uchishiki from kosode Daily Japanese Textile IMG_3329

Uchishiki (Buddhist altar cloth)
Figured silk (rinzu), gilt thread, cotton (backing)
Stenciled kanoko shibori, embroidery, couched gilt thread

Originally, this was a kosode, but it was donated to a Buddhist temple, where its panels were unsewn and then resewn into a flat, more or less square shape. The design appears to be the tree of life – a central slim tree that branches out broadly to the perimeters of the cloth – which enjoyed international popularity along the Pacific trade routes. There are three pairs of kanji – four in safflower dyed silk thread, and two in couched gilt thread. One reads ‘age’, one reads ‘joy’; one has proven difficult to decipher.

uchishiki - 2 kanji safflower - upper left corner Daily Japanese Textile IMG_3335

In Kosode: 16th – 19th Century Textiles from the Nomura Collection, Amanda Meyer Stinchecum writes about uchishiki:

Since in feudal society women ranked far lower than men, their clothing was not apt to be … cherished. Commonly when a woman died, one of her garments would be presented to the temple where she had worhipped, in return for prayers for her salvation. Many of these garments were inscribed on the lining with the woman’s posthumous Buddhist name and the date of presentation, but once donated they would be cut up for priests’ vestments (kesa), altar cloths (uchishiki), or temple banners (ban), and in the process the original inscriptions might be lost or separated from the fabric. Even those inscriptions that remained attached tell only the date of death of the garment’s owner; the kosode itself might have been made in her youth or even handed down to her from an earlier generation.”

uchishiki - kanji upper right corner kanji safflower IMG_3333

The four kanji at the top of the uchishiki are likely in their original locations, and were formerly the left and right sleeves, and left and right center panels of the kosode. The lower right red silk kanji is from a separate panel, and may have been the left front sleeve. The integration of kanji into kosode design was notable in the 17th and 18th centuries. Often there was a reference to classical literature in the kanji chosen. This would have been an extremely expensive and time-consuming garment, and would have been worn by a woman of very high social rank.

uchishiki - kanji - center back gold kanji Daily Japanese Textile IMG_3334

Some of the couched threads have come loose with time, but the safflower dyed threads have all remained in place. Much of the design is rendered in stenciled kanoko, which was meant to mimic shibori kanoko. Stenciled kanoko was less labor-intensive than shibori kanoko, but it is believed that the change to stenciling over time was due to style preferences rather than monetary considerations.

uchishiki - lower right corner kanji gold thread Daily Japanese Textile IMG_3330

The back of this kosode has no inscription, unfortunately, but interestingly we can see that the couched thread kanji were reinforced on the back, probably to help support the extra weight imposed by the gold threads.

outline of kanji on reverse Daily Japanese Textile IMG_3327

Daily Japanese Textile would like to extend deepest appreciation to Midori Sato for her reading of the calligraphy.