) and chrysanthemum, shippo tsunagi or interlocking circles, shippo tsunagi with central flower pattern, shippo tsunagi, butterfly, abstract floral pattern, grape and squirrel.

I’m offering a few of these paper pouches for sale on my website, here.


They’re really beautiful, aren’t they?


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A View onto Sakiori Obis: Rustic, “Ragweave” Kimono Sashes

May 22, 2009

This is a group of five Japanese sakiori obis which are rolled and seen from above. 

Sakiori is weaving technique that uses “recycled,” shredded cotton textiles as weft yarns.  Earliest examples of sakiori weaving extend back to the early 19th century when poor people were able to acquire cotton rags for the first time: until this time, cotton was a scarce commodity as it had recently been introduced to Japan and only the wealthier echelon of society could afford to buy it.

Rural folk couldn’t afford to buy cotton garments, so they bought rags: they cleaned and shredded the rags and used them to create thick cloth which they fashioned into clothing.  Sakiori weaving endured in Japan until the mid-twentieth century.


These obis date from the mid-twentieth century; most sakiori obis date from the early-to-mid twentieth century.  Have a look at this lovely one here, and another example of sakiori weaving–just gorgeous–here.

This photo was taken by Lyn Hughes.

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A Shower of Shibori

May 15, 2009

On today’s post I am showing a selection of shibori from my collection–shibori is the famous “shape resist dyed” cloth of Japan which is akin to tie-dyeing.  All of the images below are details from various shibori yukata, a yukata being an unlined, “casual” kimono, and the examples displayed range in age from (approximately) the end of the 19th century until about 1940 or so.

Most of the pieces are hand loomed cotton which has been dyed in indigo, with one exception being  a hemp garment dyed in benibana or safflower dye, the safflower yielding a bright magenta color in this case.

Some pieces shown have been sold, some are offered for sale on my website now, some will be offered in the future, and some I am keeping in my own collection.

Almost all the shibori shown here was created in Japan’s shibori capital, the area encompassing the towns of Arimatsu and Narumi, near Nagoya, where in the late 19th century endless variations on the shibori technique were invented and proliferated.

For more in-depth information on shibori, the resource I would suggest is “Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing” by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, Mary Kellogg Rice and Jane Barton, available here.


Above: yanagi or willow shibori.


I will offer this yukata (above) on my website on 20 May.


This shibori has a dyed grey field.  The shibori is of the typed referred to as tatsumaki arashi, or diagonal diamond net.


Tesuji or hand pleated shibori, above.  This is currently for sale on my website.


Above, shirokage or white shadow shibori showing the tatewaku motif.


The motif is interlocking circles or shippo tsunagi: the shibori is created by stitching a piece of paper into a fold in the cloth: this allows the proper resist to create a pattern as shown above.


Okkochizome or a kind of shibori where selected areas of cloth were dip dyed.  The motif is the kiri or pauwlonia flower which is associated with the legendary phoenix in Japanese Buddhist symbolism.


Above: pleating done in two directions yields this striking check pattern.


Benibana or safflower dyed hemp: the pattern shows folding fans, plum blossoms and chidori, or plovers.


Above: suji or pleated shibori.  A variation is offered for sale on my website, here.


Suji or pleated shibori vertical stripes with stencil applied color on the horizontal stripes (surikomi).


Shirokage shibori in the form of the hemp leaf or asa-no-ha, one of Japan’s traditional motives.

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Indian Textiles: An Indigo Dyed Cotton Naga Shawl and Two, Small, Intensely Stitched Kanthas

May 11, 2009

Today I am showing what I consider to be three stunningly beautiful Indian textiles, specifically an indigo dyed cotton Naga shawl (right) and two intensely stitched kanthas to its left.  Surrounding these three textiles which are hanging together on the wall are some Japanese country textiles from the late nineteenth century.  I’ll talk a bit about the Naga shawl first.


The beautifully colored, indigo dyed cotton shawl was woven in Nagaland a hill state in far north eastern India which was created in 1961, and home to the Nagas, who can be called a “tribal” people who belong to an Indo-Mongoloid family. Nagaland is in a remote part of India as it borders the distant states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur: Nagas also live in Burma, which borders these Indian states.

The Nagas are a group of 14 major tribes, each with their own dialect, customs, beliefs and creation myths–and as their land is physically quite remote from the country of India, the people of Nagaland are a racial group distinct from the inhabitants of India. One of the most famous cultural features of the Naga was their practice of head hunting, a tradition which has been put to an end by the government of India and by a gradual conversion of the Nagas to Christianity.


This  shawl is a soft, deep indigo color which has bears a rich patina from wear, and it is comprised of three woven strips–each about 14″ wide–which are hand stitched together.  Along the warp throughout the piece is a very subtle striping of alternating pale blue and bone colored “pin stripes.”   The two ends are finished by tied, twisted and knotted fringe.  Look carefully at the photos and notice the small flecks of color that are inserted at the seams–and also note the beautifully tight mendings.




For more on the Nagas, why don’t you visit the site of Pablo Bartholomew whose photos and stories on the Naga are compelling and beautiful.


I’ve shown some wonderful kanthas from West Bengal and Bangladesh on this blog before–if you go to the “tag cloud” to the right of this column and click on the word “kantha” you’ll see some previous posts on kantha, with some fascinating quotes on this folk tradition by the famed Indologist, Stella Kramrisch.   Also, if you notice the “…of interest” blogroll above the tag cloud, you’ll see a link to the kanthas in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum–these kantas were collected by Stella Kramrisch and she gave them to the museum.  They are a stunning collection, and all acquired in the early part of last century.  My belief is that the two kantas shown below date to the early 20th century or perhaps slightly before.




Spend some time studying the minute stitching and intensely complex patterns of these two exquisite kanthas.  These are among the favorites in my collection.




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A Cloth Woven from Hand Plied Nettle Yarn

May 9, 2009

Asa is the general Japanese term used to refer to textiles that are woven from yarns that are hand-plied from bast or plant fibers–chief among them in Japan are hemp or ramie, taima or choma, respectively.  Other bast fibers used in traditional Japanese weaving were kuzu (kudzu), shina (linden), fuji (mountain wisteria) to name a few.

The beautiful fragment of cloth shown below is an asa textile, and although it appears to be woven from hemp or ramie yarn, it is, in fact woven from nettle, called akaso in Japan.



It is said to be from Shiga Prefecture in Japan’s Kansai region, Shiga being the same place where the fabulous omi jofu or the fine-as-silk ramie and hemp cloth is woven.  Most likely this wonderful, small piece of cloth is taken from a kimono.

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Three Hindu Copper Vessels

May 4, 2009

These three, elegant copper forms are used in ritual bathing rites during Hindu pujas, the puja being  a prescribed, worship ceremony of a god or goddess.  Often a puja is done with the intention to benefit the good of a person, a family or the greater good of mankind.  These copper vessels would be filled with water and held in the hand (the middle finger resting into the center  “dimple” for balance) and the image or murthi of the god or goddess would be bathed.  Shlokas or prayers would be uttered as the idol is being worshipped.


The form of these vessels is that of the yoni, a cosmic symbol of the goddess in the form of the female generative organ–I chose these words carefully as in Hindu thought this stylized vulva form is meant to represent the flowing forth of universal life in all of its creative manifestations, both spiritual and material.   The yoni is often seen in combination with the lingam, the primordial symbol of Lord Shiva represented as a phallus, so you see that the unified yoni lingam demonstrates the unification of male and female energies.

In Hinduism, female energy is worshipped as shakti, or the enlivening energy force.


These three yoni vessels are shown sitting on a mended Japanese hemp mesh textile called a koji mushiro.  Directly under the yonis is a fabulous silk organza cloth dyed in a Japanese botanical dyestuff called benibana or safflower.  This brilliant fuchshia cloth was dyed by Kyoto’s master dyer and cultural historian, Sachio Yoshioka. I selected this rich, red color as shakti, the Hindu feminine force, is represented by the color red.

The largest of these three yonis is 14″ x 7″ x 4″/ 35.5 cm x 18 cm x 10 cm.

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