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A Short Stack of Sashiko Kotatsu Accessories: Large Squares of Stitched and Layered Cotton

August 7, 2012

I love kotatsu accessories, and by that I mean kotatsugake or the quilted throws that are placed over the heated table where families would congregate to keep warm in winter months.  Very often kotatsugake can be made of sakiori, or ragweave, but in this case, they are made of layered, recycled cotton which have been beautifully sashiko stitched.  Shown here are five similar pieces, but I have others which are much heavier due to the layering of more cotton pieces.And I have them displayed on my beautiful and simply detailed Korean wooden chest.Each kotatsugake is about 60″ or 152 cm square and I think these date to the mid twentieth century.

And those of you in the New York area, please to stop by my weekend showroom sale.

Everything will be 30% off for just two days: Saturday, 11 August (12 noon – 5 PM) and Sunday 12 August (1 PM – 6 PM).

No appointments necessary for this two day event. Directions are here.

**As I’ve never done this before I don’t know if I’ll get 1 or 100 people visiting, so I’m hoping to be as prepared as I can be.

If there are many visitors at once, I ask your patience: my usual method is to book single appointments and work with people one-on-one.**






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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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A Pieced Mid Century Cotton Kotatsu Cover

August 17, 2011

In Japan a kotatsu is a traditional form of heating one’s home.  Imagine a small brazier over which a table is placed.  Layers of square cloth are placed on the table to keep in heat, and the family would sit around the table with their legs under the covers to soak up the warmth generated from the brazier.
This mid century cotton textile is one of the layers of cloth that would have been draped over the kotatsu.  It is hand stitched from a variety of hand loomed and commercially produced cottons which have clearly been recycled.The kotatsu cover is essentially made of two layers: the backing is of an olive green power loomed cotton.  On top of this, puzzle pieces of cotton cloth were arranged with some slight overlapping.Where the irregularly shaped pieces on the top layer of the cloth did not meet or overlap the green cotton backing is exposed–and the random, triangular areas of green cloth enhance the visual interest of this kotatsu cover.The kotatsu cover measures 60″ x 58″ or 152.5 cm x 147 cm, which is the standard size for this kind of utilitarian cloth.

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A Japanese American Quilt–or Kotatsugake?

August 9, 2011

This is puzzling.   And before I get started here, I have to admit, and I am embarrassed to say, that I don’t know anything about American quilts.  This fact is even more embarrassing when you read more details, below.
I recently bought this square-shaped American quilt or coverlet: clearly it’s been pieced from suiting material, probably in the 1930s or 1940s.  

But what’s really interesting about it is that this coverlet is backed with Japanese cotton fabrics, again, probably dating to the 1930s or 1940s.What makes it even more interesting–to me, at least–is that I was told it was acquired from Berks County, PA, where I was born and raised until I graduated from high school.   And many of you know that Berks County is part of the Pennsylvania Dutch country and has a history of quilting.  Which is why my lack of knowledge about quilts is hard to admit.One more odd detail is that my home town of Reading, PA is recognized by a very unusual feature, a Japanese-inspired pagoda that sits atop Mt. Penn and is the symbol of the city.This is not to say that Reading has anything to do with Japan or Japanese culture, it just adds layers of intrigue and coincidence to this unusual Japanese-American coverlet.This coverlet is quite heavy, as heavy as a kotatsugake, and it’s the same shape and size.  So the question is, is this an American coverlet that is backed with Japanese fabrics, or is it a Japanese kotatsugake that has been customized using American cloth and quilting techniques?I’ll have to do some non-invasive textile archaeology to find out more about this very unusual textile.

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A Beautifully Rustic Sashiko Stitched Apron

May 4, 2011

As those who dip into this blog from time to time know, I love traditional Japanese aprons.   Today I’m showing a rustic and beautifully sashiko stitched example.
This is a country apron made of a base of pieced cottons that has been heavily sashiko stitched.  The apron is sitting on a sashiko stitched kotasugake, or a hearth cover.  I estimate that each of these sashiko textiles dates to the mid twentieth century or so.The apron measures 24″ x 17″ or 61 cm x 43 cm–and I just love it.Isn’t this simply beautiful?

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A Stunningly Artful Mid-Century Boro Textile

November 28, 2010

What a beautifully layered, patched and arranged boro textile, and one that shows fabrics from nineteenth century hand woven indigo cottons to mid twentieth century, commercially produced textiles.The way the patches are crowded toward the left half  of the piece–and the sheer variety of textures, colors and stitching to be found–is so engaging to look at.Some boro connoisseurs can be purists and will only consider boro textiles that are made entirely of hand spun, hand woven, indigo dyed cloth, much like this one shown here. I know of one Japanese textile dealer who only collects boro cloth of pure, old blue cotton and hemp: he will not collect boros that are constructed of striped or patterned cloth, even if they are nineteenth century.I bring this up for some perspective: the person I just mentioned, above, would not have a high regard for this piece because it shows so many commercially produced fabrics.  I understand his purity of vision, and I agree with him that the more “valuable” boros are sewn from very old cloth, but I can certainly appreciate this piece for its artftulness–and also because this kind of textile is indeed very authentic to old Japan, even if it was made in the 1930s or 40s.   People made and used this kind of cloth for themselves well into the twentieth century.

Note the patch of faux kanoko shibori or fawn dappled shibori, above.Even though my “purist” colleague has narrow parameters for collecting boro, I have to admit that I really like the way the woven cotton damask patch, seen above, works as a foil to the other patches that surround it.  This piece was either a kotatsugake or a futon cover.  A kotatsugake is a thickly woven or patched textile that is used to retain heat from a central heating brazier called a kotatsu; a table is set up over the brazier and thick cloth is draped over it.  Family members would have sat around the brazier, with their laps under the draped fabric, and in this way, they would have been kept warm.This piece measures 59″ x 50″ or 150 cm x 127 cm.

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A Gorgeous and Intricately Sashiko Stitched Kotatsugake

August 18, 2010

Every time I look at this wonderfully sashiko stitched, cotton kotatsugake, I am amazed by its complex beauty.  This fantastic, layered cotton square was presumably used to cover the kotatsu, a kind of brazier-heated table that was ubiquitous in old Japan–and which is still used now, however the heating element is electric. Notice that the stitched design is based on alternating blocks of  sashiko patterns: small cross-stitches and a stylized persimmon flower design, both which are commonly used sashiko designs.  The effect is subtle.

Aside from the wonderful idea of separating two designs and depicting each in staggered blocks, seeing these designs overlayed on the base cloth of hand woven, wide-striped, indigo dyed cotton is fantastic.  This layered effect adds to the overall design complexity, as well as to our visual enjoyment.I’d say this sashiko stitched textile dates to the second quarter of the 20th century or so.It measures 52″ x 48″ or 132 cm x 122 cm.

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An Exceedingly Sashiko Stitched Kotatsu Cover

February 10, 2010

There is such a density of small, evenly spaced sashiko stitches on this kotatsu cover that this old Japanese textile appears to be obscured by a thin veil of mist.

BlogSashiKo1This large (approximately 5 1/2′ x 5′ or 1.5 m x 1.7 m) cloth is sewn from layers of indigo dyed cotton and was used to cover a table-like armature that was placed over a brazier: in old Japan, a family would gather around the brazier and they would tuck themselves under this cover to keep warm.BlogSashiKo1aLooking at this stunning cloth we are reminded of Minimal Art from the 70s: imagine giving Agnes Martin a needle and thread.  I think this is pretty much what would have been produced.BlogSashiKo1bThe surface of this kotatsu cover has an almost silver-like sheen from the field of small, white cotton stitches: it may not be so ironic that I decided to post images of this cloth on the very day that New York–and so much of the Eastern seaboard of the United States–was hit with a blizzard and buried in snow.  When I looked out my window today, the scene outside was not so different than the photos above, and below.BlogSashiKo1cOn the first two photos, above, I love the subtle, dark mark dead-center on this cloth: the discoloration from prolonged exposure to the brazier still retains its heat.  Well, on the suggestive level, at least. BlogSashiKo1d

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A Very Stitched and Layered Boro Kotatsu Cover

November 21, 2009

When I travel to Japan to look for antique, rural, utilitarian cloth, I am always very pleased to find a piece like this very heavily layered and sashiko stitched kotatsushiki.  Coming across very stitched, boro textiles like the one shown on this post is becoming rarer and rarer, so locating such a piece is pure pleasure.

This heavily layered, square-shaped blanket was used to capture heat: a kotatsu is a brazier over which a wooden table armature is placed, over which layers of blankets are draped in order to contain heat and for people to be able to tuck themselves under to keep warm.  Have a look at a modern-day, electric kotatsu here.

Enjoy looking at the photos of this fine, old piece, which is sewn together from old cloth, probably deconstructed kimono and bedding.


Although this piece does not show it specifically, some kotatsushiki show wear on its four edges: often you’ll see layers of patches on these areas, which makes sense as the four edges received most wear from people scooting underneath for wear.




Do feel free to contact me if you have interest in acquiring this beauty or if you have questions.

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A Sakiori Kotasugake, Apron and a Child’s Vest

April 21, 2009

Pictured hanging on the wall is a group of three very attractive sakiori pieces: on the top left is a child’s vest, underneath is a very rustic, repaired apron with cotton ties and on the right is a kotatsugake (a cover for a brazier which was used as a heat source) which is edged in red plaid cotton and is repaired with small patches.  This kotatsugake will be offered for sale on on 22 April on my website.


Each of these pieces dates to the early-to-mid twentieth century: sakiori is a weaving technique whereby scraps of cotton or silk cloth is shredded and turned into yarn.   When cotton first became widely available in Japan in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, it was worn by urbanites who could afford this new cloth.  Very poor country people could only afford to buy cotton scraps which they used as a weft yarn, weaving it against a bast fiber warp.   Later, when cotton became more available, cotton yarn was used for the warp, as is the case with these pieces.


This child’s vest, below, is made from wool threads and shreds, slightly unusual for a sakiori piece as most are made from cotton.  It comes from an important sakiori collection and was found in Shimane Prefecture in 1993, a gift from the woman who made it to the collector.  Apparently, the weaver made this small sodenashi, or vest, for her grandchild.  Note the grey felt lining that has been partially removed.   Wool fibers were chosen for their lightness and warmth.


The apron, shown below here is very well-used.  In old Japan, aprons were an important accessory in the attire worn for work in every day life: they were worn for work in the home, in the fields and, if you were a shopkeeper, in your store.  This one of alternating white and blue cotton strips was clearly used everyday by a country lady as it shows the patina of wear, has some crude mendings, and shows some discoloration.  I like this piece a lot, for all these reasons.


Below is a stack of kotatsugake or brazier covers.  Pay special attention to the bright piece in the center of the stack.  This one comes from Aomori, one of the most remote and rural areas of Japan.  When commercially dyed cottons in bright colors became available in the early 20th century, they were employed for sakiori: imagine that these new colors were a novelty to country folk who only wove with natural fibers or cloth dyed in indigo or from other botanical sources.  This kind of bright cloth was referred to as karafuru a version of the borrowed English word, “colorful.”


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