Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Children's kimono Part 2 - Semamori

 As I suggested in my last post I have less interest in formal kimono than in everyday wear, but one aspect of children's formal kimono that I do find fascinating is semamori.  I'm always curious about the ways in which stitching has been given meanings that go beyond simply functional and decorative. Semamori  背守り literally means 'back protection' and is a stitched amulet on the back of children's kimonos.  The original style found on formal, ceremonial kimono is a simple line of stitching  (mamori-nui) up the centre back of the kimono which then goes off to the right on girls' kimonos and to the left on boys'. It apparently originated in the Momoyama period (1568-1615) from a belief in the protective power of seams.  Because children's kimono  had less seams than an adult and specifically lacked a centre back seam they were seen as being left vulnerable to evil spirits in that area.  The  semamori acted as a protective false seam. You can see this stitching on  this boy's ceremonial kimono which probably dates from the Meiji period (1868-1912):
This girl's kimono is from the Taisho period (1912-1926) and is made from silk chirimen. I've put in a close-up because it's a bit hard to see the stitching - you can click on the photos to enlarge them as well.

On less formal kimono a tradition began of stitching more decorative good luck designs (kishyo) as semamori. Padded applique 'oshie' motifs were also sometimes attached.  These auspicious designs were also used to attach the belt to the kimono and were given the same protective meaning as the semamori:

I have a small collection of semamori stitched samples. They come in little books or on re-used pieces of card. I'm guessing that these were done as part of kimono sewing classes either at high school or in private sewing schools. Here are some examples:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Children's kimono Part 1

I often have customers asking  for kimono for their children to wear but unfortunately we don't have a lot of everyday children's kimono come through the shop (the cotton kasuri kimono you can see in the shop photo at the top of the blog is an exception).  Most of the old children's kimono we have are small children's ceremonial silk kimono which are usually quite expensive and more suited to hanging on the wall than wearing. This is simply because ceremonial kimono are the ones that have survived over the years. They were rarely worn and were then carefully stored as family treasures. In contrast a lot fewer everyday kimono have survived without being stained, torn and completely worn out or recycled into something else. And in more recent years children simply haven't worn kimono as everyday clothing.
Here are a few early-mid 20th century children's kimono from my collection. You can click on any of the photos to enlarge them for a closer look. The first one looks very similar to the cotton kasuri  kimono in the shop photo but is actually made of rayon. It's very worn and almost in tatters. Kasuri  is a  Japanese ikat, a textile technique in which threads are bound and dyed before they are woven. It's traditionally hand-dyed and woven in indigo on cotton but from the late 19th century various machine produced versions such as this became available.

People don't usually think of kimono being made from rayon but Japan developed a large rayon industry after the first world war and by the 1930's was one of the major producers in the world. We  get some lovely girls' rayon  kimono fabrics  from that period as well.  This kind of kasuri kimono was standard boy's wear in the early-mid 20th century as you can see from this old school photo from 1924:

The next one is a dark brown boy's padded cotton kasuri winter kimono from the 1930's. It's in excellent condition but the front is still  marked with reminders of a number of long ago meals.

The last one is my favourite. This is a very small child's summer kimono made from finely striped indigo dyed ramie. It's a similar age to the first two (or perhaps slightly older) and has probably been recycled from an adult's kimono. It still has a rusty safety pin in the front that has been used to fasten it.

None of these items are of much monetary value but have great value in my collection. They all have their own character and interest and add a little bit to our sense of  life in Japan in the pre-war years when traditional textiles were still part of everyday life.  

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In store... a few of my favourite things

Japanese textiles are much more than a business to me -  I collect them, read about them, sew them and  (to the frustration of my kids at times) basically live with them. I never tire of being surrounded by fabric and there are very few fabrics in the shop that I don't like or don't find inspiring in some way.  But of course  I have my favourites. The ones shown here are just a few of them. They're not new stock or in some cases very popular with customers but I've kept samples for myself  and would keep all of them if  I had unlimited space  - and didn't have to make a living!

The first picture is one of a selection of 1950's overprinted floral yukata (summer kimono) fabrics.Quite a few  of them have sold out but there are still some stunning ones left.  I remember they arrived in a large shipment with  boxes and boxes of other rolls of  kimono fabric but even amongst all the beautiful silk we were opening these cottons made me gasp.  The vibrant joyful  designs are printed on  soft, unstarched cotton and have a loveliness about them that I haven't seen in any of the later yukata fabrics we've had. For many Japanese in the early post-war years bold colourful fabrics like this must have been a refreshing change from the enforced austerity of the war years. Fashion designer  (and then kimono shop owner) Ayako Koshino recalled:  'Within two or three years of the end of the war, new clothes suddenly appeared again. Wild, large  flower patterns, tartan checks, bright colours. I thought, it's my world at last! Finally I could go wild.'*

The next picture is of sakabukuro - and a completely different aesthetic . These long thin bags were used as strainers in the traditional sake making process.  They're made of a heavy weight cotton that has been treated with persimmon tannin which prevents the cotton from rotting and gives it the distinctive brown colour. (You'll see  the same tones in the old kimono stencils which we have in the shop and were also treated with persimmon).  They've often been repaired with large cotton stitching which gives them a wonderful, rustic 'wabi-sabi' feel (which many of you know I love).  Cotton from sakabukuro is very popular in Japan for bag making because of it's sturdiness and warm colour that goes beautifully with antique indigo and other old printed cottons. Unfortunately this popularity has pushed  prices up but sakabukuro are still wonderful items to have and to use - even if it is just to stuff them to use as bolsters.

The third picture is a very fine handwoven indigo dyed katazome  probably from the 19th century. I will write in more detail about katazome another time, but it is basically created by stencilling a rice-paste resist on to cotton before it is dyed in indigo. This piece has a particularly fine and delicate gourd design and is in perfect condition. Most of the katazome we have in the shop is from futon cover panels but this piece has more likely come from a  juban undergarment.  It is one of a selection of equally fine pieces of katazome that Takashi bought  a few years ago. Most pieces were put aside for the shop but some of them just had to go into my collection. I could easily have kept them all.

Finally, some of my favourite things in the shop are the humble odds and ends of fabric and old garments that go into the rummage baskets....

* quote from 'Japan at War: An Oral History' by Haruko Taya Cook & Theodore F Cook

Friday, August 6, 2010

Child's boku-zukin

Today is the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and so I thought it might be an appropriate time to post a picture of this very special item from my collection. This is a small child's 'boku-zukin' fabric air raid helmet.  These hoods were standard wear for children during the extensive bombing in the final year or so of the war. They were  more commonly made from sturdy indigo cotton and a thicker wadding than this one which is very light and about the right size for a baby or toddler. It's made from a very fine striped silk from an adult's kimono with patches of two other fabrics in the lining.  The person who  made it - probably the child's mother - has gone to the trouble to add the decorative stitching  around the edge. The red tie which is made from a piece of a child's kimono is attached with a large herringbone stitch. There is something very poignant about the care that's gone into making this item which the mother must have known would offer  little protection if it was needed.