Silk, metallic thread
Jacquard weave

In the same way that mid-century kimonos had modernist themes, so did obis. Pitchers were a popular theme in cubist still lifes, and the popularity of that theme is reflected here. One way this designer skillfully interpreted cubist shadows was by varying the density of black, white and red threads.

The designer also achieved changes in surface texture and depth by varying the threads. This obi is woven with a combination of thin, thick, twisted and straight threads.

Silk thread on wooden spools

The Daily Japanese Textile of April 15 features a kimono with a pattern of spools of thread. Today’s entry focuses on two vintage spools of thread from Nishijin, Japan’s premier textile manufacturer. Western spools are round; like western spools, Japanese spools have an anchoring hole at the center, but differ in having four spokes, forming an X shape, onto which the thread is wound.

The two types of thread have very different textures – one very rough and thick, the other very smooth and fine.

Girl’s Kimono
Stenciled warps (meisen), occasional supplementary wefts of metallic wrapped thread

This kimono is decorated with wooden spools wound with thread. The motif is feminine, and the rich red color is for young, unmarried women.

The supplementary threads add an extra touch to the centers of some of the flowers.

See the April 16 entry for actual wooden spools wound with thread.

Sakiori obi (rag weave sash)
Silk wefts,cotton warps

Sakiori obi are constructed of fabric remnants that were deliberately shredded into thin strips, then rolled into thick threads, and finally re-woven and re-purposed. In this obi, remnants from at least five separate textiles are visible. The price of textiles was high, so they were used until they literally fell apart. Textiles that could not be used for anything else wound up as cleaning rags. Sakiori obi were an elegant way to preserve investments while still dressing stylishly.

Hitotsumi (infant’s kimono)
Silk crepe, silk satin, plain weave silk, waste silk wadding, wool
Stenciled, hand painted, appliqued

When infant mortality rates were very high and medicine was rudimentary, families turned to superstition and symbolism to protect the lives of their vulnerable young children.   To this end, many children’s kimonos had talismans (osemamori) in the center of the back. While typically these consisted of a stitched vertical line, with an additional attached line angled down to the left for boys and down to the right for girls, in this case the talisman consists of two tiny bell flower blossoms and leaves in a sake cup inscribed ‘kotobuki’, meaning longevity or felicitations. The osemamori is made in oshie technique – silk wadding and then silk cloth cover a paper cutout center, giving the talisman dimensionality and an extra bit of flash.  The sea bream pattern in the material has auspicious connotations, so it seems likely that this little kimono was worn for a special occasion.

Hitoe (unlined kimono)
Tsumugi (raw or waste silk)

Kimono patterns are subject to trends, and go in and out of style, just as western patterns do. The pattern of this recent hitoe – dark shades of blue that change in accordance with the warps and wefts – was also popular during the Edo period (see bottom photo), and so is something of a classic. Below is a close-up of the point where four squares meet.

In some Japanese garments, the left and right back panels are aligned randomly, but here it is clear that they were aligned to form another contrast in addition to that provided by the warp and weft color combinations. This large plaid is called Benkei after a Kabuki actor wore a large plaid patterned yukata (casual summer kimono) in the role of the brash hero Benkei, so the plaid has some associations with raffishness. The soft cottony tsumugi silk also recalls the texture of yukatas.

Gusoku Shita or Yoroi Shita (lit., under armor)
Asa, silk velvet, tortoise shell (button)
Combination handpainting and tsutsugaki(?) with bengara (iron oxide pigment)

Gusoku shita is the layer of clothing worn under armor to protect the skin. Below, the pale blue asa lining and two waist ties are visible; above, to the left at the waistline, a small opening was made to pass one of the ties through.

The dye of the checked jacket is very interesting. Although the Japanese had very technically advanced dyeing skills, this checkerboard is dyed with rustic unevenness. Many of the squares are slightly off angle. The color may have been applied partly by hand and partly by tsutsugaki (rice paste resist applied with a paper tube). The velvet in the collar was hard to come by, and much favored as a luxury trim.

Daily Japanese Textile would like to thank Mr. Akio Mitsuno, who so graciously and generously shared his expertise and time, for his help with this entry. Mr. Mitsuno is the owner of
Saiyuu2 in Kyoto, which specializes in rare and unusual antique Japanese textiles.

Woman’s pipe cover and tobacco pouch
Asa, silk cord, metal catch, stiffened paper lining
Stenciled; dye and pigment

Matched sets for long narrow pipes and tobacco were common in Edo and Meiji period Japan, and could be very elaborate. The pipe would be inserted where the white polka dots are visible here. This pouch is lined with the same material as the outer. Notice the flap open at the right side for easy access, and sewn down at the left side, providing a nice design touch.

Morning glories were very popular as a motif. The black pigment is probably sumi ink.

Below is an Utamaro ukiyo-e of a woman smoking. At her knee is a smoking box, with an ash tray at the top, and several drawers below for smoking accoutrements.

‘Origami Scarf’
Heat transfer printing
manufactured by Nuno

Japan continues to be a top innovator in the textile industry. Early attempts at polyester manufacturing attempted – and failed – to mimic the qualities of traditional fibers. In time, however, manufacturers learned to take advantage of polyester’s unique qualities, including, as shown here, its ability to hold a shape.

This scarf, folded four times vertically, is then also folded diagonally multiple times. As seen in the top photo, one side has been dyed black with a heat transfer printing process. The dye penetrates unevenly, depending on the folds, the thickness of the material, and the finished edge. Above, when the material is partially fanned open, the differences in shading are not from shadows, but accurately reflect the various shades achieved by the dye process. When fully open, as below, the origami process sets the folds so strongly that the scarf retains its three dimensionality and needs assistance to stretch out flat.

Maiwai (celebratory fisherman’s coat)
Tsutsugaki, stenciling, handpainting, dyes, pigments

Maiwai were awarded to fishing crews if they exceeded the year’s projected catch, and were worn on special occasions. Appropriate to a garment specific to the fishing industry, this maiwai depicts the well known Japanese tale of Urashima Taro. After saving a turtle, who is actually a princess in an underwater kingdom, Urashima is rewarded for his kindness with a trip to the kingdom.

On this maiwai, Princess Otohime and Urashima Taro unfurl a banner reading ‘taigyo’ or ‘great catch’, signifying that the crew exceeded the year’s projections. The tuna next to Otohime indicates this crew’s specialization. Tuna can grow to be very large, so tuna fishing was very physically demanding work, and more dangerous than other fields of fishing.

The wear and tear at the right shoulder shows that this maiwai was probably used on more than just ceremonial occasions. The crane crest is a feature of most maiwai. The banner carried by this crane repeats the word ‘taigyo’. On some maiwai, the banners carried by the cranes identify the fishing vessel, adding a degree of personalization.  The crane would typically be made by two very large stencils (left and right sides).  The designs at the skirt would also have been made with stencils much larger than those used for traditional kimono designs.


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