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

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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A Beautiful and Unusual Kogin Kimono: Sashiko Stitching from Aomori

January 16, 2012

This katazome dyed hemp kimono with a heavily sashiko stitched bodice is a variant on the traditional kogin kimono, kogin being a kind of sashiko stitching from the Tsugaru district in Aomori prefecture in Japan’s Tohoku region.Kogin stitching is emblematic of this very rural part of Japan, Honshu island’s northern or easternmost point.  From Kogin and Sashiko Stitch from the Kyoto Shoin’s Art Library of Japanese Textiles, Vol. 13:

The Tsugaru district in the western part of Aomori prefecture is famous for deep snow.  Due to the extreme cold, cotton is hard to grow; and, as cotton that was grown and brought in from the western part of Japan was too expensive, people living in the district were compelled to wear hemp clothes.  The kogin stitch was produced under these conditions.  The white stitches, sewn with valuable cotton thread, are reminiscent of the deep snow of Tsugaru.In referencing the above captioned book to understand this example better, it seems that this kogin is called higashi-kogin, as the design and stitching style comes from areas east of Mt. Iwaki.Generally we see kogin kimono which are constructed from a deep blue indigo dyed hemp and a sashiko stitched bodice, the cotton stitching worked on a hemp base.  This stitched bodice is a separate piece and sleeves, a skirt and collar area are all stitched to this kogin stitched bodice, the sides of which are closed and form the side seams of the garment.In this case, things are not as just described.  A rustic, stencil resist dyed hemp cloth kimono–in this case the hemp cloth is called Nambu katazome–is used for a base, and a kogin bodice is overlayed onto the existing garment and is firmly stitched to the base.  Kogin, as you can imagine, is extremely valuable, so it will be used and reused over time.  Examples showing this kind of re-use and this kind of katazome kimono base are fairly rare.The stitching is done with fairly thick cotton threads and is extremely dense.The kogin stitching dates to the late nineteenth century, the Nambu katazome kimono could be later, and it probably is.  The garment measures 45 1/2″ x 44″ or 115.5 cm x 112 cm.

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Kogin Embroidery from Aomori Prefecture

September 23, 2008

A view onto an exquisite kogin kimono: white cotton thread-counted embroidery on indigo dyed hemp.  Kogin were made on the northernmost point of Honshu, in remote and cold Aomori Prefecture; their production heydey was the late nineteenth century and the locus was Aomori’s Tsugaru District.  The Mingeikan or the Japan Folk Craft Museum in Tokyo–the international mecca for Japanese folk craft–shows a remarkable kogin which can be seen here.

Sashiko stitched patterns varied from place to place in Aomori Prefecture and precious white cotton thread–cotton was a luxury in that area in nineteenth century Japan–was thought to be reminiscent of the deep snow of Tsugaru.

It is the bodice that is stitched.  The skirt and arm areas are applied to the bodice and can be replaced.  Certain stitched patterns were thought to have the power to ward off evil.

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A Sashiko Stitched Vest from Tohoku

May 7, 2011

This sleeveless garment–referred to as sodenashi or dogi–is from Aomori Prefecture in the far northeastern region of Honshu, which is a remote and rural area.
It is made of repurposed cotton katazome cloth which has been heavily sashiko stitched, the stitching creating a blurred effect to the figured, resist dyed base cloth.Although Aomori Prefecture is very rural, it is this region which produced some of Japan’s most intricately sashiko stitched textiles, such as kogin, the famous stitching from Aomori’s Tsugaru region, which is the origin of this garment. Aomori can receive a great deal of snow in winter and some historians have conjectured that the heavy, white sashiko stitching of this area is a visual allusion to snowfall.This particular vest is made of repurposed parts as can be seen in the the photo above, and below: sometimes the body of  such vests from Aomori are sewn from one type of figured cloth, not of  two as is the case here.Amazingly tight stitching.Notice that the collar and the side panels are sewn from kasuri or ikat cloth–the inclusion of kasuri cloth on these sodenashi is typical of this form of garment.This kind of vest is said to come from Hirosaki in the Tsugaru region of Aomori. It dates to the late nineteenth, early twentieth century.This kind of vest could have been worn layered over a coat, or directly over an undergarment.  See a similar example in Beyond the Tanabata Bridge: Traditional Japanese Textiles, pp. 113-114.

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A Beautiful Sashiko Stitched Sledge-Hauling Vest from Yamagata

June 19, 2010

This stunning sleeveless, sashiko stitched work coat, or sodenashi, is from Yamagata Prefecture in the Tohoku Region of Japan.

The indigo dyed cotton vest is thick with layers which have been sashiko stitched together.  Likewise, the distinctive, diagonal applied band of stitching is added as protection for the wearer who is pulling a sledge, the strap of which is, of course, abrasive. This particular kind of sodenashi was used by men who pulled sledges in wintertime, to spread manure over their fields.  Wives would stitch intricate patterns to reinforce the jacket, as can be seen in photos above and below.Similar examples of this type of vest are shown on page 60 of the Kyoto Shoin book, Kogin and Sashiko Stitch, available from my web shop.

The entire body of the vest is pierced with minuscule stitches, adding a wonderful texture and visual interest to the garment.  The layers of cloth which are over-stitched onto the body of the vest are there for added durability.Shown below are a group of beautifully sashiko stitched drawstring bags which I will probably offer for sale in my web shop at some point in the near future.

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A Sashiko Stitched Noragi: Rectangles, Squares or Diamonds?

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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A Magnificent, Sashiko Stiched Donza or Sakkuri

May 10, 2010

This marvel is an indigo dyed cotton sashiko sakkuri or donza from Fukui Prefecture which is situated on the Sea of Japan.

DonzaBlog1More specifically, this kind of all-over stitched kimono is from Mikuni, a prosperous port town which engaged in trading; in this region, work coats were referred to as sakkuri; this kind of coat is sometimes called a donza. Have a look at the intricate sashiko stitching this marvelous coat.DonzaBlog1aThe stitched pattern, below, is called kaki no hana or persimmon flower.DonzaBlog1bMost likely this was worn by a fisherman on special social occasions, whether it be a celebration or, perhaps, bringing goods to market.  This one shows very little wear and most likely dates to mid twentieth century.DonzaBlog1cThe Victoria and Albert Museum in London owns a similar coat which is published in their book, Japanese Country Textiles. In this book, they attribute their coat to a farmer.  In the Kyoto Shoin Series of books, in the volume Kogin and Sashiko Stitch, similar examples to this coat are shown and they indicate these types of sashiko stitched kimono were worn by fisherman.  Likely both farmers and fishermen wore these.

DonzaBlog1dThe lining is made of leftover or “recycled” fabrics, including some tenugui, or souvenir towels, which are a very familiar sight in Japan.DonzaBlog1e


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Part Two: An Exhbition of Japanese Country Textiles at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin

October 22, 2009

I just received installation shots from the exhibition of Japanese textiles currently on view at The Douglas Hyde Gallery at Trinity College in Dublin.  I’ve introduced the exhibition in an earlier post, so please scroll down and have a look.

Above are shown, from left to right, an Ainu elm bark (ohyo) attush, an Okinawan banana leaf fiber (bashofu) kimono, an indigo dyed shifu or woven paper noragi or work coat, a sakiori or rag woven hanten with sashiko stitched cotton sleeves and a very fine okusozakkuri or work coat woven from hemp debris.

Above, to the right of the okusozakkuri shown in the first photo are a hemp stitched indigo dyed cotton boro noragi and, finally, a kogin stitched kimono from Tsugaru, Aomori Precture at the Easternmost tip of Honshu Island.

The director and staff of The Douglas Hyde Gallery did a marvelous job installing this exhibit and I’m terribly proud to have collaborated with them on this show.

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September 30, 2008

It is overcast here today so the photos I took of some of the sashiko pieces in my showroom reflect the grey weather.  As I wanted to post something on sashiko, I decided to go ahead with it, even if the ambient light isn’t the best.

Sashiko stitching is a hallmark of Japanese folk textiles and here you see a stack of sashiko stitched furoshiki (wrapping cloths) and, on the wall above the stack, are two sashiko stitched bags.   A quilting stitch, sashiko was first employed to add stability and to reinforce cloth, very often it was used to create layers of cloth for clothing. (The stack of brown cloth to the right of the sashiko furoshiki is a pile of sakabukuro or sake straining bags).

When cotton thread became widely available in Japan by the mid to late nineteenth century, sashiko stitching developed and became a more decorative stitch while still retaining its usefulness as a tool for reinforcement.  Sashiko furoshiki are stitched on the corners for the purpose of durability, for example.  As well, ‘fancy’ sashiko stitched utilitarian cloth was offered as part of a bridal trousseau and elaborately sashiko stitched clothing, more or less, were used for celebration and ceremony.

Kogin, the mind-bogglingly gorgeous sashiko from Japan’s far northern Aomori prefecture is a prime example of elaborate sashiko stitching.  (Go to the tag cloud to the right of this post and click on kogin to go directly to a post dedicated to this kind of stitching).

I love this heavily sashiko stitched bag: it’s on my website here.

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