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

Flowers floating in rippling water are an old traditional Japanese theme, but the very large bold graphic repeats introduce a fresh design feature. The graphic design, together with the very long sleeves, indicate that this piece is most likely from the Taisho period (1912-1926).

Crepe silk outer, plain silk lining; waste silk padding
Untwisted warps, twisted wefts, shibori, yuzen dye, safflower dye

This was a luxurious piece in its time, dyed in safflower both inside and out, with the outer shibori dyed all over, and small portions reserved for additional yuzen dyed designs. Light padding throughout indicates it was a winter garment. Safflower was once a highly prized and very expensive dye. Many old Japanese garments have safflower linings since it was once believed to have a medicinal value when worn next to the skin.

Handpainted grapes

Close-up of fibers, needle holes from shibori process

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

This kimono must have seemed very daring at the time of its introduction, probably around 1920 – 1930. Not only does it make extensive use of saturated colors, it also uses trompe l’oeil shading and sharp divisions of space, a technique championed by such artists as Liubov Popova. Many Russian artists fled to nearby Japan following the Revolution, and had some influence on Japanese art and artists.

Uma no haragake (horse trappings)
Tsutsugaki (rice paste resist), dyes, pigments

This would have been worn by a horse during a festival procession. More than 12 feet long, it is shown in two photographs. The two large crests of three commas would go around the horse’s girth. The four long flaps are ties, and would be knotted at the horse’s spine. Northern Japan could not grow cotton as well as southern Japan, so asa was a staple for woven goods. The two shades of blue indicate this piece had to be dyed twice. Once the light blue was achieved, that was covered in paste resist so the uncovered part would continue to receive dye. The colors of the chrysanthemum were achieved by brushing pigment onto the cloth.

Silk, cotton
Stenciled warps and wefts

Changes in culture are reflected in textiles. From a distance, this post-World War II kimono appears to have wobbly polka dots as its motif. On closer inspection, the dots turn out to be a cartoonist’s cheerful and colorful rendition of atoms, encircled by speeding electrons. (See close-up below.) Atomic Age motifs were very popular in the United States at the time, and the strong presence of the United States in Japan in the post-war period influenced textile design there as well. The predominant red color and long sleeves indicate that this kimono was worn by a young unmarried woman.

synthetic fibers (polyphenylene sulfide and vinyl?), aluminum coating
shibori, burnoff

In this drawstring purse, Junichi Arai, one of the greatest textile innovators of the late 20th century, marries the centuries-old technique of shibori with 21st century technology. The aluminum coating is only a few atoms thick. While traditional shibori involves ‘reserving’ areas to remain undyed by tying them off, in this bag, the whole cloth was probably coated in aluminum, then the shibori design was created by tying, and then unwanted aluminum was burned off in a chemical process. The material feels very soft despite its metal component, which adheres well to the fabric.

Wedding futonji (bedding cover)
Rice paste resist, hand painting, dyes, pigments, sumi ink

The elderly couple depicted here are Jo and Uba, the central characters in the Noh play Takasago. Known for their devotion to one another, they make the perfect motif for a wedding futonji. Other auspicious symbols appropriate to a wedding are the paired cranes, said to live one thousand years, the paired tortoises, said to live ten thousand years, and the ever-green pine, a symbol of resilience. At the borders, the scrolling vines, on which new tendrils spring continuously from older ones, symbolize fertility and the continuity of the family line. For the delicately rendered features of Jo and Uba, see the thumbnail below.

Fukusa (gift cover)
Woven, fulled, kirihame (cut and appliqued)

Wool is not indigenous to Japan. It was brought by Dutch and Portuguese traders, and was not affordable to the general population. Fukusa were placed over gifts for presentation to the recipients. Some fukusa could be very elaborate, hinting at the occasion with the appropriate motif. This fukusa is decorated with the family crest. The wool was cut to shape, then sewn on in nearly invisible stitches (below, left), and backed with washi (below, right) for reinforcement. Fukusa always have a lining. This fukusa has lost its lining, making the paper backing visible.

Haidate (thigh guards)
Lacquered leather, asa, silk, gilt kamiko (paper)
Woven, stitched

Originally, the plates on haidate would have had to be made of metal to guard against injury, but the Tokugawa shogunate brought three hundred years of peace to Japan. These plates shown here are made of lacquered leather, and were worn for show, not for warfare. The gold strip across the center is made of kamiko, a heavy-duty paper used to make clothing, but is textured to look like leather. In the back, the haidate are bound by two narrow asa bands on each leg that fasten in the center with a laquered button.

Yukata (informal summer kimono)
Multiple shibori techniques

Shibori involves tying off parts of the cloth so that when they are immersed in dye, the tied-off parts will not absorb color.  Typically, the design is revealed by the undyed areas of the cloth.  So the less material is resisted (tied off), the faster the process can be completed.  By contrast, the more white there is in the final product, the more material had to be tied off to resist the dye, and the more time-consuming and expensive the process.  If more than one color or shade is planned for the final design, that means an additional step in the dye process, since care must be taken to expose only those areas that will receive the additional dye.


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