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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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A Length of Sakiori with Rag Warp and Weft

September 21, 2009

When I was in Japan in July I picked up this unusual sakiori cloth–I say it’s unusual as both the weft AND the warp are made from rags.
Sakiori is commonly–usually exclusively–woven of a cotton or hemp warp against which a rag weft is fed.


This sakiori length is woven loosely and in a rustic manner–and it illustrates the importance of frugality and re-use in old Japan.  Have a look at the selvedge edge to see the torn rags that are used as weft material.

I will be offering this beauty for sale on my website soon.  Stay tuned…


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A Patched and Stitched Indigo Dyed Sakiori Vest

September 9, 2009

This marvelous sakiori vest is a very good example to illustrate the life–or many lives–of a single work garment.

The vest itself was woven from torn, “recycled” garments, bedding and other household textiles; this kind of shredding and weaving is called sakiori. From its inception, this vest represents re-use and re-purposing.

Over time, as the vest was worn and used for work in  fields and forests, it required some additional strengthening, which is why we see the applied patches and the profusion of stitching all over the vest, both inside and out.

What is wonderful about this particular vest is that it is made from all indigo dyed cotton material, which some feel makes the most desirable sakiori items.

It’s hard to date this piece as this kind of work clothing was made in Japan from the late 18th century up until the early-to-mid 20th century.  My guess is that this one was woven in the early 20th century, but this is just a guess.  The warp is cotton; were it hemp, this could indicate the piece was older as rural people didn’t have wide access to cotton threads in the 19th century.  As well, if the warp is hemp, it could indicate the piece was very rural, as hemp thread was still being plied in rural areas until relatively recently.


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A View onto Sakiori Obis: Rustic, “Ragweave” Kimono Sashes

May 22, 2009

This is a group of five Japanese sakiori obis which are rolled and seen from above. 

Sakiori is weaving technique that uses “recycled,” shredded cotton textiles as weft yarns.  Earliest examples of sakiori weaving extend back to the early 19th century when poor people were able to acquire cotton rags for the first time: until this time, cotton was a scarce commodity as it had recently been introduced to Japan and only the wealthier echelon of society could afford to buy it.

Rural folk couldn’t afford to buy cotton garments, so they bought rags: they cleaned and shredded the rags and used them to create thick cloth which they fashioned into clothing.  Sakiori weaving endured in Japan until the mid-twentieth century.


These obis date from the mid-twentieth century; most sakiori obis date from the early-to-mid twentieth century.  Have a look at this lovely one here, and another example of sakiori weaving–just gorgeous–here.

This photo was taken by Lyn Hughes.

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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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A Boro Sakiori Noragi: Indigo Rags and Patches

March 31, 2009

This post shows a wonderful, boro sakiori noragi, a work coat that is created from home made cotton rag weft woven against a cotton warp. The coat has been heavily patched from having been worn hard over the course of many years.


Sakiori’s history in rural Japan extends back about two hundred years, when finished cotton products were just being made available to the urban population of Japan.

The wives and daughters of farmers, fisherman and the like would buy cast-off rags from rag sellers who traveled from urban centers into the countryside to sell rags; a famous intra-Japan trade ship would also travel the coast of Japan, carrying with it rags to sell, among other cargo.


Sometimes a group of women would pool their meager resources to buy a bundle of rags.  They’d sort the rags, wash them and then prepare them for use as yarn to create these thick coats.  Prior to this, farmers and rural folk would wear what they could forage for and turn that into yarn, so they wore clothing of hemp, ramie, wisteria and the like.


With the advent of cotton and cotton rags, you could say this was the first time that the poor people of Japan–about 90% of the total population–enjoyed warm clothing.  Bast fiber clothing, that made of ramie, etc., is not warming, as you can imagine.


It’s wonderful to see a sakiori coat woven from just indigo yarns.  Because of its fine color and its wonderfully arranged patches, this boro sakiori noragi is a gorgeous example of Japanese rural clothing.


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