Thursday, July 1, 2010

Using kimono remnants - part one

There is a strong tradition in Japan of re-using scraps of kimono fabric to make little bags, dolls and other osaikumono(craft items). From the second half of the Edo-period (1603-1867) it became a popular craft with wealthy women who had the time to sit and stitch very fine mostly decorative items. They also had access to the fine pieces of silk and thread and found uses for even the tiniest fragments. (While the less well-off were recycling their humbler scraps of cotton into more functional items such as nappies, cleaning cloths and patches for their clothes and bedding). The most popular silk for these crafts was chirimen crepe which not only often featured fine yuzen-dyed designs but also has the natural elasticity to make it ideal to use on small intricate projects. One popular craft was making oshie pictures. These are small padded collages such as this 19th century example from my collection:

In the Meiji period (1868-1912)these crafts began to be taught in home economics classes at girls' high schools and so became more widely spread throughout Japan. The following picture is an illustration of projects in a sewing book from 1915:

Many of the pieces feature red chirimen - which was the predominant colour used for kimono linings. Some of the popular items to make were little drawstring bags, often in the shape of flowers, birds or animals, amulets, covered boxes, thimbles, cases for various items such as toothpicks or incense, and (my favourite) maigofuda 'lost child tags'. These had plain white cotton or paper on the reverse side with the child's name and address written on them and were attached to the child's obi. Interestingly Japan still has a tradition of lovely name tags for children's bags. Here are a few old samples of chirimen crafts from my collection. From top to bottom: a maigofuda, a small kinchaku drawstring bag, a covered box with an oshie tiger and a miniature doll bag. .

Like many Japanese textile traditions these crafts declined during the war and post-war years but have been revived as popular handcrafts in the last 20 or 30 years. There is a huge range of books available (in Japanese of course) on how to make both traditional patterns and modern variations. At the same time the price for old chirimen silks has risen enormously partly because it is also used for making and dressing dolls. Unfortunately there is not very much available in English about these patterns or the history of chirimen and chirimen crafts. Kumiko Sudo's 'Omiyage' (which we stock) has many of the traditional patterns, but because of the fabrics she's used doesn't have quite the same sensibility as the Japanese books. Please have a chat to me in the shop if you're interested in trying some of these traditional projects, or perhaps going beyond what's in 'Omiyage'. There's a small selection of old chirimen in the shop but it's also possible to make beautiful items using other(cheaper)soft silks from the remnant baskets.

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