Hikeshi no Zukin (Fireman’s hood)
Cotton, tortoiseshell (buttons)
Tsutsugaki, handpainting, dyes and pigments, sashiko stitching

Outwardly austere and featureless, when opened this protective headgear boasts a beautifully rendered dragon and tiger. The dragon and tiger often appear together in Japanese art, but so much symbolism surrounds each of these animals that it is hard to say with certainty for which reason they were chosen in this case. Most likely their primary purpose here is to evoke the qualities of strength and fearlessness, two qualities vital to a firefighter. In addition, the dragon is closely associated with water, and is said to bring rain, making it a particularly apt motif.

Fragment (from kurotomesode – formal black kimono?)
Silk crepe (chirimen)
Yuzen dyeing (dyes, sumi ink)

This kappa is hand dyed with great attention to detail, and remarkably delicate shading. It looks as though it may have come from the hem of a kurotomesode kimono. Since kuromtomesode are for formal occasions, and the kappa is not only a mythical creature, but somewhat malevolent in nature, the kurotomesode would have had a very unusual overall design.

Man’s heko obi (casual sash)

The heko obi, in its entirety, is 12 feet long and 27 inches wide, but only the ends are decorated, often in pinpoint sized shibori, as seen here. This is a design of a rock garden (Ryoanji?). Below is the reverse side of the design.

A yukata, as worn with heko obi, below. (Photograph from Kimonoexport.com)

Below, Ryoanji.

Hitoe (unlined kimono)
Stenciled warps and wefts (meisen)

This design takes its cues from the American abstract expressionist movement. For a brief period in the late 1940s some east coast painters took black as their main color, with other colors serving to enhance the inherent drama of the black canvas. Below are examples of works by major painters working in black during that period.

Lee Krasner – White Squares – ca. 1948

Willem de Kooning – Painting – 1948

Fritz Bultman – The Hunter – 1949

Wedding futonji(?) (bedding), single panel
Tsutsugaki (rice paste resist)

This panel was too long to show in a single photograph, and so has been broken into two images. The images in the roundels are of an auspicious nature, so this was likely a panel from a wedding futonji. Some of the roundels show incomplete images. These are probably completed by the missing panels. The artists could have made complete images on each panel, but the change in centering helps to balance the composition. Auspicious roundels are not unusual on wedding futonji. Most likely the complete futonji consisted of similar roundels. The tortoise’s long tail is actually seaweed that has attached to the shell, indicating the tortoise’s great age, and making it a perfect symbol of longevity.

Paper, silk thread, persimmon tannin
Hand carved

Given the motif of sake cups decorated with pairs of cranes, this must be a celebratory design. The fine network of silk threads is sandwiched between two layers of the stencil, and helps reinforce it.

Often when animals are depicted in pairs, the male will have its mouth open (“ah”), while the female will be depicted with its mouth closed (“un”). This is also true in this stencil. Note how finely cut the stencil must be in order to show the tiny open beak of the crane.

Hinagatabon (book of textile designs)
Woodblock prints

During the Edo period, Japanese were able to order garments from books, called hinagatabon, such as this one. The book shown here, called Isho Sekai (“Design World”), was published in Meiji 34, or 1901. It contains not only designs for adult women’s kimonos, as shown above, but designs for young boys’ kimono, a sample fukusa (gift cover), and designs for textiles not associated with any particular garment.

The tastes of the times called for designs concentrated near the hem of the kimono, so the fact that the top halves of the kimono are unseen leaves no unanswered questions. The kimono on the left depicts snow-laden bamboo above a stream; the kimono on the right shows cranes in a pine tree, with other cranes in flight, approaching from the sleeve. The casual draping of the black kimono over a lacquered rod hung by a red silk cord is a nice touch, conjuring up images of court ladies as well as the poem Tagasode (Whose Sleeves) from the Kokin Wakashu, an old anthology of classical poetry. The diagonal red slash is a clever way of delineating the sleeve opening, and indicates the proposed color of the lining.

Noragi (field wear); jacket
Asa (hemp)
Katazome (stenciled)

This shape is designed for utility. The sleeves are short and narrow, so they protect without hindering movement; the jacket is cut off before the knees, where it would suffer abrasion. The design looks like warp and weft kasuri from a distance, but in fact the cross-hatching is stenciled, and made to mimic the more expensive kasuri technique. The material is stenciled on both sides, so the design stands out crisply. The repeat is small, and it is possible to see ten horizontal intervals – five on the right panel and five on the left panel (neatly aligned, to the maker’s credit) where the small paper stencil was placed on the material, and then moved forward to the next blank space after the spreading of the resist paste. On the weaving level, it is interesting to note the varying degrees of twist in the warp threads (see close-up below).

Girl’s haori
Stenciled warps and wefts (meisen)

This haori, which came with a matching kimono, demonstrates the designer’s ability to integrate modern art themes with children’s motifs. The toy-like animals make this unmistakably a children’s pattern, but the strongly colored geometric boxes seem to be a stripped-down version of Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie (bottom photo, 1942-43).

Man’s kimono
Miura (looped binding) shibori


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