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A Sashiko Stitched Noragi: Rectangles, Squares or Diamonds?

Written on June 2, 2010

This is a marvelous, very intricately sashiko stitched coat, most likely from the Shonai district in Yamagata Prefecture. Do you see stitched rectangles, squares or diamonds?

The evenness of the sashiko stitching, which covers the entirety of the coat, front and back, is a marvel.    And as much as this coat is something of a tour de force of sashiko stitching, keep in mind that this level of stitching skill was shared by most girls and women of old Japan, all of whom cultivated a sure hand and exquisite stitching skill.

This indigo dyed, cotton coat most likely dates from the mid-twentieth century.

Similar examples to this coat are pictured in the Kyoto Shoin volume “Kogin and Sashiko Stitch” and the book suggests that this kind of garment was “worn by those carrying goods on their backs.”  I will be offering this book, and other titles from the Kyoto Shoin collection on my website beginning next week.

The book also mentions a fascinating fact about the size of the, yes, “squares,” which are stitched on the coat: “The size of the square represents labor productivity: the smallest square symbolizes the productivity of married women; the medium-sized square the labor of young men; and the largest square symbolizes the labor of middle-aged or elderly men.”

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  1. Comment by paula:

    what a fabulous visual puzzle. it reminds me of the old american quilt pattern called “robbing peter to pay paul,” involving squares and circles.

    but i must protest the premise that “the smallest square symbolizes the productivity of married women” ~~ this very object contradicting that. ^^

    June 2, 2010 @ 9:37 am

  2. Comment by Kim Gibson:

    It is, however, an accurate statement of the cultural opinion of women in Japan. The piece is indeed fabulous. Sashiko is such a wonderful art form, taking the mundane necessities of warmth and frugality and producing lovliness.

    June 2, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

  3. Comment by Daisy:

    This is a subtle design of exquisite workmanship.
    From afar I see rectangles, closer, turning to squares flipping to diamonds (triangles).
    The design is simple and sophisticated. The stitching flows with easy (much practiced) accomplishment.

    This is one of my favorite pieces , of the things you have shown. Thank you for making these beautiful works available.

    June 5, 2010 @ 9:39 pm