I’m starting the new year with a little mystery. I discovered this piece being used as the stiffener inside an old obi recently. The obi itself was quite old, but the fabric has been repurposed and is likely from the 19th century so far as I can tell.
It’s not cotton, rayon, wool, or silk, and definitely not synthetic. Possibly a mix of linen and another bast fiber, as the warp and weft are different. The warp appears to be quite soft and fragile, whereas the weft is rather stiff and the fibers are flat, not twisted as the warp’s are.
These photos were taken with natural light with a southern exposure on Jan. 1 in the northern hemisphere, in case you were wondering.
I washed it in mild soapy water and let it drip dry. It was pretty dirty, as obi are never washed and it hadn’t seen the light of day for oh, decades, really, if not a century.
A burn test showed high flammability and some very pretty ash once I blew it out. It did not need to be doused, but did smolder for a while. The ash was not black, but appeared as a delicate, skeletal version of the original fibers and crumbled easily without messy smudges. Definitely organic, but as to what two plants it was woven from, I don’t know. Ramie and linen?
Here you can the a bit of the obi it was encased in. The obi is also recycled as it was a nagoya obi when I acquired it, but had likely been a maru obi before that. I’d say Meiji era and probably handwoven silk. It’s very soft and has the finely detailed pattern over the entire piece, no just in the wide areas as modern nagoya often do.
Notice the fluff on the lining? I have no idea what that is from, but it is soft and the fibers are very fine. There isn’t any attached to the inside of the obi fabric itself.
So in conclusion, we have a nagoya obi that was recycled from a maru obi with bast fiber lining that was also likely recycled from… what? It may have been the original lining of the maru obi but then cut to fit, as the pieces lining this obi are oddly cut in some places, but it’s hard for me to say. Then there is the mystery fluff, which may be from the softer warp threads. The dyes are natural and plant-based, as are the fibers themselves.
If you have any input, please post it here. I would be happy to discuss this Textile of Mystery with you! (or just say hello, those of you who followed me over from my old blog, MidnightNoise, and welcome to those from the Immortal Geisha Forum.)
8 Comments Add yours
Oh! Wonderful idea for a blog! I know in the course of recycling kimono fabrics or altering kitsuke items I’ve come across a large number of intriguing bits of fabric used inside kimono and obi that seem to date easily from in the late 1800s. Sometimes, these bits of fabric mean far more to me than the outer pieces 🙂
Could the fabric perhaps be woven from hemp? In feudal Japan, hemp was a very common fibre choice for fabrics and it seems to have very similar qualities as linen. From what I understand – the burn test for hemp has the same result as linen and cotton, also.
Thanks for the input, Naomi! It’s possible that one of the fibers could be hemp, or asa. What surprised me most was how different the warp and weft are from each other. One is twisted and soft, the other is stiff and flat.
I wonder how it could be determined? With chemical analysis, maybe?
The fluffy bits of fibre look like cotton wadding. I’ve got several old futon covers that still have wadding clinging to them like this – I’ve also seen the same thing on yogi that have had their batting removed.
The flat fibres could be one of the more offbeat bast fibres. Shina bark and wisteria fibre are two that popped into my head right now. Somewhere I have a small piece of cloth that I know is wisteria. If I can find it, I’ll see what those fibres look like.
The first Jacquard loom technology was imported into Japan in 1875? 76? and that seems to have been the start of mass market Meiji brocades. The smaller patterns just seem to have been a fashion thing, since the technology is basically the same as used for larger Taisho brocades. It could be handwoven, as the Jacquard system (and its modern computerised version) is still used to control handlooms for Nishijin weaving.
Fabric mysteries can be fascinating!
Susan, that bit about the futon fluff makes sense to me. Thank you for pointing that out. And you’re probably right about it being a machine jacquard.
Taking another look at the whole obi, it is definitely a converted maru as the fabric is woven double width and cut to fit the narrow nagoya tail. I’ve done this myself with a torn maru that I wanted to keep.
Fascinating, I enjoy how you respect and document what could be seen as just some old piece of cloth. I have no knowledge of kimono fabrics (or fabrics in general) but I can relate to this gentle archeology.
“Gentle archeology” is such a beautiful phrase. Thank you very much.