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Archives for July, 2013

A Small Book of Magic Symbols: Stitched Amulets

July 30, 2013

SemamoriCho03In Japan, there is a certain magic associated with stitching: the act of enclosing a body in cloth is rich in meaning and stitching a garment closed has power in it.  It’s no wonder that stitches applied to children’s garments are done so intentionally, and that they are meant to protect the child from harm.

SemamoriCho03aThese protective stitches are called semamori, and shown here today is a semamori cho, or a practice album of decorative stitches that, when stitched on a child’s garment, would have been held in place one of the kimono’s two ties.

SemamoriCho03bThese semamori are decorative; some are auspicious, like the crane, above left, which is a wish for longevity.  Sometimes semamori are a series of stitches on the back of a kimono, not decorative, like the kind shown here.


SemamoriCho03dAbove, right, is a folding fan that is made of arrow feathers.  Below, right, are pine trees.

SemamoriCho03eThe paulownia flower is shown below left, and the genji ko, a marker in an incense memory game, is shown next to it.

SemamoriCho03f Below, left, is a crane that is also a folding fan.  Pines are to its right.

SemamoriCho03gThis little book measures 5″ x 3 1/4″, 13 cm x 8 cm and contains 26 pages showing 52 different stitched semamori images.   It probably dates to the first half of the twentieth century.

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A Small Exhibition in Greenwich Village: At MAN

July 26, 2013

MANshow1At the generous suggestion of Hickoree’s and The Hill-Side, I was asked to mount a temporary exhibition at MAN, a small and beautifully curated Paris-based menswear trade show that was held at Industria Superstudio from 21-24 July.  The show was meant to provide an interesting context, and give texture to, the MAN show who took up Hickoree’s suggestion and invited me to show.

MANshow1aI brought a good group of things to exhibit:  my aim was to put on view a broad range of textiles for sale, from superior pieces from my own collection to others that have age and interest, but that are affordable. Above is a nice group of hemp kaya or mosquito netting in blues and greens.  To the right of the kaya are rolls of shinafu or linden bark thread-based cloth.

MANshow1bAbove are rolls of wonderful, indigo dyed, 19th century cottons.  All of them are taken from futon covers.

MANshow1cAbove is a fantastic, old boro noragi: so many patches and a lot of mending.  Many of the patches are of pieces of cloth from the 19th century.  Below is an amazingly repaired sleeveless work garment, however my hunch is that the sleeves were removed by the person who brought this treasure to market.  No matter: in old Japan sleeves were routinely taken off and put back onto garments on a rotating basis.

MANshow1dA group of five super sakabukuro, below.  These are cotton bags that were dipped in kaki shibu or green persimmon tannin that were used as filters in the sake making process.

MANshow1eAnd below is another view onto the show.  At the center of the photo is a wonderful sakiori hanten, one of the most elaborate and best I’ve seen.

MANshow1fThanks Emil, Sandy, Mitch, William, Ken, Vicken, Antoine, Romain, Olivier and Antoine for inviting me to your event.


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A 19th Century Child’s Boro Kimono: Hand Spun Cotton Yarn

July 20, 2013

ChildKimono01What a beautiful child’s indigo dyed boro kimono.  This one has very good age and wonderful, hand spun, indigo dyed cotton yarns.  It’s rich in ito aji, or the “thread flavor” that is an important attribute in considering old Japanese country textiles.

ChildKimono01aBy looking at these photos, it’s fairly plain to see that this piece has age, as the quality of the cotton and stitching communicate this to the trained eye.


ChildKimono01cAside from its obvious beauty, what I like about this child’s kimono is that there’s nothing “child like” about it, meaning there is no vestige of bold, large patterns or bright colors as can be often seen on children’s kimono, especially from the 20th century.  This is like a miniaturized adult’s kimono.

ChildKimono01d I love the quality of the cotton of this small garment.

ChildKimono01eIt measures 33″ x 37″ or 84 cm x 94 cm.

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A Piece Constructed Furoshiki: 19th Century Botanically Dyed Silks

July 16, 2013

YoseFuroshiki3This beautifully arranged off-square of contrasting colors is a traditional wrapping cloth or furoshiki that is hand stitched from botanically dyed, leftover fragments of silk.

YoseFuroshiki3aMost likely the maker of this furoshiki utilized silks that were once a part of a juban or a han juban which are garments worn under a kimono, much like this one.  Fancifully figured cloth, pieces of which are seen here, were often used in the making of silk undergarments.

YoseFuroshiki3bAbove you can see pieces of katazome dyed silk.  The sliver shown at the bottom of the photo above is a stencil resist dyed faux shibori.

YoseFuroshiki3cAbove you’ll see more images of beautifully designed katazome silk.  The purple color is achieved from dye extracted from gromwell root; the orange is safflower; the blue is indigo; the chartreuse green is probably indigo over dyed with yellow.

YoseFuroshiki3dThe photo, above, offers a better view onto the faux shibori, in this case it’s a riff on kanoko or fawn dappled shibori.

The silks are all lightweight silks, what you may call today “lining” silks. Some of them are rinzu or a satin damask.

Piecing silks like this was common in old Japan and often undergarments were made in this manner, another example shown here.   Piecing of silks was also used in ecclesiastical applications, within Buddhist temples, where donations of fine silks were used in the service of worship.  Two examples are seen here and here.

YoseFuroshiki3eThe back of this furoshiki is of safflower dyed silk.  The furoshiki measures 39″ x 41 1/2″ or 99 cm x 105.5 cm.  It is available for sale on the webshop.


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A Tangle of Indigo Dyed Kasuri Yarns

July 11, 2013

KasuriYarns1Today I’m showing a jumble of gorgeous, indigo dyed cotton kasuri yarns which probably date to the mid-twentieth century.  They are sitting on a sashiko stitched, kasuri dyed cotton furoshiki much like this one.  Kasuri is a weaving technique which uses yarns that are tied in strategic areas before they are dyed.  The tied areas remain white; the untied areas drink in the dye.

KasuriYarns1a This very specific tied resist dyed yarn, when woven, will create a pattern, something like the one seen here.

KasuriYarns1bMost likely these yarns are from Kurume, a city on Kyushu island that is well-known for its distinctive kasuri weaving.  Kasuri is the Japanese term for the more widely known ikat.

KasuriYarns1cOnce I get these untangled I am going to offer them on the webshop, but I wanted to give you a preview here first.  I thought these yarns are visually interesting enough not to need much commentary–I think I’m right.


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A Rustic Apron Woven from Okuso: Hemp Yarn Waste Material

July 8, 2013

OkusozakkuriMaekake1This humble garment may not be the most beautiful country textile you’ve seen, but for me, cloth of this kind is some of the most valuable there is. This is an apron woven from okuso.  Okuso is the waste material left behind from the process of making fine, hand-plied hemp yarn.

OkusozakkuriMaekake1aPoor people in old Japan had the skill to make hand plied, hemp yarns of fine quality, however they were not so rich to be able to afford such yarns for their own use.  They sold the high quality, hand plied yarn to a broker and used rougher or less fine yarns to weave their own garments.

OkusozakkuriMaekake1bCloth and garments woven from okuso are not easy to find these days, and because okuso represents the resourcefulness of Japan’s peasant class of the deep past, it is highly prized, very collectible, and always commands a high price.   This simple garment is a well-worn apron which can be seen by the staining, the holes, the patching and the overall wear.  The details are hand stitched of indigo dyed cotton.

OkusozakkuriMaekake1cBy looking at the photo, above, you can see a close-up of the surface of this recycled-yarn cloth.  Note the thin striations of indigo-dyed blue cotton threads that have worked their way into the finished cloth.  An image of raw oksuo fiber is shown below.

rawokuso11The apron itself measures 22″ x 34″ or 56 cm x 86.5 cm and dates to the late nineteenth century.  A self-effacing beauty and something to treasure from old Japan.


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Four Indigo Dyed Karakusa Patterns: Katazome Cotton

July 5, 2013

Blog03Katazome dyed cottons were popular in Japan for centuries, and the four examples I’m showing here date to the mid-to-late nineteenth through early twentieth century.  Katazome dyeing utilizes hand cut stencils as a guide for applying rice paste to specific areas of the surface of  cotton cloth. The cloth which is covered in rice paste resists dye and produces these wonderful designs.

Blog03aI chose four examples that are based on karakusa, an arabesque design, of which there are thousands of variants in the canon of katazome designs.

Blog03bThe design below shows karakusa and paulownia flowers.  I have a feeling this particular design is meant to suggest the look of a richly woven brocade silk.  The ochre color was probably hand applied directly to the cloth after it was resist dyed.

Blog03cThe cloth below also show ochre details which were done in the same manner as the cloth above.  The medallion patterns that stud the field of karakusa are fascinating:  they represent the traditional shochikubai motif which combines plum, bamboo and pine.  This combination carries great auspicious meaning: plum shows courage as it blossoms in late winter, bursting forth from under ice; the bamboo is resilience since it bends but does not break; and the pine is a symbol of long life and also of a faithful marriage as its needles fall in pairs.

Blog03dThe textile below is just wonderfully odd.   The flowers are very strange: the centers are stylized chrysanthemum, and the petal shapes are plum blossoms.  However, have a closer look at the petals: they are ocean waves.

Blog03eThe pattern seen below shows roundels of phoenixes, the legendary bird which is said to alight on earth only on the paulownia tree, the blooms of which are also pictured on this cloth.  Although the content of this pattern is very Japanese in theme, it has a bit of a Western or “Victorian” look, which could very well be.  In the late 19th century there was a burgeoning yet powerful communication between the West and Japan, and influences flowed steadily between these two parts of the world.


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A Group of Ten Balls of Braided Cotton Rope: Recycled Cloth

July 2, 2013

BraidedHimo01I have always loved  hand braided, cotton rope, the kind that was made from scraps of leftover cotton cloth in rural Japan, and I showed a few before on the webshop, here, and here.   I’m really happy that I have ten balls of this beautiful, utilitarian cloth in stock, which I will begin to offer on the webshop over time.

BraidedHimo01aJust as zokin, traditional dustrags, and diapers represent the last phases of recycling of cloth in Japan, so does himo, or this rope.

BraidedHimo01bEach of these balls of rope is braided from scraps, and the rope is remarkably strong.  The rope comes to me as a long piece, but I roll it up as I like the way it looks.  The small balls are a few yards or meters long, while the larger balls are twice or three times that.

BraidedHimo01cAnd the colors are gorgeous.  The reason for these beautiful colors is that the cotton which was shredded to braid this rope is, for the most part, commercially dyed and woven, so the colors are brighter or deeper than traditional, hand dyed Japanese cloth which is usually somber in tone.

BraidedHimo01dJust as shredded, recycled cottons are used to braid these balls of rope, shredded cotton was also used in sakiori, a ragwoven cloth, and the balls of rope are sitting on a sakiori panel much like this one.

BraidedHimo01eOf course, if you’d like more information on this rope, please don’t hesitate to email me.

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