Musing on meisen

I must admit, when I started working with kimono textiles I didn’t care much for meisen, that fuzzy-looking weave popular in the early 20th century (early Showa). It made my eyes feel out of focus and looked really… weird to me.

And then, this came into my life:cherry meisen

Cherries! and they’re not fuzzy! Photos cannot convey the silvery quality of the silk, nor the richness of the colors (certainly not MY photos, anyway). I sold most of it but managed to cling to this last piece. A few others have since wandered in to my studio, and here are a few of them:

The brown one at the far left is also a tsumugi weave and has quite a lot of history attached to it. When I disassembled it I found it had been patched a number of times and had been resewn both by hand and machine. Machine! what a nightmare. Picking out machine stitches is such a drag, but this was worth it. The hand stitches were broad and thick in many places, neat and tidy in others. It was a hitoe (unlined) kimono lined in the collar with fine red tsumugi which was also quite old and very delicate.

The little checkerboard pattern to the right? I think of that one as marble and fried eggs. The lighter squares have a marbled pattern and the black ones, well, they do look like fried eggs, don’t they? They were probably meant to be chrysanthemums, but that’s not as much fun. It has a crisp, almost parchment like feel to it, which has been interesting to work with.

The last pattern on the right is a shippoumon design with a cross in the center. From JAANUS: A geometric design pattern which may be described alternatively as four spindles arranged in a circle with ends touching, or as overlapping circles enclosing diamonds or stars. The original meaning of *shippou 七宝 is “seven treasures” which included gold, silver, lapis lazuli, agate, pearl, coral and crystal, and it is supposed that from this the multi-colored art of cloisonne got its name, shippouyaki 七宝焼. Some scholars believe that the design was given its name because it was often used in cloisonne work; others say that there is no proof to support such a conclusion. Its earliest appearance in Japan is on fabrics preserved in *Shousouin 正倉院 repository in Nara (8c); it is found later in “cut gold” *kirikane 切金 designs in Heian period Buddhist pictures. By the Edo period it was being used on porcelian, metalwork, woodwork and lacquer, often in combination with other designs. It was also popular on women’s kimono 着物, as can be seen in surviving woodblock prints *ukiyo-e

Here’s a page from an article on meisen from Kimono Hime #4 :

I find small scraps of meisen similar to these being used as collar linings or patches inside kimono from time to time. I find their stiff but light textures to be very interesting. I assume they are weighted with lead, but don’t know enough about the process yet to be certain. Any input out there?

Tell me about your favorite meisen!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. FranIAm says:

    Hi! Stopping by to check out the new digs, which I did earlier but did not get to comment. I have rolled this site. It is like you- gorgeous!

  2. Aw! Thanks, Fran. You’re the bee’s knees.

  3. What beautiful fabrics! The colours and design are breathtaking!

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