Katabira (woman’s summer kosode)
Ramie, silk (lining)
Chayazome, couched gilt thread, embroidery, stenciling

The katabira was a very labor-intensive garment affordable only to the wealthiest members of Japanese society. As explained in When Art Became Fashion: Kosode in Edo Period Japan*, “Although the exact process is lost today, [chayazome] generally consisted of the extensive application of a starch-paste resist on both sides of a fabric, leaving only fine lines an small areas of design to receive the blue color upon submersion into a vat of indigo dye.”

While in this katabira the decorations are limited to the hem and the bottom of the sleeves, it is clear that the costliest materials and decorative techniques were used.

The embroidery on this swallow is so detailed that a close-up reveals not only attention to the accuracy of the feathers, but the portrayal of a tiny curled foot with a few pale pink stitches.

Below, understated luxury is concentrated in a very small space. While some leaves are realistically embroidered in green, the silk thread of the purple leaves is most likely dyed in honmurasaki, a much prized purple dye derived from the gromwell root. The reddish leaves are embroidered in similarly prized safflower. Finally, water spray is depicted by perfect spirals of couched gilt thread. This thread has a silk thread core, and is wrapped in finely cut gilt paper. It is said that the lines of some chayazome were so fine that the paste resist had to be applied with toothpicks. The central veins of the indigo leaves might have been applied this way.

The five crests on this katabira indicate that it was intended for very formal occasions. The collar is unfinished, leaving the selvedge visible, so it is possible this robe was never worn. The pink hue at the collar and sleeve openings are from safflower-dyed silk linings. It was felt that a touch of pink in these places added a sensuous touch to the garment and its wearer.

* Gluckman, Dale Carolyn, and Sharon Sadako Takeda, eds. When Art Became Fashion: Kosode in Edo-Period Japan. New York: Weatherhill, 1992; p. 333)

Woman’s haori
Stenciled warps, hand tie-dyed wefts

Stylistically, this haori is referred to as “Taisho roman”, shorthand for Taisho period romantic style. The long stalks are bamboo, the small button-like flowers are manjugiku, or bun-shaped chrysanthemums, and the large blossoms might be stylized peonies.

The red and yellow scrolling centers of the large blossoms seem to derive from Russian art of the early 20th century. Following the 1917 Revolution, some artists fled to nearby Japan from Russia, and had some influence on Japanese art.

Compare the colors of the 1914 Natalya Goncharova work below, as well as the shaded cylinders, with the blossom above.

Furoshiki (wrapping cloth)
Cotton (homespun)
Tsutsugaki (hand drawn paste resist)

This may have been a bride’s furoshiki, meant to carry part of her trousseau. The auspicious pattern of scrolling vines (karakusa) has a very long history in Japan, and is believed to have come from China. The endless tendrils and newly sprouting leaves are symbolic of continuing family lineage, and, by extension, of fertility.

Although slightly difficult to see here, the ground of the furoshiki is dyed green, with the vines in light blue and outlines in white. Green did not exist as a natural vegetable dye in Japan, so the ground would have been dyed yellow, and then overdyed with indigo.

Highly cherished wedding trousseau textiles were sometimes preserved unused, but there are a few signs that this furoshiki (app. 54″ x 44″) saw at least some use. Above, there are two spots where abrasion has partially rubbed away the dye. Possibly the furoshiki was used to carry a bulky item – perhaps a box – a corner of which protruded, and then shifted in transit, exposing those two spots to more punishment than the rest of the cloth.

Man’s hanjuban (half length underkimono)
Cotton, silk
Stenciled (paste resist)

The body of this juban is made of stenciled cotton, with a design of various birds.

There are two shades of blue, which would have been accomplished by dyeing the material twice, and covering the lighter design elements so they would not take on extra dye.

In the photo above, the collar (left) has retained more of its original color, while the body (right) has suffered some color loss.

The sleeves are made of two completely separate materials. Above is highly twisted brown chirimen silk, under which a plain indigo lining can be seen.

Below, the second sleeve material is an unusual silk Edo komon remnant of foxes running in fields with their tails aloft. Foxes are often associated with tales of the supernatural, so it is interesting to speculate as to the original textile, and its wearer.

Cotton (homespun)

These bottomless tabi would have been worn with waraji, the traditional Japanese straw sandals. The tabi would have protected the foot from abrasion. These tabi were well worn, and the dye has been abraded away where the straw rubbed the fabric.

The bottom half of the tabi have been stitched with very thick sashiko stitching. In contrast with the sashiko stitching in firemen’s wear, there is no extra layer of fabric or batting in the tabi, but the bulky sashiko thread gives the tabi a very thick texture. The upper half, with no sashiko stitching, is much flatter.

The person who sewed the tabi took care to create a sawtooth design with the stitchwork, so the tabi are not only utilitarian, but pleasing to the eye as well.

Below, the underside of the tabi. The toes are at the bottom.

Cotton (homespun)
Stenciled, tsutsugaki paste resist with dyes and pigments

Based on the narrow panel in the center, this was probably originally a yogi – a heavily padded sleeping cover shaped like a kimono, with sleeves – which was in time converted to a flat futon cover. The crest in the center is decorated with stenciled kanoko, not real tie-dyed shibori.

Above is an interesting flaw in the design. The right side of the large wisteria leaf is flanked by a small petal, while by the left side of the leaf is a blank space. This does not appear to be a deliberate element of the design. Did the paste resist for that side come loose, or did the stenciler neglect to apply paste resist in that spot?

In her book County Textiles of Japan, which has a similar piece, Reiko Mochinaga Brandon notes that “[t]he kanoko crest was in vogue in the nineteenth century, when many decorative variations of family crests were invented for rich merchants, courtesans, and Kabuki actors…” (p.114), and goes on to suggest that the “impressive and embellished crest” would be appropriate for a wedding celebration.

Silk; cotton lining
Stenciled warps and wefts

After World War II, the American government played an active role in bringing American culture to Japan. This kimono shows the influence of the American abstract expressionist movement.

In Japan, many art exhibitions were (and still are) held at department stores, which also sold kimonos.

The department stores would have been perfect venues for offering kimonos that echoed the styles of the paintings on display.

Compare the kimono to this painting, probably from the same period (1950s), by Franz Kline.

And this painting date 1957 by Joan Mitchell.

In the kimono, the size and complexity of the design has to be simplified, and the design is repeated in the interests of economy, but despite the imposed limitations, the kimono has a great feeling of edginess and novelty.

Paper, persimmon tannin

This stencil contains an odd amalgam of traditional motifs: in the center are very detailed asanoha (hemp leaf) designs; to the left and right of the central asanoha design are sankuzushijima and nikuzushijima (triple disconnected stripes and double disconnected stripes). Above the double stripes, the long dashes are either tokusa (scouring rushes) or renga (bricks). All of these motifs are used in Hakone yosegi zaiku, a kind of marquetry.

Mostly around the perimeters are partial views of genjiko, the shorthand lines used in the incense guessing game of court nobles during the Heian period. In contrast to the delicate geometric designs, the genjiko symbols are cut to look as though they have been roughly carved into wood. Finally, the four connected circles are actually a highly stylized fukurazusume, or puffy sparrow. A closer look reveals tiny holes punched out for eyes, and small articulated claws.

Click here for some basic information on yosegi zaiku, and click here for a YouTube video demonstrating the production of delicate strips of yosegi zaiku. For additional information on genjiko, click here.

Momohiki (trousers)
Cotton (homespun)
Stenciled paste resist, sashiko stitching

These sashiko stitched momohiki were part of a fireman’s uniform. Extra panels are inserted in the back of the legs to keep the trousers tight, and take the legs’ countours into account.

In the close-up below, there are two types of sashiko stitching: at the torso, the intersecting diagonal lines that form large diamond shapes, and, at the legs, the very dense horizontal stitchwork. Where the stitchwork is less dense, it becomes apparent that the stenciled design is not a set of abstract lines, but a highly stylized rendition of the words 大一, or Great First, possibly short for Great First Fire Department, followed by the name of the town. Where the stitchwork is denser, the design becomes noticeably compressed.

The unstenciled interior is solid indigo.

A close-up of the fibers and stitchwork.

Man’s juban
Several shibori techniques

Below, two small knots that were overlooked, or could not removed, following the shibori process.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 231 other followers