Man’s kimono
Miura (looped binding) shibori

Because textiles were expensive to buy and time-consuming to make, damaged articles were repaired, cut or repurposed as many times as possible rather than thrown away. Many garments were composed of fragments, often very artistically arranged. Here are several fragments that were carefully saved for future use.

This is cotton katazome, but the design is a clever imitation of shibori. The top right corner has been turned down. If it were shibori, it would be identical on both sides. Some katazome is dyed on both sides; this was dyed on one side, which would have been less expensive.

Historically, purple was a highly sought after color, very difficult to achieve, and the subject of numerous sumptuary laws to protect its exclusivity. After the advent of chemical dyes, purple became far more readily available. This is silk chirimen, stencil dyed on both sides with small lattices, blossoms and koto bridges (see both sides on left of textile).

In the chirimen fragment above, men perform Suzume Odori, or the Sparrow Dance, a festival dance originating in Sendai. This popular motif, marked by joy and humor, shows up on numerous different textiles.

The Dutch, dominant traders in Asia, brought Indian and Indonesian textiles to Japan, and these came to be called sarasa. The novel designs, dyes and textiles were highly prized by the Japanese, but as imports they were very expensive and hard to come by. Often scraps were used in small items, such as wallets. This chirimen fragment has a design of sarasa scraps. Ownership of several types of sarasa would have been a status symbol. Eventually, the Japanese learned how to make imitation sarasa.

Twigs and other found materials, bagworm silk, cultivated silk, thread

This cigarette-sized pouch is made of minomushi, or bagworm moth, cocoon panels. Bags and sashes made of bagworm cocoons enjoyed some popularity in the early 20th century. For this information, Daily Japanese Textile is indebted to Ms. Haruko Watanabe, the very knowledgeable owner of the wonderful Gallery Tsumugi in Tokyo, which specializes in a wide variety of antique Japanese textiles.

According to Wikipedia, bagworms “construct cases out of silk and environmental materials such as sand, soil, lichen, or plant materials.”

(Second bagworm photograph from What’s That Bug, and contributed by Ben.)

The Japanese word minomushi (literally, straw coat insect) derives from the visual similarity between the straw coat once worn by the Japanese to protect against rain and snow and the minomushi’s cocoon.

(This photograph by Baron Raimund von Stillfried-Rathenitz, ca. 1880.)

Furoshiki (carrying cloth)
Cotton (homespun)
Tsutsugaki (rice paste resist), stenciling, stem stitch embroidery

Rather than carry goods in bags or boxes of predetermined size, the Japanese used carrying cloths, so the size of the packaging exactly fit the size of the goods when the four ends of the furoshiki were tied together.

This furoshiki was ordered for someone named Itoh, as seen here. Most of the furoshiki is in good shape, but where the ends were knotted, the material has been lightened with wear.  The name appears backward here, but when the package is tied, the name will show the right way out out.

Stitchwork at the four corners reinforces an area that receives extra stress.

Detail of the homespun.

Juban (underkimono)
Silk crepe, cotton lining
Shibori, block printing with sumi ink (?)

On this unusual juban, panels of highly textured chirimen silk crepe are decorated solely with amorphous orange or green shibori, while panels of very fine, light crepe are decorated both with shibori and what might be carved wooden stamps dipped in sumi ink. Among the designs (below) are insect cages, butterflies, cranes, chrysanthemums, and fulling blocks and mallets for beating and softening lengths of cloth.

fine and highly textured crepe:

Sodenashi (sleeveless vest)
Choma (hemp), wool (at neck)
Katazome (stencil)

This handsome but oddly pieced together vest from northern Japan was repurposed from a larger textile. The finely detailed design was stenciled, using rice paste resist. Although the application of the paste resist was occasionally uneven, leading to small smears and breaks in the design, the stenciling was done identically on both sides (doubling the amount of labor) to ensure that the whites would be crisp and sharp.  (Double click on the photos to for a more detailed view.)

Identical face and reverse

The block designs, called Genjimon, refer both to the traditional incense game and (in this garment) chapters 11 and 23 from the Tale of Genji. The Genjimon are interspersed with small orizuru (paper cranes). Like cranes, symbols of the Heian period are considered auspicious.

The photograph below gives some idea of the very small scale of the work.  The designs shown here were hole-punched.  For a look at some stencil carver’s tools, click here.   One of the tools in the collection would have been used for punching narrow ovals, another for punching small diamonds.

Size in centimeters

Pair of kote (armor for the arms)
Metal (steel?), lacquer, cotton, asa, deerskin, tortoiseshell

These kote did not see any battle. There is little of the damage that comes from friction or impact, and the sparse metalwork seems to indicate that the wearer realized these were only for show. They would not have afforded him much protection from any sort of weaponry. Only the tortoiseshell toggles have suffered, and that due to insect damage (tortoiseshell is a protein).

The outer cotton arm material is stenciled with conventionalized irises, a favorite design among the military aristocracy. The iris might at first seem an unlikely choice for an iconic military design, but in Japanese the word for iris and for militarism are homonyms (both are pronounced shobu), so the irises are an elegant and subtle pun.

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

This is a young girl’s hitoe. The flap barely visible from left to right in the middle is only basted down, and can easily been undone when extra length is necessary. With an obi (sash) in place, the fold would not have been visible.

The crudely executed landscapes on this hitoe show the influence of German expressionism on Japanese designers. While architectural structures usually appear mathematical, symmetrical, and solidly built, these look like they were cobbled together out of old scrap materials, follow no architectural principles, and will soon topple over. The greenery is out of all proportion to the architecture.

Compare these with the buildings in the eccentric toy town sculpted by German Expressionist Lyonel Feininger.

Or with the rooftops shown in the 1920 German Expressionist movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Scarf by Issey Miyake
Woven, stitched

Around the end of the ’80s, Issey Miyake produced a series of featherlight scarves in at least three colors: black, white and blue. Without reading the tag, the consumer would never imagine the scarf was made of horsehair. The black and white might be natural colors. It is interesting to guess whether the rich blue was dyed in natural indigo.

It is difficult for the untutored eye to determine the weave. More interesting still is that there are two identical layers to this airy weave. These are stitched together at the ends, but are also interwoven at points throughout (see the two layers separated, and interwoven point below). Miyake has always worked with Japan’s most innovative textile designers. This scarf is the work of his longtime collaborator, Makiko Minagawa. While Minagawa avoids the spotlight, her work commands it.

Formal furisode (long sleeved) kimono
Tsumugi (waste silk), habutae, silk padding
Yuzen dyeing

This long sleeved formal five crested winter kimono, decorated with eight different treasure bags and peonies (a symbol of wealth), was worn by the young daughter of a prosperous family. The particular red (also favored in woodblock prints of the time), the way the red fades to pink then to white, and the very realistic delicate hand painting all mark this as a Meiji period (1868 – 1912) robe.

Tsumugi is waste silk, or wild silk, with a texture similar to cotton. The fibers are shorter, and lack the smoothness and luster of fine long fiber silk, but because it was silk, it was more prized than cotton.


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