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A Large 19th Century Silk Yogi: Phoenix, Paulownia and Tsutsugaki

Written on January 12, 2012

This voluminous beauty is an indigo dyed silk yogi which is dyed in the tsutsugaki method showing a rich and resplendent phoenix or hoo-oo hovering over a spray of paulownia leaves and flowers.The legendary phoenix is an import to Japan from China and it carries with it great symbolic significance. Taken from onmarkproductions.com is this succinct and vibrant description of the phoenix in China and Japan: In Japan, as earlier in China, the mythical Phoenix was adopted as a symbol of the imperial household, particularily the empress. This mythical bird represents fire, the sun, justice, obedience, fidelity, and the southern star constellations.

According to legend (mostly from China), the Hō-ō appears very rarely, and only to mark the beginning of a new era — the birth of a virtuous ruler, for example. In other traditions, the Hō-ō appears only in peaceful and prosperous times (nesting, it is said, in paulownia trees), and hides itself when there is trouble. As the herald of a new age, the Hō-ō descends from heaven to earth to do good deeds, and then it returns to its celestial abode to await a new era. It is both a symbol of peace (when the bird appears) and a symbol of disharmony (when the bird disappears). In China, early artifacts show the Phoenix (female) as intimately associated with the Dragon (male) — the two are portrayed either as mortal enemies or as blissful lovers. When shown together, the two symbolize both conflict and wedded bliss, and are a common design motif even today in many parts of Asia

You can see the careful attention to detail paid by the tsutsugaki artist: he made sure to create gradient tones, a variety of vibrant colors and to use his tsutsu to depict a variety of textures and surfaces with a sure economy of line.The kiri or paulownia is an often-seen motif in Japanese folk textiles, usually depicted in a highly stylized form as can be seen here.  The yogi is stitched from silk.   A yogi is a kimono-shaped duvet that is padded with some kind of fill– in the mid to late nineteenth century cotton batting was often used– and was splayed over a person as they lay sleeping, much in the same was a bedcover would be used.  A yogi was not worn as a garment. This one is large, it measures 75″ x 60″ or 190.5 cm x 152.5 cm and it dates to the Meiji Era (1868 -1912).  Its condition is excellent.


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  1. Comment by onesmallstitch:

    magnificent! do you mind if I link it to my blog??

    January 20, 2012 @ 2:38 pm