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Archives for January, 2010

A Wonderful Boro Work Coat: Fantastically Good Threads

January 29, 2010

I always look forward to posting images of excellent quality boro garments, which I’ve done a few times in the past and which I’m doing again today.

Noragi1This is a marvelous, very heavily patched and mended boro work kimono, sometimes referred to as a nagagi.

What makes this a superlative coat is its age, the quality of the indigo dyed cottons (the yarns are hand spun and all the cloth is hand woven),  its broad, thick stitching, and the inclusion of some very interesting resist dyed cottons and some fantastic, old plaids.

The wear and the fading also contribute to the unconventional beauty of this coat; its soulfulness is the messenger of its appeal.  Noragi1aMost of the cloth used to stitch this coat dates to the mid-to-late nineteenth century: have a look at the photo, below, showing a patch on the coat’s sleeve: notice the katazome, or stencil resist dyed cloth which shows gradient stripes: the Japanese refer to this kind of optical striping as “waterfall.”  Noragi1bAgain, below, look at the nice, big patch of beautifully faded katazome dyed cotton.  Of course the indigo dye used for all the cloth on this coat is botanical.Noragi1c

The coat’s back is almost three-dimensional from the profusion and layering of patches.  Noragi1dThe stitching on some of the pieces is done in thick, white sashiko thread, creating a kind of tracery–a very interesting and delicate contrast to the body of the coat.Noragi1e

Tokyo’s Amuse Museum is now showing the boro collection of the esteemed ethnologist Mr. Chuzaburo Tanaka, whose extensive collection of boro garments–amassed over forty years–was acquired in one of Japan’s most remote and rural regions, Aomori Prefecture.

Please see the link to this phenomenal exhibition here. Those of you familiar with the book “Boro: Rags and Tatters from the Far North of Japan” will recognize this exhibition as the same collection shown in the book.

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A Length of Indigo Dyed Hemp Asa Boro Cloth: Complex Katazome Reverse

January 27, 2010

On the previous post, below this one, I showed a beautiful, cotton cloth printed on its front and back.  Today I’m showing yet another cloth that is wonderful on both of its sides.

PlaidBlog1This is a length of indigo dyed katazome hemp cloth that is heavily patched on one side; the reverse shows a beautiful, two-process katazome dyed pattern.  The hemp cloth is very finely woven.PlaidBlog1aThis hemp boro cloth is patched with hemp fragments, with the exception of the large, plain blue patch which is silk.  The mending stitches are really beautifully done, and some of them are quite intricate.PlaidBlog1cThe photos below show details of the katazome dyed pattern on the reverse side of the boro cloth shown above.   The dyed plaid repeat  is really elegant and subtle, and the technique used to stencil-resist dye the cloth is complex.PlaidBlog1d

Note that the resist dyed pattern runs in two directions, which means the cloth needed to be resisted and dyed twice: once in indigo for the “east/west” stripes, then using a brown dyestuff for the “north/south” stripes.  The end result is just beautiful in its color and its design.

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Indo Sarasa versus Wa Sarasa: A Cloth of Two Sides

January 25, 2010

Since the Edo Period, Japanese people of means were fascinated by the exotic, imported, block-printed and hand-painted trade cloth from India, which they called Indo sarasa.

IndoJapan1These wealthy Japanese collected Indo sarasa, which was traded by the Dutch East India Company, and they utilized for it very special purposes: for small, neat bags to carry tobacco or medicine, for coverings for precious tea ceremony implements, for use on their jinbaori (Samurai’s “dress” vests often worn over armor), obis and other very specialized uses that provided discrete yet ostentatious signs of refinement.IndoJapan1aThe Japanese love of Indo sarasa persists until today, and old examples are still extremely treasured and collected.   The photos above and below show a kind of Indo sarasa, albeit not the intensely dyed, resisted, mordanted tour de force cloth such as this example in the National Gallery of Australia.  The photos above and below show very finely hand spun and hand woven 19th century Indian cotton that has been block printed in something of rudimentary fashion.  Simple, but nonetheless beautiful. IndoJapan1aa

This square-shaped piece of Indo sarasa is hand stitched from several fragments.  It was intended to be a cover for a zabuton, or a traditional, Japanese seating cushion.  But there is a surprising twist on Indo sarasa: the other side of this cloth shows a Japanese version of Indo sarasa called wa sarasa or Japanese sarasa.

IndoJapan1cBelow you see the reverse side of the cloth shown above which has been stencil dyed to create an all-over pattern: at some point the Japanese started making their own version of sarasa, inspired by the Indian original: in this  case, the pattern is a lush, floral one.  Very curious why the Japanese dyer printed over the Indian print.IndoJapan1dWhat is wonderful is that the heavily block-printed Indian original can be seen on the surface of the cloth and provides a discordant, “counter pattern” to the Japanese one.  Very unusual, indeed.IndoJapan1eThe Japanese love everything about Indo sarasa, down to the threads used to weave the cloth: as many of you know, Indian cotton is some of the best in the world.  The cotton of this fragment is Indian and it its qualities of the beauty of the hand spun yarns and the tightness of the weave are spectacular to behold.IndoJapan1f

This is a really unusual textile; I bought this and several others like it, which over time I will be offering for sale on my website. Do let me know what you think.

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A Group of Western Style Japanese Shirts Sewn from Hand Woven Japanese Cottons

January 22, 2010

Shown today are eight Western tailored shirts sewn from traditional, Japanese cotton cloth, most probably sewn some time around 1950 or 1960.  The cloth of some of the shirts is older, and each of these small garments is unused.


Judging from their small size, bright colors and patterns, and the way the buttons fasten, most of the shirts shown here were intended for women and girls.  The shirt shown bottom, center in the photo above seems to have been for a man.

ShirtsBlog1bThe shirt, above, closes with metal snaps.  The shirt, below, closes with white, plastic buttons.  Each of these eight shirts is machine stitched.ShirtsBlog1cThe shirts shown above and the two below are sewn from kasuri or ikat woven cotton.ShirtsBlog1d

ShirtsBlog1eThese shirts are an interesting illustration of Western fashion infiltrating Japanese daily life, a trend that began in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), when Japan moved from being an insular, feudal society toward a more international, modern one.   20th century shirts such as the last one pictured (below), the shirt with the “Henley collar,” were often worn by male workers under a traditional noragi or hanten as they worked the fields.ShirtsBlog1fThe man’s shirt, below, fastens with white, plastic buttons–and the fabric is a wonderful, hand loomed indigo dyed cotton.  The shirt is partially lined.ShirtsBlog1g

This is a really delightful group of garments from old Japan–and if you are small enough, they’d be great fun to wear.

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A Very Rare Group of Eight 19th Century Notebooks from a Kasuri Dyeworks in Omi

January 20, 2010

This set of eight books is a treasure.  The books are the journals of a kasuri weaver/dyer from Omi, an area of Japan (present-day Shiga Prefecture)  which produced some of Japan’s finest hemp and ramie kasuri textiles, known as Omi jofu.

OmibooksBlog1The books date from 1859 through the beginning of last century.  Within them are countless pages of sketches, notes, ideas, technical renderings and working drawings of the patterns and motives that will be dyed and woven by the atelier.  This is a remarkable archive.


By looking at the entries in these books, one has an intimate view onto the mind of a kasuri weaver.  Through these books we can see first hand how the weaver worked out patterns and plotted designs.

OmibooksBlog1bThe paper of these books is extremely soft and pliable from wear.  Obviously the books were handled a great deal during their lifetime.OmibooksBlog1c

The book, shown above,  is a sample book of swatches of kasuri dyed asa (hemp or ramie) cloth along with some bold sketches: it’s not clear if the samples were woven by the owner of these journals, or if they were culled from disparate sources, to be drawn on for inspiration.  Some of the patterns look remarkably like those from Okinawa, which is the artistic home of  Japanese kasuri weaving.





Aside from the information conveyed to us by these books, each page displays a kind of artistry that can be appreciated even if the subject of this book is not known.


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A Very Layered, Very Stitched and Very Beautiful Boro Noragi with Benibana Patches

January 18, 2010

Of the many boro noragi, or patched and mended work coats, that I have seen over the years, this one, below, is a personal favorite.

This coat, probably a woman’s, is extremely thick from many layers of patching.  The patches are all of really rustic, homespun cotton cloth, so the textural quality of the noragi is amplified by the toothy, hand woven cottons that were used to mend it.


The faded blues and the naturally unbleached whites of this coat are in beautiful contrast to the soft salmon colored patches that were dyed in benibana or safflower.


Note the way the dense stitching has embedded itself in the many layers of mending; gorgeous.NoragiBeniBlog1c

Which is the best view onto this noragi?  The front, the back, the inside, the outside?  Any way you turn this coat, inside or out, it’s magnificent.


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A Rustic and Beautiful Katazome Furoshiki

January 15, 2010

Shown here is an indigo dyed cotton, katazome furoshiki, or a traditional wrapping cloth.  Most likely this furoshiki, which dates to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, comes from Japan’s eastern Tohoku region.
I’m fascinated by the strange repeat pattern composed of  upward and downward pointing triangles: even though there is a logic and order to the pattern, the way in which the three panels of this cloth are stitched together somehow misalign the field of the pattern, creating a kind of syncopated “white noise” of marks.


The stencil resist dyed katazome pattern is vaguely dissonant—and very unusual and beautiful.


The folding fan, a depiction of which is shown here, is a Japanese invention; the motif is used on cloth for different reasons: in some cases the folding fan is emblazoned as a family crest, in other cases it is shown as an auspicious symbol on wedding textiles as it symbolizes the “opening of things.”  Where marriage is concerned, the folding fan motif  suggests the beginning of, or opening up of, a new life.


The rustic and crudely dyed resist is attractive, I think:  have a look at the imperfect way that the pattern is resisted–the toothy hand woven cotton and the very inky indigo color enhance these imperfections, adding a luster of strange beauty to this country textile.


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Lots of Komebukuro

January 12, 2010

Today I am showing a portion of my collection of komebukurokomebukuro being a general term for a piece-constructed, drawstring bag made from scraps of cloth.  The bags were used to carry dried rice or beans as offerings to temples and shrines during festivals or ritual events.  I will be selling these bags on my website over time.

I said that komebukuro is a general term for this type of bag.  The reason I say this is that it is my belief that not all these bags were used for shrine festivals.  I think some of the larger ones were made for everyday use in the home.  The smaller, more fanciful pieces were probably used as offering bags.

I’m sure that the two pieces on top of the heap, above, are komebukuro.  They are silk bags, made from scraps of resist dyed and brocade silks: quite luxurious.  Komebukuro were made from cotton and from silk.  Note the elaborate green, silk cord and tassel on the silk komebukuro in the middle of the pile.  Kumihimo, or artful Japanese braiding, is a serious form of study and research, and is still practiced by artisans in Japan and abroad.  Have a look at a video of kumihimo braiding here.


A textile dealer friend in Japan showed me something interesting regarding komebukuro.  She unfurled a great length of patchwork cloth that had long perplexed her: why such a narrow length of intricately stitched pieces of cotton?  Then she realized that this was a “komebukuro in the rough.”  Apparently, scraps would be stitched together and a long piece of cloth was formed: from this long piece, shorter lengths would be cut and then fashioned into a komebukuro. Of course on the more decorative, silk komebukuro, such a practice was not applied–the fanciful pieces were made using advanced piecing techniques and were works of bravado.

I wanted to publish images of komebukuro shown as a group in order to illustrate the variety of sizes, from small to large.  I am fortunate to have many of these bags, and I look forward to offering them for sale.  Stay tuned.


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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 Portal to Another Place

January 6, 2010

What I mean by “portal” is shaded with several meanings.  First, I’m showing here a richly stamped and decorated pilgrim’s coat from my collection, the main image is that of Kannon: the coat was worn by a pilgrim as he or she made their way to holy sites following a prescribed pilgrimage route.  In so doing, the pilgrim–cloaked in this supernaturally-charged garment–approached the portal to a sacred space, thus transcending the mundane and entering the realm of the sublime.Kannon1

On a more practical level, I am going to provide several links below that will serve as a portal to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum‘s website that discusses Japanese pilgrimage and has borrowed images from my collection to illustrate their entries.  Rather than discuss this coat in detail here, I’ll just provide links, and let you have the fun of poking around the V & A’s site, which is bursting with fascinating content.


Here is the entry where this coat is shown, the topic discussed is Koyasan, a mountain sacred to the Shingon Sect of Buddhism.


Discussed here is the famous 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku Island–and do follow the links provided by the V & A.  Fascinating stuff.


And here is a link to the Saikoku Kannon Pilgrimage, a pilgim circuit of 33 Kannon temples in Western Japan.  I encourage you to delve into the      V & A’s website which provides additional information on Buddhism and sacred sites related to the Buddha and his teachings.


And have a look here and here to see some of the Buddhist textiles and objects I am currently offering for sale on my website.


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