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

October 11, 2009

Dublin’s The Douglas Hyde Gallery–Trinity College’s contemporary art gallery–is currently showing the exhibition “Japanese Country Textiles.” I was fortunate to collaborate with The Douglas Hyde Gallery by lending works and by writing the essay for the catalog which accompanies the show which runs from 8 October until 18 November.
The exhibition showcases traditional natural materials which in the past were used to weave Japanese rural textiles.  The exhibition features eight garments woven from materials such as hemp, ramie, cotton, paper, elm fiber or ohyo, Okinawan banana leaf fiber or bashofu, and okuso, or the waste produced by hemp yarn making, which is seen in the remarkable okusozakkuri, or garment of okuso, above.


Pictured above is a wonderfully good, indigo blue sakiori hanten with intricately sashiko stitched sleeves, the sleeves most likely were recycled from another garment.

I’m thrilled to participate in this exhibition, which hopefully will allow a broader audience an understanding of Japan’s rural past and the ingenious cloth made by the women in old Japan.

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Two Magnificent Boro Futon Covers

December 8, 2008

Today I am presenting two beautiful boro futonji or futon covers.  As is the case with most boro futon covers seen on the market, these are fragments from a larger piece: an intact futon cover is usually constructed like a very large pillow case into which stuffing was inserted, exactly like the duvet covers that we know today.

In rural areas in Japan where cotton was scarce, where it was not native and where it was too pricey to buy, cotton rags were used to create a futon cover as were the ones shown here.  Cotton rags, however, were purchased from rag sellers who were ubiquitous in old Japan.  The stuffing of the futon might not have been cotton batting as we are accustomed to, but most likely it would have been crudely plied or leftover bast fibers (hemp, ramie, etc.) that would have been stuffed into futonji for warmth.

Boro futonji such as these are almost impossible to date exactly since the scraps of cotton used could be quite old, probably dating to the mid-nineteenth century or so; the actual construction of a boro futonji could have been ongoing for a generation after it was first made since the futonji would have been mended, patched and altered as needed.

I estimate these two futonji to be old pieces; the one on the left seems to be from the nineteenth century; the one on the right could date to this same period or could be slightly ‘younger’, dating from the early twentieth.

Look carefully at the detail photos of the piece on the left and you will see small scraps of very old cloth which has been intensely layered and stitched.  The piece on the right has marvelously eccentric stitching done in white thread.

Below is shown a clump of okuso, or left-over hemp fiber or hemp “waste.”  It is this material that would have been used as stuffing in old futonji such as these.  Also, it is this material that was spun into crude yarn to create work garments, shown here.

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A Rare and Beautiful Boro Okuso Kimono: Woven from Hemp “Waste”

November 8, 2008

It’s been gloomy and grey here for days. This photo was shot midday, believe it or not: it looks like night time.  I wanted to write a new post, and I wanted to show this incredible okuso kimono, possibly my favorite Japanese country textile here at Sri, so I decided to go ahead and work with the poor light.

Kuso or Okuso is waste or garbage.   In this case, it refers to the waste created in the production of hemp yarn: this kimono was woven from the detritus and crude materials left over from hemp yarn making.   This waste, or okuso, was spun into yarn and woven by rural people to make their garments.   Most likely the better quality yarn they created from hemp plants was sold to those that could afford it, probably urbanites.

Okuso garments these days are extremely hard to find.  This is the only boro okusozakkuri that I have seen, and what is amazing about it is its light blue colored patches and detailing.  The name of this pale blue indigo is referred to as asagi in Japanese.  Asagi is an important word to know if you are serious about Japanese folk textiles as it comes up a lot.  What’s even better about these asagi patches is that some of them are katazome, or stencil resist cloth, and in this case, the fact that these katazome patches are of asagi on white, this is makes it even more special: katazome cloth is more commonly white on blue.

Okuso garments are very much discussed and pictured in the fabulous book “Riches from Rags: Saki-ori &” Other Recycling Traditions in Japanese Rural Clothing.  Here at Sri I am extremely lucky to have two other okuso garments, you can see one here, but this is my favorite, both from the standpoint of rarity and aesthetics.

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