This stencil depicts a motif that has enjoyed hundreds of years of popularity on Japanese textiles: drying fishing nets and plovers. The nets were raised onto poles after use to hasten the drying process. This preserved them as well as lightening their weight.

As noted in previous entries, both the nets and the plovers are rendered right side up and upside down to maximize the versatility of the finished fabric.

The tiny holes for the plovers’ eyes add just a touch of light to relieve the darkness of their silhouettes. The stencil can no longer be used because of the damage at the right edge.

Silk (?), paper-backed metallic thread
Tapestry weave

The repeat on this modernist obi is fairly small, but the designer disguises that by changing the colors three times in the largest element – the framed circle – and some of the smaller elements, so essentially a single repeat is comprised of three repeats in different colors. The first framed circle is coral, with a mustard colored ‘handle’.

The second frame is salmon-colored, with a dark golden ‘handle’.

The third is orange, with a ‘handle’ in metallic gold thread.

This close-up shows the intricacy of the weave.

A large portion of an obi goes unseen, so the designer leaves that portion unfigured. From a distance, it looks like this:

But a close-up photo shows that even the unseen portion has a luxurious touch to it, in the form of coiled silver metallic thread.

Stenciled warps and wefts

It is said that after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1926, sales of meisen kimonos (such as this midcentury piece) rose dramatically because people had lost all their clothing in the resulting conflagrations and needed to replace their wardrobes quickly. The meisen stenciling technique and the stiff silk met the people’s immediate demands because they were faster and less expensive to make than more traditional kimonos, yet still attractive. Thematically, they also had a wider range.

This hitoe has something of an experimental, rather than commercial, look about it. These colors are often associated with camouflage, and all the outlines are in white, rather than the traditional black, as if the artist had scraped paint from an impasto painting to reveal the white canvas beneath. The subtlety of the shading and soft edges in the design would seem to indicate some advancements in the stenciling technique, or an additional technique.

Wallet with blotting paper
Rinzu (figured silk), metal, paper
Shibori, embroidery

Both the red shibori and white embroidered fabrics are rinzu – figured silk. A close look shows that both have the traditional sayagata (key fret) pattern. These were both almost certainly kimono or kosode originally, accessible only to the wealthiest members of society. For some reason they were no longer wearable, but the material was salvaged and put to good use. Even pieces of material as small as these were recycled.

This small wallet contains blotting paper, a Japanese make-up accessory. Often Japanese women carried small, lightweight wallets like this in the bottom of their kimono sleeves. Perhaps this delicate wallet survived because it was forgotten in the sleeve of a kimono that the owner stopped wearing, and carefully stored away as a family treasure.

For Wikipedia’s brief and interesting history of blotting paper (aburatorigami), click here.

Infant’s hitotsumi (1 panel width garment for an infant)
Asa, wool, silk
Handpainted; dyes and pigments

Infants’ garments shown in Daily Japanese Textile up until now have tended to illustrate unmistakable wishes for wealth, long life and good fortune. This little hitotsumi, by contrast, depicts a simple and charming scene of a mother doing daily chores with the assistance of her young child, with their home close by, and ships in the distance. The craggy pine tree could be taken as an auspicious symbol, but is unaccompanied by the plum and bamboo that form the traditional “three friends of the cold”.

This hitotsumi has seen quite a bit of wear. Lighter spots across the back indicate friction, where the color – probably sumi ink – was literally rubbed away. There are also regularly placed needle holes at the shoulders and waist, indicating that excess material was once stitched down in tucks to fit a younger infant. Those tucks were unstitched when the baby grew, to get more wear out of the garment.

Here are some closer views of the focal point of the design. The flowers on the tree (cherry?) by the corner of the thatched roof are rendered with small blobs of white paint on the fabric.

The semamori (back talisman) below points to the right, indicating this hitotsumi was worn by a little girl.

The red squares used to provide a bit of closure on the long sleeves are quite unusual. Usually sleeves have only surface decoration. The squares have some gold couched thread along with the chain stitch embroidery, so possibly this was added as a touch of luxury. The inside of the sleeve openings are also lined in a fine red wool, and the collar is lined in a lightweight red silk.

Issey Miyake skirt with built-in tassels
Cotton (?)

Issey Miyake found two very powerful collaborators in weaving geniuses Junichi Arai and Makiko Minagawa. This particular skirt, the tassels of which seem to have been withdrawn from within the woven fabric, might have been done in collaboration with Arai.

In the above photo (shown on its side), a largish hole can be seen, with a tassel extending outward from it. In the case of the larger hole, the fibers appear to have been drawn from above, then pulled down and out. The fibers from the smaller hole appear to have been drawn from below then pulled up and out. Readers who know how this was accomplished (or would like to speculate) are welcome to write in.

The photo below is a close up of the very tightly twisted warp threads, where they have no wefts, and where the wefts have been added back in.

A variation of the skirt, below, as published in Issey Miyake by Laurence Benaim, part of the Universe of Fashion series.

Silk (?), cotton lining
Stenciled warps, hand tied dyed wefts at intervals

In the Edo period, garments often have one or two colors. Multicolored garments took much more time to produce, and so were much more expensive and therefore far less common. Colors were added strategically – to a bird wing, to a flower petal, to a border, etc.

In this early 20th century kimono patterned with leaves, the designer has added splashes of red, yellow, blue and green for the sheer joy of the color, rather than to bring out the features of the leaves.

In early 20th century western art there was a strong movement toward the celebration of color for its own value, and it seems likely that the artist who designed this fabric was familiar with that movement. Below are two examples of paintings of the period using the same very strong colors.

Above, Arthur Dove’s Sunrise, 1924. Below, Kandinsky’s Lyrical, 1911. Both have identifiable subjects, but in both the subject seems little more than a pretext the artist uses to focus on the beauty of the colors.

Silk (cotton lining)
Stenciled warps and wefts

This kimono looks as though it might have been influenced by the art brut movement, which embraced, among other things, the untrained exuberance of children’s art.

Boy’s patchwork kimono
Cotton, silk
Plain weave, herringbone, kasuri, print, velvet

Yesterday’s Daily Japanese Textile featured a simple patchwork bag. Today’s textile is a boy’s patchwork kimono consisting of more than 135 separate pieces of precisely cut and hand-stitched cloth fragments worked into a trompe l’oeil pattern. The design bears some resemblance to the so-called “himitsu bako” (secret boxes) of the Hakone region, which were decorated with intricate geometric marquetry using different varieties of wood.

This kimono is comprised primarily of striped fabric, which was less expensive than figured fabric as the design was made simply by alternating thread colors in warps and/or wefts when setting up the loom.

The maker of this kimono took odd scraps and unified them by juxtaposing and contrasting their patterns, transforming them into a small work of art.

Drawstring bag
Cotton, wool
Various techniques

In western cultures, patchwork often implies making do. In Japan, a patchwork bag implies that the wearer’s family had the wherewithal to purchase the many bolts of cloth from which the bag is made.

The rows of circles in the patch to the right of center in the top photo appear to be stenciled, but on closer inspection they are weft kasuri. The top and bottom of some of the circles is only one thread wide.

The chain stitch embroidery hints at the wearer’s name, but the work is unclear. The final cross stroke doesn’t start high enough to be katakana TA, タ, and doesn’t end low enough to be the character HISA, 久.

The sole wool patch is placed at the base of the bag. At the top, the drawstring is hemp; half of the loops are older hemp cord, the other half are newer cotton cord.


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