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

In the early 20th century, Japanese culture made a major shift away from focusing on the group in favor of focusing on the individual. Part of this shift included a new emphasis on sporting activities such as swimming, skiing and sailing. This kimono celebrates sailing with unusually crude but oddly charming yachts.

The hand tie-dyed wefts, often seen in the design motifs of kimonos of the period, seem to add an illusion of speed to the boats.

Here the paper-backed metallic thread, seen on the reverse side of this unlined kimono, can be seen winding around the silk fibers.

Reversible throw
Wool, acrylic, alpaca
Osamu Mita, 2010

One side of this reversible throw features puckered three dimensional circles and diamonds divided into four separate shades of color. The other side features multicolored donuts, separated by more shaded diamonds, and whose ‘donut holes’ are a delicate latticework of white fibers, in another of Mita’s tours de force.

Silk, cotton (lining)
Stenciled warps and wefts

This kimono has a very pop art sensibility, although prefiguring the pop era by many years. Japanese textile manufacturers were entirely capable of creating this image without the slight blurriness characteristic of meisen – in which pre-dyed warps and wefts are woven to create a pre-planned pattern. But the slight blurriness that results from the small shift in the design as it is woven was cherished by the Japanese, who had been making kasuri with traditional tied resist for generations.

In order to stencil warps and wefts, one technique was to have temporary warps or wefts, which were then removed after the dye was applied. The stenciled threads were then rewoven with permanent warps or wefts, creating a slightly less crisp design.

Below are close-ups of two pairs of flowers – one from the left shoulder of the kimono, and one from the right shoulder. Although the same stencil was used to produce the pair, when viewed in more detail, subtle differences can be seen in the weaves and strength of colors of the two sets of flowers.

Juban (underkimono)
Silk, synthetic (collar)

This very unusual juban seems to have been designed to evoke luxury. The ground color is emerald green, the silk is highly lustrous, the large shibori squares are gold (achieved with dye, not gold leaf), the small shibori dots are angled like diamonds, and are clustered to hang like diamonds in necklaces, or crystals in chandeliers.

The juban is worn under the kimono, and is only seen by a select few in the wearer’s circle of intimates. This design looks calculated to make an impression.

The juban is always worn with a han-eri, or half collar, in a contrasting color. In this pairing there is contrast on several levels. The silk of the juban conrasts with the novel early synthetic (nylon?); the juban’s soft, smooth, flat texture contrasts with the rough raised texture, and the modern design in the silk contrasts with the very traditional design of chrysanthemums in flowing water.

Child’s kimono
Asa, wool (ties); crepe silk (sleeve linings)
Double kasuri

This kimono depicts the so-called Eight Views of Omi. Omi – present day Lake Biwa – was famous for its sights, which were depicted by numerous artists, including Hiroshige. Not all of the eight views are visible on this kimono, and they appear in a kind of shorthand. The geese descending at Katata are visible, as is Mt. Hira. The bridge is the Seta Bridge, a pair of boats (represented by somewhat misshapen sails) indicate Yabase (the present day city of Kusatsu), and the castle is Zeze castle. Artists rendered the popular eight views without having necessarily seen them, so images vary from one artist to the next.

This was originally an adult’s kimono, retailored to fit a child.

Geese descending at Katata.

Zeze castle.

Seta bridge.

Mt. Hira.

Yukata (informal summer kimono)
Several varieties of shibori

From a distance all these designs appear to be alike, but each is slightly different. The tripartite figures point in all directions, both in relation to the yukata and in relation to the frames that enclose them. Some of the frames are square, others are diamond shaped, and still others are eccentrically shaped.

Jacquard weave

The very muted color scheme of this obi stands in stark contrast to its vibrant theme of seashells.

The bounty of the sea is often associated with spring, and the tides that wash shellfish onto the shore. According to Fukusa: Japanese Gift Covers, by Akihiko Takemura*, shell gathering at low tide was a favorite pastime of Japanese women, with some of the harvest taken home to eat, and some shared with neighbors.

* Akihiko Takemura. Fukusa, Japanese Gift Covers. (Tokyo: Iwasaki Bijutsu-sha, 1991)

Dolls in vintage textiles

Two contemporary vegetable dolls by Tamae Kurata; one vintage papier mache doll with real hair

Kamishimo (samurai man’s formal attire)
Silk warps, koyori (paper) wefts, wood
Stenciled (katazome), probably with sumi pigment

The two pieces that comprise a kamishimo are the kataginu (worn at the shoulders) and the hakama (worn below the waist). The character for kamishimo, 裃, describes it perfectly: clothing (left side of the character) – top and bottom (top right and bottom right of the character). Both would be worn over a kimono.

The traditional pattern seen here is known as same (shark) komon, a design identified with the Shimazu clan of the military aristocracy. The term komon refers to a stenciling technique in which designs composed of minute holes are cut into the stencil paper. This piece approaches 200 dots per square inch.

Komon was often dyed in very drab browns and grays. From afar, komon gives the appearance of a modest monochrome. Only when viewed up close does it reveal tiny pleasures for the eye – a sly form of luxury in a society beset by sumptuary restrictions. Below the stenciled face is shown against the blank reverse side.

The paper thread (koyori) used in this garment is so fine as to easily be mistaken for other more widely known fibers. The material is soft, supple and smooth. Paper was not used in clothes as often cotton, silk or bast fiber, but was nevertheless a fully developed industry.

A look at the mon, below.

A close-up of the mon shows the weave is different from the main body. It has been very delicately cut and pasted on to the kataginu.

Interestingly, a look at the reverse side of the central mon on the kataginu shows that it was originally intended to be diamond shaped – that part was left unresisted on the front. Since the dyeing had already been completed, the round mon had to be pasted on, and had to be slightly larger than the original diamond to hide the change.

Haori (jacket worn over kimono)
Silk, rayon (? lining)
Stenciled warps, hand tie-dyed wefts

Orizuru, or origami cranes, are a very popular pattern in Japanese textiles. The huge pattern size and bright colors of this haori probably date it to within a few years of 1920 – 1930.

Brightly colored, large-patterned shibori in contrasting colors was also popular during the period, as shown in the lining of this haori.


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