Sumptuous pineapple cherry shibori

I disasemble a veritable bounty of kimono every year and figure I’ve seen some crazy fabric combinations, but this piece made me laugh when I first came across it. Used as a sleeve lining for an early 20th century kimono, this synthetic fabric dyed in bright yellow and vibrant red has oodles of cheeky charm.

It’s 2:00 am Pacific Coast time and I get a little silly after midnight, but bear with me.

Pineapple shibori

Pineapple shibori

Like bright rings of pineapple, the kumo (spiderweb) shibori circles dance between wide stripes that were stitched, bound and dyed. Keep in mind this piece was not visible when the kimono was worn. The kimono itself was far more subdued, but this gives a hint to the potentially vivacious personality of the wearer. That’s what I like to think, anyway.

Pineapple shibori 2

Pineapple shibori 2

Hiding bright linings inside of more subdued garments is very Japanese. To wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve is common enough in the West, but to do so in Japan would not be iki, or chic. It was not always thus, but suptuary laws and class distinctions similar to those seen in Europe in the past made it impossible for the common man, regardless of his affluence, to wear certain colors or textiles in public. To work around restrictions, many people simply went underground, so to speak, by wearing fantastic linings under their plain kimono.

Here’s a bit on sumptuary laws from Wikipedia:

Japan under the Shoguns

According to Britannica Online, “In feudal Japan sumptuary laws were passed with a frequency and minuteness of scope that had no parallel in the history of the Western world”.[13] During the Tokugawa period (1603–1868) in Japan, people of every class were subject to strict sumptuary laws, which extended even to the types of clothing that could be worn. In the second half of that period (the 18–19th centuries), the merchant class (chōnin) had grown far wealthier than the aristocratic samurai, and these laws sought to maintain class divisions despite the ability of the merchants to wear far more luxurious clothing and to own far more luxurious items. The shogunate eventually gave in, and allowed for certain concessions, including the allowance of merchants of a certain prestige to wear one sword at their belt; samurai always wore two swords.

Draconian as these restrictions may have been, at least people at that time didn’t have to endure seeing brand name labels splashed across bodies everywhere. That’s not iki, that’s just ick.

If you’re in Ohio…

A friend recently alerted me to this exhibit at Ohio’s Canton Museum of Art which opens on February 9 and runs until April 26, 2009.

Kimono as Art: The Landscapes of Itchiku Kubota opens at the Canton Museum of Art on February 9, 2009. This breathtaking exhibit features 40 giant landscape kimono of the Japanese Master who spent much of his lifetime perfecting a lost textile process called Tsujigahana.

The works are by Japanese designer Itchiku Kubota whom I researched for an earlier post. While the museum article lauds him for “perfecting” tsujigahana, it has been pointed out to me by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada and also states in Kubota’s own book Opulence: The Kimonos and Robes of Itchiku Kubota that what he achieved was a modern version of a lost art. His technique is labor intensive and likely as close to the original tsujigahana as we may ever get, but is not recognized in Japan as actual tsujigahana.

Regardless of the semantics, if I were in Ohio, I’d drop everything and go see the exhibit without delay. It looks fascinating. A companion book for the exhibit, Kimono as Art: The Landscapes of Itchiku Kubota, was published last year and has now been added to my Amazon wish list.

Three examples of indigo shibori

Due to circumstances that likely could have been avoided, I will be writing part 2 of the sashiko tutorial tomorrow instead of today. In the meantime, here are some great examples of shibori done in indigo and white.

These three show just how diverse a medium shibori can be. The piece on the left is a vintage textile, possibly intended to be used as a baby’s diaper/nappy. We should all have such  fashionable bums.

The cotton is extremely soft and very likely absorbent, but I haven’t tested this theory out. This style of shibori is kumo, or spider web. The fabric is folded and pinched into tall peaks then wrapped with thread tight enough to fully block much of the fabric from the dye. The area where the binding ties were wound is quite visible, giving each bound area its spider web appearance.

This next piece is new, from a lightweight, crisp cotton bolt dyed in a very dark indigo. The design is a repeating tortoise shell, or kikko, symbolic of longevity.

The shibori technique is square ring dots, or yokobiki kanoko. The design is stenciled onto the fabric before tying, then bound quickly with very little thread on each binding (more thread=larger resisted area, less thread=smaller resisted area). This cotton, although quite dark, is quite thin and gauzy when held up to the light. One might imagine wearing a yukata made from this in a hot, humid summer and finding it quite breezy, but still modest.

This last piece is a delicate little gem I received from Andrew Galli of Studio Galli, the producer of Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada’s Shibori DVD available in my shop.

This technique is a somewhat random form of a usually staid looped binding called miura shibori. Miura is often seen done in rows, but this one is quite different. The result is a highly textured, vivacious and chaotic splash effect, the sort you’d find done by an artist who is well acquainted with the rules and chooses to ignore them. Note how the peaks were bound toward the bottom, but not at the top. This give a stark contrast with dark indigo in the foreground and crisp white in the background, the opposite effect seen in the first piece of the three. The fabric has not been steamed, so the peaks remain as they were the moment the binding threads were removed. Beautiful.

Back to sashiko tomorrow.

I’m back

At long last, I’ve returned to the desert… where it’s raining. All week long I’ve been looking forward to the dry air and warm climate that I’d left behind, only to find it damp, cold and dreary when I got home last night. Oh well.

Fanime was fantastic. The show was exhausting, but a lot of fun. It’s always difficult to let go of my favorite vintage pieces, but once I see them on the right person, it’s worth it. For those of you who took home a new kimono at the show, remember “wear it for a day, air it for a day” and treat your kimono well so that it will look great for the next show.

One of the highlights of my trip was having tea with Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, author of several excellent books and articles and a video about shibori, lecturer, teacher, and all-around shibori expert. She showed me the proper way to appreciate a cup of oolong tea while we discussed textiles. If I hadn’t just finished up a week of 12 hour days on my feet, I think I might have been better company, but she was a wonderful host nonetheless.

This Saturday, May 31 I will be doing a kimono fashion show at Summit High School in Bend, Oregon for their Sakura Matsuri event. If you are in the area, I hope you will come by and see the student volunteers who will be wearing kimono and having a good time. I hear the rain should be moving on by then and the skies will be clear. Fingers crossed!

If you’re wondering where all the sashiko items went in my Etsy shop, they will be relisted soon. I’m holding on to them for the show on Saturday and will update afterwards.

Random Shibori from the Stash

Some days I look around the studio and think “I don’t have enough fabric” which is probably what every fabric junkie thinks at some point or another. Then I have a nice cup of tea, sit down on the sofa and have a look around at the bags, shelves, boxes and piles of silk and cotton that surround me. And you know what? I find fabrics I’d forgotten about. Pieces I’ve stashed because I couldn’t bear to part with them, the last vestiges of kimono that I’ve disassembled,  bolt ends, or projects I’ve set aside for later.

The following pieces don’t really have much in common aside from their shibori roots, but they all came to my attention today, so here they are.

This shibori comes from a silk juban, or under-kimono. The design is shippou, also known as Seven Treasures, but I prefer to think of it as leaves of bamboo. The silk is very smooth and light weight. Note the patched area:

From the other side you can barely see the stitches that seem so huge from the back. I am always amazed when I find work like this, typically on vintage garments. Not many people bother to mend their clothes these days, it would seem. Or I could just be indulging in a silly, nostalgic moment here.

The next two examples are more faux shibori pieces. The first is another thin silk, this one from the lining of a vintage michiyuki, or kimono raincoat. I really like the layering of colors and styles on this piece. The bright “shibori” patterns contrast with the subtlety of the background. It’s more of a winter design, with bamboo and plum blossoms, and a hint of spring from the cherry blossoms floating on a peach background.

This last example comes from a vintage yukata I disassembled a long time ago. The fabric is thick and soft, much nicer than the modern yukata I come across now. It probably isn’t very old, maybe from the 1980′s or so, and the design is visually quite busy. Nevertheless, it grabbed me with it’s somewhat random splash of flowers, mix of shibori styles, and faintest hint of pink against indigo blue and white.

Just a laugh at myself here, but it’s funny how I’m drawn to these semi-chaotic designs and yet I’m practically head to toe in beige today. I guess I’ve had enough of winter and looking forward to warmer journeys this year.

500 Miles

500 miles each way is a long commute and I seem to be doing it more often; the drive from my home in Oregon to the epicenter of my past, the San Francisco bay area. Last month it was the whole circus, four humans and one ferret who made the drive, but this time it was just me. The rolling hills adorned with fresh green grass are already giving way to brown crispness around the edges, but the California sky was a gorgeous blue and the strong winds blew in clean air off the coast. I miss that now, as it was snowing in the high desert on my way back north, and the pollen from our on-again, off-again spring bloom is making my eyes itch.

I was only in the bay area for about 48 hours, but it certainly was productive. So many more kimono have been hand picked for Fanime and preparations continue in anticipation of the big show next month. Also, as I alluded to in an earlier post, a DVD about shibori is now available, and I will be offering it in my Etsy shop Monday morning. For those of you who found my posts informative enough to get you really interested in shibori, I highly suggest you watch this video. It is an amazing view of the shibori industry in Japan. Narrated in English by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, recognized as one of the leading authorities on shibori today, it walks you through the process from start to finish.

As for now, it’s midnight and I’m off to bed! Driving 1,000 miles in a weekend is rather exhausting.

Negative space

Sometimes that which is not there stands out more than that which is. In this case, I’m referring to a missing dot among an otherwise complete shibori motif.

The shibori in question comes from a beautiful deep green cotton yukata with a peacock feather motif in my collection that I’ve had a few opportunities to wear. I can honestly say it is so very comfortable. The opening under the sleeves allows for ventilation, the sleeves themselves make wonderful pockets for storing things like my keys and cell phone, and the fact that my fair (i.e. cancer-prone) skin is covered from ankle to neck and wrist to wrist means a reduced risk of sunburn. Besides, cotton breathes. What’s not to like?

So here it is, the missing dot. I wonder, where did it slip off to?

In the greater scheme of things it doesn’t stand out quite so much, but it does serve as a reminder that this is very involved and labor intensive work. Mistakes will be made, and that makes the craft all the more human to me. I think I enjoy this piece more for it’s small imperfections than I would if it were uniformly perfect. And well, it’s green, my favorite color (aside from blue!). The entire yukata is shibori-dyed. It certainly stops people in the street when I wear it to shows in the summer.

Later this month or early May I would like to start focusing on sashiko. Shibori is fun because I have so much of it around and there are many books and even videos on the subject (I’ll cover videos at a later date), and as artists like Shibori Girl go to show, this is still an art that is very much in use around the world and by all ages. Sashiko is something I’m still learning myself, and the more I learn the more there is for me to know. Being the sort of person who thinks out loud, I find that I learn best when I’m talking or writing about a subject. So what better way to learn about sashiko than blogging about it, right?

If you have a suggestion or topic you’d like to see me cover, please let me know. I do read all replies and love to hear how some of you are learning as much as I am about these textiles.

Faux shibori

Oh dear, I turned my one week vacation from work into a two week vacation from blogging, didn’t I? Naughty me.

I promised to show some examples of shibori prints, so here we go!

First we have a pair of indigo yukata cottons with shibori style prints and bright colors. Notice how the shibori circles are most often not closed? I suppose that is an effort to make them look more realistic from a distance, and to some extent it can be quite effective. What they eye may miss from a distance, the hand will surely notice, as the fabric is decidedly flat. Every shibori piece in my collection, no matter how old, has at least some tactile evidence of they dyeing process, even if it’s just the remnants of needle holes. These, of course, have none. They do, however, offer a more affordable alternative to the woman who wishes to dress herself in shibori style, but without the expense, as these cost a fraction of the price of a bolt of true, hand tied shibori.

Next is a silk that has been printed with a tsujigahana style image. Tsujigahana is a technique that was popular for a brief period during the 15th and 16th centuries, but has not endured the way shibori has due most likely to the labor intensive process involved in decorating cloth in this style. While shibori is binding and dyeing cloth, tsujigahana involves the further step of drawing detailed designs on the cloth after dyeing. The techniques are meant to compliment each other, while contrasting at the same time. Harmonious disharmony, in effect.

faux tsujigahana

This piece is obviously not true shibori/tsujigahana as evidenced by the perfectly straight selvage. Any time cloth is bound and dyed with a technique such as shibori, it alters the width of the cloth and we often notice the irregular edges. Here the edges are straight and clean, and yet the image is dyed in such a way as to make it appear textured.


Here we can see it is simply clever work by the designer, plus a slightly textured cloth to start with. This is in fact quite a beautiful piece of silk, even if it is merely an emulation of a more complex technique. But look! There are the fine black lines often seen in true tsujigahana, making the flowers pop just enough to be noticed. From a distance we notice the tonal variations from light to dark and can appreciate the softly cascading wisteria blossoms, but close up we notice veins on some of the leaves, the definition of petals, and at once the shibori style flowers and leaves seem almost clumsy. It’s this visual juxtaposition that at first repelled me, but now attracts me to tsujigahana textiles. It’s a pity they are so difficult to come by these days.

For further study of tsujigahana, I highly suggest Tsujigahana, The Flower of Japanese Textile Arts by Toshiko Ito. The link will take you to, but considering the price of the book, you’re better off checking your local library. Interlibrary Loan is a wonderful thing, especially if you, like me, live in an area that is a bit far from any major metropolitan area and larger, more comprehensive library collections.

Stay tuned for the Free Fabric Giveaway coming up this Tuesday!

Shibori musings III – it’s more than dots

So far I’ve posted several shibori fabrics that were primarily made up of dot patterns, which is a very common style of shibori. However, there are other techniques that are used to bind and dye cloth. Here are a few more examples.

blue shibori

This is an example of ori-nui shibori, where thread is run through the fabric along a line, then drawn tight before submerging the cloth in the dye bath.

Another example of ori-nui shibori comes from this early 20th century haori (kimono jacket) woven in tsumugi silk. Tsumugi is also called “pongee” and often has a similar nubbly texture to dupioni silk. More about that in a future post. I love tsumugi!

bamboo shibori

But then again, there’s nothing wrong with the simplicity of basic spiderweb shibori. This piece comes from the lining of the above haori. Bold shibori squares in white and yellow with red make quite a statement. This sort of repeating geometric shibori is often seen in linings and juban, or under-kimono.

red shibori

Next time I’ll cover shibori motifs in printed textiles. Stay tuned!

Shibori musings, part II

Ohmigosh! yes, I know, it’s almost Tuesday. Yes, that Tuesday. Free Fabric Tuesday. And where have I been while not blogging for the past week? Getting really excited about Fanime Con, a huge anime (Japanese animation) gathering in San Jose, CA May 23-26. I am very, very excited. Did I mention I am excited? I’ll be selling vintage kimono, obi, and other items, so if anime is your thing and you’ll be in the area, check it out.

But now, back to the shibori.

blue shibori 1

This lovely piece is another in my personal collection. Actually, I do have some of it left and will consider selling it. I currently have a long piece of it hemmed for a scarf, which turned out to be quite an interesting piece. On the left is a closeup so you can see just how textured it is. The picture on the right shows the price tag: 46,000 yen! In today’s money, that’s something like $450 for a 12 meter bolt of cotton that’s only about 10″ wide. But oh, what cotton! The design is a repeating, interlocking, geometric hemp leaf. I must confess, when I bought it I was still very new to Japanese textiles and simply assumed it was a snowflake. Silly, of course, since snowflakes are for winter and this is most definitely a summer textile.

shibori close up

46,000 yen!

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