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Mottainai The Fabric of Life: Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan

November 6, 2011

The exhibition at the Portland Japanese Garden, Mottainai, The Fabric of Life: Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan opened on 4 November.  Here are some installation shots.
I’m exhibiting with my friend, Kei Kawasaki of Gallery Kei in Kyoto.   Kei and I decided that I would show indigo dyed cotton boro pieces and she would show bast fiber and paper pieces.  The items I have contributed to the show can be seen below.Above and below is a large, woven cotton boro mosquito netting or kaya.

Above and below are sashiko stitched pieces.  Centrally place above is a large, sashiko stitched kotatugake.  To the left and right are garments from Yamagata prefecture.Stitched aprons and zokin can be seen above.

Above and below are sakiori garments.

Above is pictured a boro yogi or sleeping kimono, while below you can see noragi or work coats.Below is a fantastic boro futonji or futon cover.This piece, below, a shinafu or linden fiber tsunobukuro or horn bag is filled with balls of shredded indigo dyed cotton yarn and twisted paper yarn.   Kei brought this to the show to act as a transition between her bast fiber textiles and my indigo dyed cotton ones.  It’s an amazing object.  Kei’s other textiles can be seen in the images below.

Above and below are some woven paper garments.  On the photo, above, situated on the right is an okuso zakkuri or a coat made of woven hemp waste.  Below, seen in the middle, is a fujifu or woven wisteria garment and a shinafu or linden fiber garment to its left.

Below are two elm fiber garments: to the right is a traditional Ainu attush, to the left is an unusual dochugi or traveling coat, made from ohyo or elm fiber.  Since this dochugi is made from traditional Ainu cloth, we can assume that the cloth was traded with the Ainu by a merchant from Honsu island.

A marvelous, resist dyed ramie kazuki from Yamagata prefecture can be seen above and below.  A kazuki is a kimono-shaped veil which was worn on the head by upper class women.Below are repurposed paper items. A splendid bashofu or banana fiber kimono from Okinawa can be seen below.All of the pieces are for sale through the Portland Japanese Garden.  If any are interesting to you, please let me know and I will put you in touch with the Garden.

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Mottainai: The Fabric of Life at the Portland Japanese Garden 4-27 November

October 29, 2011

I’m really pleased to say that the Portland Japanese Garden has asked my close friend and colleague, Kei Kawasaki of Gallery Kei in Kyoto, and me, to mount an exhibition which will run through November.The show, called “Mottainai: The Fabric of Life, Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan,” opens on 4 November and is on view until 27 November.Both Kei and I are planning to show some of the highlights from our collections and we will be exhibiting some extraordinary and rare pieces.  In order to illustrate the breadth of traditional Japanese textiles Kei will be showing bast fiber textiles: wisteria, linden, hemp, ramie, paper, paper mulberry, etc., and I will be showing cotton boro textiles.  I’ll be exhibiting a range of types, from everyday utilitarian textiles to large, complex garments.The images here are details of some of my pieces which will be in the show.We’ll both be in Portland this coming week setting up the show: I’m really looking forward to it.  Kei has produced a beautifully illustrated catalog for the show for which both she and I have contributed essays.  I’ll let you know when it is available.I will be updating the webshop as per usual this Wednesday at 11 AM New York time.  *As I’ll be in Portland until 5 November, any order placed from 30 October through 5 November will be shipped on Monday, 7 November.*If I’m able to do so, this coming week I’ll blog some images from the set-up at the Garden.  Stay tuned….

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An Absolutely Gorgeous Hemp Komebukuro: Benibana Dyed Details

July 6, 2011

Komebukuro–or so-called “rice bags”–which are usually made from scraps of leftover cloth and configured to convey a festive air, are hardly ever more lovely than this one, which is hand stitched from hemp cloth.This one is in pristine condition and is sewn from about 18 separate pieces of hemp cloth–and the great joy of this bag is its ultra-pale pink-colored panels, the result of benibana or safflower dyeing.The pale pink against the indigo dyed kasuri cloth needs no explanation as to why it’s so lovely.  It just is.  And note the bag’s original drawstring which is hand braided from pale blue cotton yarns.And the bottom: just lovely.  Komebukuro were used to offer dry rice or beans to temples and shrines, mainly during festival times.  The pieced effect of the bags was to convey a joyous mood.  In truth, I’ve just acquired a group of old, cotton komebukuro that, when I’ve been sorting through them, have dropped a considerable amount of old, single grains of rice.  Clearly those komebukuro had been used.This drawstring bag seems not to have been used, it measures 8″ x 7″ x7″ or 20 cm x 17.5 cm x 17.5 cm and it most certainly dates to the 19th century.

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Piece Constructed Textiles: A Botanically Dyed 19th Century Silk Juban and Drawstring Bags

February 8, 2011

In old Japan, hand loomed and hand dyed cloth was constantly re-purposed.  Indigo dyed cotton cloth was often hand woven in the home from yarns which were hand spun by the weaver. The time and labor which went into the creation of cloth gave it great value.  It was not a disposable commodity.  The same is true of silks, which were also re-purposed.  Silks were likely not woven at home, but their intrinsic value was understood.  Today I am showing three piece constructed bags of indigo dyed cotton and I am highlighting a marvelous, 19th century silk yose juban, or an under kimono that is constructed from disparate fragments of botanically dyed silks.What a beautiful attempt at symmetry on the top half of the back of the juban: the many small fragments of safflower (benibana) and gromwell root (shikon) dyed crepe silks are stitched together in such a way as to create an appealing, ordered design.The benibana silks are dyed mainly in the itajime or kyokechi technique, whereby fabric is pressed between hand carved boards before they are dyed, the pressure of  the carvings against each other offering a resist to the dye and creating a white, figured pattern.There are so many hand stitched fragments of chirimen, or crepe silk cloth that the area of stitching is akin to shingling.  The slight variation in tones of safflower-derived orange dye is just lovely to see.Those of you who have seen 19th century Japanese piece constructed undergarments before have noticed that the predominant color palette is based on three basic dyes: shikon (purple), benibana (orange) and variations on ai (indigo).
The front of the juban, seen below, is as lovely as the back.  And what’s wonderful about this particular juban is its very good condition–aside, of course, from its very handsome arrangement of color, pattern, and texture.

Seen by themselves, the sleeves of this garment, one of them below, are just gorgeous.The benibana dyed silk lining, seen below, is a typical feature of these old juban which were often constructed with similarly dyed linings.

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Luxuriously Sumptuous Recycling: An Edo Period Komebukuro

December 2, 2010

Today I am showing something shimmering and beautiful: a piece-constructed drawstring bag composed of fragments of luxurious silks, some brocade, some embroidered, some couched, all colored by botanical dyes.This komebukuro, or rice bag, dates to the Edo Period probably around the late 18th century.  A komebukuro is a festive offering bag: typically a komebukuro is constructed from fanciful scraps of cloth.  A token offering of uncooked rice or beans would be placed in the bag which would then be brought to a temple or shrine, often during festivals.This komebukuro could have been used for other purposes, and, if so, would probably have been used at a Buddhist temple: the silk pieces which comprise this bag are donations from wealthy members of the temple.Some of the pieces of luxurious silk are culled from formal kimono and/or from uchishiki, altar cloths woven of richly brocaded silks which are used to dress the inner precincts of a temple.

Stunning work. And by looking at some of these fragments, you can imagine from where they came.  For example, the white fragment shown above is most definitely taken from a formal kimono, such as a kosode. The center piece, above, shows couched gold threads, embroidered silk floss, and some small dots of kanoko or fawn dappled shibori.

As shown in these photos, this bag measures 11″ x 10″ x 10″ or 28 cm x 25.5 cm x 25.5 cm.The bottom panel of the bag is beautiful, and the design echos that of the pieced pattern of the bag, which can be seen as stars or “tumbling blocks” depending on how you perceive the design.Below you’ll see a photo I snapped at a temple in Japan: notice the pieced cloth that is used as a cover: quite similar in style, feeling, flavor and design to the bag shown on this post.  This kind of piece constructed silk cloth is part of the Japanese textile lexicon.

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A Really Large, Pieced Cotton Drawstring Bag

May 7, 2010

The VERY large bag pictured below is even bigger than it seems here: although I tried showing it against “normal” sized, piece constructed drawstring bags to give a sense of scale, the gulf in size between the normal ones and this large one is somehow not as vivid as it is in actuality.BigBag1It’s so large that I didn’t have enough stuffing to plump it up to full size: inside this bag right now are four pillows and a queen-sized duvet.  And there’s room for twice this volume.  Just amazing!BigBag1aMost likely this big, hand sewn, cotton drawstring bag was used to store one or more futons.  I’d say it was made in the 1930s or 1940s.BigBag1bThe twisted rope that is the bag’s drawstring, seen above, is fabricated from indigo dyed kasuri cotton scraps.BigBag1cThis is a really unusual bag that is constructed from a beautiful array of cottons.  It’s partially lined–also with cotton scraps–and is and oversized delight.

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Lots of Komebukuro

January 12, 2010

Today I am showing a portion of my collection of komebukurokomebukuro being a general term for a piece-constructed, drawstring bag made from scraps of cloth.  The bags were used to carry dried rice or beans as offerings to temples and shrines during festivals or ritual events.  I will be selling these bags on my website over time.

I said that komebukuro is a general term for this type of bag.  The reason I say this is that it is my belief that not all these bags were used for shrine festivals.  I think some of the larger ones were made for everyday use in the home.  The smaller, more fanciful pieces were probably used as offering bags.

I’m sure that the two pieces on top of the heap, above, are komebukuro.  They are silk bags, made from scraps of resist dyed and brocade silks: quite luxurious.  Komebukuro were made from cotton and from silk.  Note the elaborate green, silk cord and tassel on the silk komebukuro in the middle of the pile.  Kumihimo, or artful Japanese braiding, is a serious form of study and research, and is still practiced by artisans in Japan and abroad.  Have a look at a video of kumihimo braiding here.


A textile dealer friend in Japan showed me something interesting regarding komebukuro.  She unfurled a great length of patchwork cloth that had long perplexed her: why such a narrow length of intricately stitched pieces of cotton?  Then she realized that this was a “komebukuro in the rough.”  Apparently, scraps would be stitched together and a long piece of cloth was formed: from this long piece, shorter lengths would be cut and then fashioned into a komebukuro. Of course on the more decorative, silk komebukuro, such a practice was not applied–the fanciful pieces were made using advanced piecing techniques and were works of bravado.

I wanted to publish images of komebukuro shown as a group in order to illustrate the variety of sizes, from small to large.  I am fortunate to have many of these bags, and I look forward to offering them for sale.  Stay tuned.


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An Assortment of Antique Komebukuro or “Rice Bags”

February 18, 2009

Here is a corner of the Sri showroom with a selection of komebukuro, or rice bags, which date from the late nineteenth century to the early part of the twentieth.  Rice bags are so called as they were fashioned from scraps of cloth to create a “fancy” look as they were used to comport rice grains-and sometimes beans, etc.–to Buddhist temple festivals as tribute.

Komebukuro is a general term for these pieced bags, but the jury is still out if each of these was meant to bring rice to temple festivals.  It is my hunch that in certain cases they were also used for home use.

I love the bottom piecing of the komebukuro pictured center, above.  As well, the large, silk piece, below is really fabulous with its botanical dyes, chief among them are the orange/safflower, purple/gromwell root, blue/indigo.  Note the purple shibori pieces at “4 o’clock” and “7 o’clock” on this bag.  Really lovely.

One of the bags below is stitched “Zensuke”, the name of the owner.  I bought a group of these komebukuro which came from the same family, and they hail from Japan’s rural north.

On the photo below, the two bags on the right are not komebukuro: the far right bag is a fabulous, hand dyed and hand painted 19th century chirimen (crepe) silk bag, while sitting next to it on its left is a funny little early 20th century bag composed of indigo dyed kasuri overlaid with commercially produced lace!

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