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Archives for July, 2010

Taking a Midsummer Break

July 20, 2010

I’ll be back in the beginning of August!

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An Indigo Dyed Kuzufu Vest: Kudzu Fiber Cloth

July 12, 2010

Yes.  Kudzu. The bane of gardeners and municipalities in the American south where this plant is an invasive weed, overtaking and consuming tracts of plants and trees in gardens, fields and on highways.

But in Japan, where this plant is native, it was used to make cloth–very often for elegant clothing–and is processed to make edible starch.As early at the 14th century, it has been recorded that kuzufu or kudzu cloth, was made in Kakegawa in Shizuoka PrefectureKuzu fiber is flat and has a sheen; in this regard it resembles an elegant cousin to woven raffia.  The benefits of the cloth is that it held up well, didn’t soften and dried quickly.  It was used to make traveling capes and elegant hakama for aristocratic clients.

In these photos, above and below, I am hoping to show the quality of the kuzu fiber, which is very distinctive, mainly, as mentioned above, because is is very flat and does not appear to be spun.

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Three Lengths of Okinawan Bashofu: Woven Banana Leaf Fiber

July 9, 2010

Bashofu, or cloth woven from the fibers obtained from the leaves of the “thread banana” plant (ito basho) is synonymous with the Okinawan Islands (Ryukyu Islands), where it was produced for at least 500 years.From the essay, “Bashofu, The Mingei Movement, and the Creation of a New Okinawa” by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum published in the exhibition catalog “Material Choices: Refashioning Bast and Leaf Fibers in Asia and the Pacific“:

“The first written evidence of bashofu in the Ryukyu Islands appears in an eyewitness account, dated 1546, reported by Pak Son and eleven other shipwrecked Koreans from Cheju Island.  Reaching Ryukyu in 1542, they returned to Korean four years later.  Their report includes descriptions of clothing, agriculture, and the cultivation of banana plants for making cloth:The larger trees are the size of a house pillar.  These are harvested, and the outermost skin stripped off. The sheaths inside are sorted into three grades.  The fineness or coarseness of the finished cloth depends on whether the fiber is taken from the outer or inner layers.  The innermost layer yields the thinnest and most lustrous fiber, and the color is as pure as snow.  It is incomparable.  Women’s clothing of high quality is made from this. (ikeya et al. 2005, 1:121)”Bashofu is still very much appreciated all over the globe for its beauty and its depth of character.  It is one of Japan’s most precious and esteemed textiles–it is difficult to convey the high admiration the Japanese hold for bashofu.  Rare and  historical examples are often prohibitively expensive–should they be brought to market–which is rare.

These three lengths were taken from everyday kimonos: the fragment on the left is a very small warp ikat, the center piece is a cotton/banana combination and the example on the far right is a plain, striped bashofu length.  I find them exceptionally beautiful.

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A Small, Handpainted, 19th Century Nobori Bata

July 6, 2010

This is a small, hand painted nobori bata, or a kind of flag that was displayed on the occasion of Boys’ Day, which is celebrated on 5 May, and is now called Children’s Day.This nobori bata measures 37″ x 13″ or 94 cm x 33 cm and was probably hung indoors as part of a special display that was assembled to celebrate the day: the display consists of “manly” and noble things, such as miniature suits of armor, helmets, swords, bows and arrows and doll-sized likenesses of valiant and legendary military heroes.Most banners hung during this festival address high ideals that speak to masculine pursuits: military prowess, legendary sages and the like.  This particular banner shows a beautifully rendered character from Noh drama, a traditional Japanese theater form.  He’s wonderfully drawn and painted: the diagonal lines on which he stands appear to be some kind of shadow, and they are very suggestive of time and space.Noh costumes are known for their elaborate use of richly woven brocade silks and fabulous decoration–although sometimes they are sewn from wonderful hemp, and other, cloth.  Look carefully at this actor’s outfit and you will get a clue that there is something special going on.As should be fairly clear from these photos, this banner is made of hand spun, hand woven cotton: most likely it dates to the mid-nineteenth century.  Note the inclusion of the family crest at the top of the flag, in this case it is that of oak or kashiwa.

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A Length of Linden Bark Cloth: Shinafu

July 2, 2010

Today I am showing a length of rustic, asa or bast fiber cloth, this one being woven from yarns taken from the inner bark of the linden tree, the cloth being called shinafu.Shinafu is a very rough cloth–it’s almost abrasive to the touch, the yarns being almost wiry.  The color of shinafu has a characteristically coppery sheen.In order to obtain raw materials for this kind of cloth, women would make many trips into the forest to harvest the linden tree’s inner bark, which would then be arduously processed, washed, dried, split and then plied: this transformation from tree bark to usable yarn was very time consuming and required more effort, time and skill that is imaginable.Shinafu is a marvelous looking cloth; although I am not totally sure of this, I believe it was rarely used for clothing as it was so rough to the touch and seems not to soften with age or wear.   Notice the surface texture of this cloth, which I am trying to show through these detail photos: the surface is a bit irregular and the cloth is very stiff.This particular length of shinafu is a very handsome example for its condition, its length and its fine color.

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