Focus on Indigo part III, tsutsugaki kimono

I met Vicki Shiba of Mill Valley, CA last year during my first visit to the Arts of Pacific Asia Show in SF. She’s a soft spoken woman with a sharp intellect and a dazzling collection of antiques. She had several pieces worthy of mention in her booth, and I have chosen two that I feel express both the playfulness and skill of Japanese textile artists of the past. Here is the first one from her booth that caught my eye this year:

This indigo kimono has designs rendered in colorful dyes done in the tsutsugaki technique, as described in my previous post. It appears to be a festival garment, worn only on special occasions, and the skill used in design and execution of the artwork is obvious even from a distance. The colors are bright and vivid, the lines clear and well rendered.

The main design elements on the back include a straw hat and cape (kappa), both likely made from sedge or rice grass. They are not the usual drab pale straw color, but appear to be woven with dyed material and/or colorful leaves. They sport bright, thick cords (kumi himo) that end in heavy tassels. Could it be a legendary Cloak of Invisibilty? To the left is a scroll (kakejiku 掛軸? Correct me if I’m wrong). Barely visible on the front is a lucky mallet (kozuchi 小槌). The designs are fairly provincial, denoting the garment’s country origins.

On the back of the right sleeve there is a teardrop-shape design with blue flames (kaen houju 火炎宝珠). It represents a sacred jewel in Buddhism, with the ability to dispel evil, purify, and fulfill wishes. The colored layers represent the materials that make up the jewel, including Buddha’s ashes, precious metals and aromatic woods.

I took a closeup of the red fabric near the bottom hem as it intrigued me. The fabric was carefully sewn on at the top, but the edges were left raw at the bottom. It appears to function as reinforcement for the split at the hem, but why sewn in such a way and with such a brightly colored fabric? It does make an interesting visual effect, regardless of its intended purpose.

The second item I chose to feature from her booth will be in a future post on ikat and kasuri indigo textiles.

To inquire about this piece, please contact:

Vickie Shiba, Asian Art
PO Box 2255
Mill Valley, CA 94942
(415) 383-6995

As always, Thank You to Vicki for sharing her joy of Asian antiques with me.

Shop updates for late February 2010

I’m still sorting through photos and notes for the Focus on Indigo feature, but I’ve also been plowing through photos and descriptions for new items and listing them in my shop. The sections have changed a bit; all 14″ wide Japanese kimono and yukata fabrics are now in one place under “Japanese textiles” and what was previously known as “quilting cottons” is now “cotton yardage“. The old line of KimonoMomo bags and scarves are together for now as the bags are being phased out.

Kitty Kokeshi from Alexander Henry

The cotton yardage section has been growing as new bolts from Kona Bay and Alexander Henry show up at my door every few weeks. The sashiko section has been well stocked in anticipation of several projects I have underway, including the trunk show and sashiko class I’m teaching at the Valley Stitchers Guild in Pleasant Hill, CA on March 1. Contact me if you’d like details on this event. My next scheduled event after that is the Knit-One-One March Madness Craft Sale in Berkeley, CA on Saturday, March 6. In April I will be at Sakura-Con in Seattle, WA, and in May I will be at the Asian Heritage Street Celebration in San Francisco, CA.

Dark brown and silver sensu fan

A new section I’m having fun filling is dolls and miniatures. Every one of these pieces comes from the collection of a talented doll maker who acquired these pieces in Japan during the 1950’s and brought them here to the US. These items have been sitting in storage for decades, waiting for the opportunity to once again be appreciated and enjoyed.

Doll tabi socks in purple chirimen

They are the ideal scale for many of the modern ball jointed dolls now on the market, and also make pretty little collectibles on their own. Many of the items were designed for geisha, samurai or kabuki-themed dolls. These items are limited and once they are gone, that’s it.

New items will be listed frequently throughout the week as I push closer to my goal of having 200+ items in my shop. I’m at 190 as I write this, so it’s not so far off! The shop will be offline during my trunk shows and any markets I attend, but will be back up as soon as I’ve taken stock of what I have on hand, usually by the next day.

Focus on Indigo part II, shibori and yogi

Following the vest theme of the previous post, here is a fabulous example of indigo shibori from Honeychurch Antiques of Seattle, Washington.

This piece features shibori done in orinui and shirokage (white shadow) styles. The white bands would have been bound and reserved during the dye process, making this a rather labor intensive textile. Dyeing would have involved several different steps to achieve the overall multi-hued effect. The solid indigo blue lapel gives the eyes a welcome rest from the excitement of the rest of the garment.

The interlinked circles represent shippou tsunagi (七宝繋) or shippou mon (七宝文), also known as “Seven Treasures”.

Next is a yogi, or sleeping kimono. This would have been used as a coverlet over a futon, and as such is usually stuffed with cotton, making it quite heavy. Many yogi that leave Japan have their stuffing removed to make them less bulky and less expensive to ship. While this may cause the garment to be considered not as “authentic”, it does make the yogi lighter and easier to display, which I find a worthwhile trade off.

This particular yogi has a boldly rendered kamon, or family crest*, a typical decoration for an intimate item that would have been proudly used in the home. Yogi were often given as wedding gifts with a family crest and other felicitous symbols dyed in the tsutsugaki technique. For example, what at first appear to be red and light blue kanoko shibori on this piece are actually carefully rendered dots hand dyed using rice paste resist.

The cloth shows quite a bit of wear, which I find appealing. It’s evidence that the yogi was used and appreciated in its time.

To inquire about either of these items, please contact:

Honeychurch Antiques
411 Westlake Avenue N
Seattle, WA 98109
(206) 622-1204

Thank you to John Fairman for his generous assistance! I will be showing more items from Honeychurch Antiques in a future post.

*According to Crest Japan, this particular crest represents a star.

Focus on Indigo part I, Samurai Vest

note: Clicking on any of the images here will give you a larger image so you can see the details more clearly.

While I have always had a love for all things indigo, this was the first piece at the Arts of Pacific Asia Show in San Francisco this month that inspired me to reach for my camera. I discovered it in the booth of B.C. Dentan, Works of Art.

This formal samurai garment dates from the mid- to late Edo era (1750-1800) . It is unlined and has three mon, or family crests, embroidered in gold thread on the high standing collar. It is woven of bast fiber (likely linen or hemp) and while soft to the touch, it has the slight crispness common in such textiles.

The front does not overlap as a kimono would, and as such would most likely be worn over other garments. Considering how traditional Japanese formal wear is composed of multiple layers, it probably would have been under at one or more other garments, including a kataginu, as well.  In this way the ornate collar and bright white circles would have been highly visible. Given the cut of the arm hole, it would appear that it was not worn over kimono. I surmise that it was worn over one or more layers of undergarments that had narrow sleeves, the sort that would have been worn under armor.

The comma- shaped crest is called mitsu tomoe, of which this style is recognized as the Hidari Gomon, the traditional symbol of Okinawa. As the vest is unlined and woven of a more gauzy material, it would have been used for summer wear. Considering the relatively temperate climate of Okinawa in relation to the rest of Japan, the lighter weight of this garment may have been extremely practical.

This piece, while it does appear to have been worn, is in excellent condition for its age. The embroidery exhibits some fraying and there are small snags and holes in areas of greater wear, but overall it has been well preserved.

The playfulness of the bold dots belies the seriousness with which it would have been worn. However, in a room filled with other samurai dressed in their finest, it certainly would have stood out.

I have been digging around trying to find more information on vests such as this, but to be realistic, historical garments don’t always fit a specific mold, much as we’d like them to. While there are books and websites that list samurai garments as they are used by historical reinactors (Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) sites are often a good resource), I have yet to find anything that resembles this vest exactly. Many tie in front, have no collar or overlap across the chest.

Here a close-up of the garment shows how the large dots clearly stand out from the indigo dye. I assume either the indigo was brushed in while the fabric was still on the bolt, or that the circles were reserved with a rice paste resist while the bolt was dip dyed in a vat of indigo.

A bit of samurai history, courtesy of Wikipedia:

During the Tokugawa shogunate, samurai increasingly became courtiers, bureaucrats, and administrators rather than warriors. With no warfare since the early 17th century, samurai gradually lost their military function during the Tokugawa era (also called the Edo period).

By the end of the Tokugawa era, samurai were aristocratic bureaucrats for the daimyo, with their daisho, the paired long and short swords of the samurai (cf. katana and wakizashi) becoming more of a symbolic emblem of power rather than a weapon used in daily life.

To follow the samurai theme, here are some images of a samurai flag that would have graced the battlefield. Paper-thin sheets of silver (I am not certain of the material) in the shape of a Torii are stitched onto what was once solid black silk. This would have been an impressive sight when displayed in sunlight.

To inquire about either of these pieces, please contact:

B.C. Dentan
1725 Taylor Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 623-0000

Feeling a tad overwhelmed

After two weekends spent surrounded by the sort of beautiful textiles and antiques you’d expect to find in a museum or private collection and being able to not only photograph them, but actually touch them, I find myself with pages of handwritten notes and innumerable photographs to sort through (I stopped counting and just try to tackle a few dozen a day to get through them all). The San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia and Tribal & Textile Arts Shows at Fort Mason were amazing.

My primary focus was on all things indigo, but there were far too many other impressive items that caught my eye and my interest along the way. Every dealer I spoke with was generous enough to provide me with information and happy to show me hidden gems among piles of textiles.

So please bear with me a little while longer while I sort through information, photos, notes, and emails to get it all organized. I promise it will be worth it for a virtual tour of these celebrated shows. In the meantime, a little sample of some of the pieces I will be writing about later this week…

Mark your crafty calendars…

I’ll be there! You should be there, too. Lots of goodies will be available, so stop on by.

New feature – Indigo

Starting next week I will be writing an ongoing feature about indigo, including vintage dyed textiles, indigo dye and supplies, and indigo’s use through history.

To start, I will feature several galleries and dealers I’ve been meeting at the Arts of Pacific Asia and Tribal & Textile Arts Shows this February at Fort Mason in San Francisco, California. I am grateful to those who have been willing to take the time and share their collections with me, to let me photograph these pieces, and answer my endless questions.

view of Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Mason Center

As many of the pieces are quite old, there may be limited information available about them. In some cases all that is known is the approximate era and region where the textile was created, but nothing more. We’ll take a look at shibori, saki-ori, zanshi-ori, sashiko, block prints, katazome and other techniques from Asia and around the world.

Stay tuned, the adventure begins Monday, February 15.

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