Stenciled warps and wefts (meisen)

The motif called “polka dots” in English is called “mizutama”, or “water droplets” in Japanese, and can be traced back hundreds of years in Japanese textile design. Here novelty is introduced by the different sizes, colors and seemingly random placement of the dots, as well as by their ‘shadows’.

In many societies worldwide, the color purple was once reserved for royalty. It was difficult to harvest from natural sources, so it was rare and very expensive. Following the advent of chemical dyes in the 19th century, purple, a color with a very deep appeal, was no longer restricted to the very wealthy, and became very popular.

The sleeves, one of which is shown above, are interesting because they have been carelessly – and temporarily – shortened with folds at the bottom, held in place with basting stitches. Little of the sleeve is cropped out of the photograph, and it is clear that more than a third of the sleeve has been folded up, so these were originally the very long sleeves prevalent in the Taisho period. Evidently the sleeves were meant to be taken down again, or they would simply have been cut and resewn. Instead it seems this hitoe was put away as is, and never worn again.

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