Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Using kimono remnants - part two

Here are some more examples from my collection of how kimono remnants have been traditionally re-used in Japan. The first two photos are patchwork juban undergarments. The juban is worn under the kimono with a changeable collar (han-eri) which peeks out at the neck of the kimono. The first one here is a 19th century  half-length 'hanjuban'.  While the sleeves are a quite sturdy printed cotton the body of the garment is made up of delicate strips of plain coloured kimono lining silk and fragments of printed chirimen and other kimono silks.  It reminds me that  necessity and simplicity often create the most striking designs - it's one of my favourite pieces.

The second juban is a similar age to the hanjuban. It's made up of remnants of  fine silk shibori-dyed pieces some of which may have been recycled from other juban while many seem to be old shibori hair bands that were used in traditional coiffures.  While the colours in these pieces are now subtle and faded it was once common to have stunningly vibrant shibori juban. There is a tradition in Japan of very gorgeous linings and undergarments  which would never have been seen in public. The standard explanation for this is that it was originally a reaction to Edo-period (1600-1868) sumptuary laws which controlled  the colour and types of fabric which could be worn by different classes of people. The growing merchant class in this period had money but not traditional social status.  Even though the degree to which the sumptuary laws were  enforced varied over time, in general the luxurious cloth and bold designs which many in the merchant classes wanted and could  afford had to remain hidden  either in undergarments and linings or by wearing silk checks and stripes which at a casual glance appeared to be cotton. I'm sure there's more to the story than this and it's definitely something I'd like to look into more in the future.

The next photo is a patchwork Buddhist altar cloth (yosegire-uchishiki) made from remnants of kimono fabrics. It probably dates from the early 20th century. Altar cloths were triangular or rectangular and often had a plain strip of white cotton which sat on the top of the altar allowing the decorative part to hang down the front. This design was so that it wouldn't matter if the top section was damaged by candles or incense. Altar cloths are more typically finely embroidered pieces but there is also a strong tradition of patchwork pieces which were made from old  treasured kimonos that had been donated to the temple (though usually the cloth would have been made from a single kimono) . This one has an unusual, but not unique,  homemade, informal feel. I don't know how many people may have been involved in making it. They often have the name of the donor written on the back but there are no markings at all on this one. There is also some importance placed on the act of stitiching in Buddhist textiles. It was once considered important, for example, for priests to stitch their own 'kesa' robes from donated remnants. The act of stitching was seen as a meditative and the garment would be imbued with something of the spirit of its maker.  While this particular altar cloth is very humble in comparison to most I like to think that the people who stitched it have given it a sense of joy and sincerity that grander ones lack.


  1. I really like these pieces too Jan - beautiful colour combinations. I am enjoying reading your blog and the background about the pieces in your collection and shop. Hope you keep going with it for some time. Andrea

  2. Thanks Andrea. I am planning to keep the blog going... you know me - I never run out of things to say!