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A Kogin Stitching Sampler: Nambu-hishizashi Embroidery from Aomori Prefecture

Written on November 16, 2012

Those of you who know about sashiko stitching probably know something about kogin sashiko the intricate, complex, counted-thread stitching of Aomori prefecture, one of Japan’s most remote and rural areas.Aomori resides at the most northeastern tip of Honshu island and it is known for its harsh, inhospitable winters and its lavish, heavy snowfalls.  There is some irony in that some of Japan’s most magnificent, hand embroidered, cotton sashiko stitching comes from a place where cotton could never grow, and where it was only seen by trading cotton rags which probably arrived to Aomori sometime well into the 19th century.  Until then, the people of Aomori were clothed in garments woven from bast fiber.The kogin stitching of snowy Tsugaru is widely known.  It is characterized by white cotton thread stitched in blocks of tight geometric shapes onto an indigo dyed, hemp ground, like the example that can be seen here.In Nambu, a more southern and eastern area of Aomori, where the climate is a bit less harsh than in Tsugaru, Nambu-hishizashi embroidery was done.  Shown here is a sampler of the distinctive, colored, lozenge shapes that are characteristic of Nambu-hishizashi work.Traditional Nambu-hishizashi stitching was done in cotton thread on hemp cloth.  This sampler, with its ultra-fine work, is cotton on cotton.  Later on, in the early twentieth century, wool threads were used to augment the cotton stitched embroidery.  Very often, the colorful, lozenge shaped embroidery of Nambu, (similar to these examples) was used as the central panel on a three panel, traditional apron called maedare.Most likely this little sampler dates to the Meiji era (1868-1912), and by looking carefully at these photos, you can see how fine and intricate this stitching is

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  1. Comment by Carolyn:

    Thank you for this article and for the images of some patterns I haven’t seen before. I am a keen students of Kogin Embroidery about which there is little information in Western Countries. My area of interest at the moment is Nambu-hishizashi and although I know of two Japanese books, both out of print, there is nothing in English.
    I had read that there were over 400 different patterns so have set out to chart and stitch all I can find, I am publishing these under creative commons on my blog. (http://carorose.typepad.com/my_weblog/kogin-embroidery-patterns/)
    Ikaria Kurosawa used the traditional maedare aprons and other Kogin garments, in the funeral scene in his movie “Dreams” . Happiest funeral I have ever seen.

    November 28, 2012 @ 5:51 pm