Futonji (bedding), single panel
Weft kasuri, double kasuri

Traditional bedding typically had four often identical panels; this is a single fragmentary panel. This bedding depicts a pattern of squares, interspersed with designs of Kinko, one of the Taoist Immortals, riding a carp. The designs are deliberately woven both right side up and upside down so neither direction dominates. The carp is a symbol of perseverence and fortitude, and is often shown swimming upstream, fighting the current. As one of the Immortals, Kinko is a symbol of virtue. The squares have areas of stark white, while Kinko does not, because the squares are rendered in double kasuri. The white lines that delineate Kinko stand out less brightly because the warps are indigo, not white. Since the weaver had to adjust each inividual weft thread by hand, no two renditions of the designs are exactly alike. (See the two faces below.)

Goshodoki kosode (kimono for woman of the military aristocracy)
Chirimen crepe silk, plain weave silk, silk embroidery thread, waste silk padding, gilt thread
Yuzen dyeing, embroidery, couching

Goshodoki refers to a type of design featuring trees, flowering plants, streams, and indirect references to human presence, such as seen here by the pair of curtains and the bow and arrows. Goshodoki designs allude to well known scenes in Japanese literature, which a well bred person would be expected to recognize. The military aristocracy emphasized tradition and continuity to justify its right to rule, so aristocratic garments, while luxurious and well crafted, often lacked originality and were thematically rigid. Garments of the merchant class, or of those of the so-called ‘floating world’ on the other hand, displayed far more thematic freedom.

In the close-up below, some of the leaves are decorated with a kind of cross-hatching.  This is kata kanoko (stenciled fawn dot).  True kanoko, a tie resist, would cause a raised surface.  Kata kanoko leaves the surface flat.  Kata kanoko was employed as a stylistic choice, not an economing measure.

Animal hair
Felted, dyed, and stencil printed (?)

Felt is not a traditional Japanese material. Thick shibori-dyed felt rugs in deep rich colors were imported from China and used in tea ceremony, but tea ceremony was a very exclusive practice, and felt was very unusual before modern times.

Based on its design, this thin pad also appears to have been imported from China. Its use in Japan is not known, although it was suggested that it might have been used as a saddle pad.

Hitoe (unlined kimono)
Stenciled warps, hand tie-dyed wefts

Flowers floating in rippling water are an old traditional Japanese theme, but the very large bold graphic repeats introduce a fresh design feature. The graphic design, together with the very long sleeves, indicate that this piece is most likely from the Taisho period (1912-1926).

Crepe silk outer, plain silk lining; waste silk padding
Untwisted warps, twisted wefts, shibori, yuzen dye, safflower dye

This was a luxurious piece in its time, dyed in safflower both inside and out, with the outer shibori dyed all over, and small portions reserved for additional yuzen dyed designs. Light padding throughout indicates it was a winter garment. Safflower was once a highly prized and very expensive dye. Many old Japanese garments have safflower linings since it was once believed to have a medicinal value when worn next to the skin.

Handpainted grapes

Close-up of fibers, needle holes from shibori process

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

This kimono must have seemed very daring at the time of its introduction, probably around 1920 – 1930. Not only does it make extensive use of saturated colors, it also uses trompe l’oeil shading and sharp divisions of space, a technique championed by such artists as Liubov Popova. Many Russian artists fled to nearby Japan following the Revolution, and had some influence on Japanese art and artists.

Uma no haragake (horse trappings)
Tsutsugaki (rice paste resist), dyes, pigments

This would have been worn by a horse during a festival procession. More than 12 feet long, it is shown in two photographs. The two large crests of three commas would go around the horse’s girth. The four long flaps are ties, and would be knotted at the horse’s spine. Northern Japan could not grow cotton as well as southern Japan, so asa was a staple for woven goods. The two shades of blue indicate this piece had to be dyed twice. Once the light blue was achieved, that was covered in paste resist so the uncovered part would continue to receive dye. The colors of the chrysanthemum were achieved by brushing pigment onto the cloth.

Silk, cotton
Stenciled warps and wefts

Changes in culture are reflected in textiles. From a distance, this post-World War II kimono appears to have wobbly polka dots as its motif. On closer inspection, the dots turn out to be a cartoonist’s cheerful and colorful rendition of atoms, encircled by speeding electrons. (See close-up below.) Atomic Age motifs were very popular in the United States at the time, and the strong presence of the United States in Japan in the post-war period influenced textile design there as well. The predominant red color and long sleeves indicate that this kimono was worn by a young unmarried woman.

synthetic fibers (polyphenylene sulfide and vinyl?), aluminum coating
shibori, burnoff

In this drawstring purse, Junichi Arai, one of the greatest textile innovators of the late 20th century, marries the centuries-old technique of shibori with 21st century technology. The aluminum coating is only a few atoms thick. While traditional shibori involves ‘reserving’ areas to remain undyed by tying them off, in this bag, the whole cloth was probably coated in aluminum, then the shibori design was created by tying, and then unwanted aluminum was burned off in a chemical process. The material feels very soft despite its metal component, which adheres well to the fabric.

Wedding futonji (bedding cover)
Rice paste resist, hand painting, dyes, pigments, sumi ink

The elderly couple depicted here are Jo and Uba, the central characters in the Noh play Takasago. Known for their devotion to one another, they make the perfect motif for a wedding futonji. Other auspicious symbols appropriate to a wedding are the paired cranes, said to live one thousand years, the paired tortoises, said to live ten thousand years, and the ever-green pine, a symbol of resilience. At the borders, the scrolling vines, on which new tendrils spring continuously from older ones, symbolize fertility and the continuity of the family line. For the delicately rendered features of Jo and Uba, see the thumbnail below.


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