Monday, May 28, 2018

May 28, Spring 2018

Ooh, cool to learn about national and regional foods, their names and histories! Nice way to combine a map and foods.

The Taste Atlas.

Ambulant reduplication explains why "tock-tick" doesn't sound right

I love the artisans of bali paintings on eBay

Guys jumping rope precisely

A fabulous gif of Manhattan's population heartbeat as it transitions through the week.
The City is Alive: The Population of Manhattan, Hour-by-Hourvia citrusvanilla

This year I learned about Archy and Mehitabel

July 27, 2006

Seeing Things From the Under Side
Meet a cockroach with strong opinions about the screwed-up world
The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel, By Don Marquis and Michael Sims, ed. (Penguin Classics, 346 pp., $15)
It’s a fearful time in America. War is raging overseas. Anti-immigrant sentiment is growing at home, fueled by ethnic hatred. In the name of protecting the country from internal enemies, the government is eroding civil liberties. 

A lingering fin de siecleanxiety has people seeking certainty in religion of all stripes, from Bible-thumping fundamentalism to a new spiritualism that promises channeled wisdom from extraterrestrials and chats with the dead.
It all sounds eerily familiar, but the year is not 2006. It’s 1916, when Don Marquis, a popular columnist for New York’s Evening Sun newspaper, spotted a manic cockroach scuttling around his typewriter and began to do a little channeling of his own. The unfortunate Archy, a “vers libre bard,” reincarnated in a bug’s body, offered up his first poem in Marquis’ column on March 29 of that year. Shortly thereafter, Mehitabel the cat, another transmigrating soul previously known as Cleopatra (yes, that Cleopatra) began making star appearances in the odd-looking verse. (Archy was unable to work the typewriter properly, resulting in the total absence of capital letters and punctuation.

Archy and Mehitabel were wildly popular during their 20 years in Marquis’ “Sun Dial” column, and in the decades since they have continued to float through American literary and pop culture like the wandering souls they were. The poems have remained in print since the 1920s, and the characters have been featured in a Broadway musical, an animated film and an opera. Now Penguin Classics has marked their 90th anniversary with The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel, which features the verses in chronological order, as they first appeared in The Evening Sun. (Marquis did a bit of rewriting and time shifting in the later published collections.) Editor Michael Sims (author of the critically acclaimed Adam’s Navel, and former Scene writer) provides that publishing rarity, an interesting and readable introduction, along with extensive notes that explain the poems’ historical context.

A versifying cockroach and a kitty with delusions of grandeur may sound unbearably precious, but a brief rifle through this collection will dispel any fear of saccharine overload. In fact, you might well find yourself in need of a sweet moment after an hour spent with Archy. By all accounts, Don Marquis was funny and bighearted, but he was also a sad and angry man who had seen a lot of the mean world by the time he started giving voice to vermin. He grew up in small-town Illinois, son of a struggling country doctor, and began his journalistic career in Atlanta, where he covered the brutal 1906 race riots. Archy was his mouthpiece for dark thoughts and acid observations, as the inaugural poem suggests: “i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach / it has given me a new outlook upon life / i see things from the under side now.”

Things from the under side, according to Archy, are violent and chaotic, but also grimly funny.

…you simply cannot
keep a good bug down
as a cockroad friend
of mine once
remarked to a fat man
who had
swallowed him along
with a portion 
of hungarian goulasch
although the remark
i understand
originated with jonah…

Death, which lurks around every corner for a cockroach, makes him philosophical—not necessarily an asset when dealing with other bugs, who have “no esthetic sense and no imagination.” In fact, Archy’s plight is tragic. He is a beaten-down Everyman and at the same time an existential philosopher with an intellect that can’t help shredding every comforting illusion. He’s fully awake to his own powerlessness, and he has a very modern sense of the inescapable absurdity of life. Suicide is one of his recurring themes.

Mehitabel, by contrast, is a throwback to belle epoque gaiety. She often reminds Archy (when she’s not threatening to eat him) that her own descent from Queen of the Nile to mangy alley cat is far more drastic than his transition from poet to cockroach. But despair is alien to her; she’ll make her hard life a party, or die trying:

i know that i am bound
for a journey down the sound
in the midst of a refuse mound
but wotthehell wotthehell
oh i should worry and fret
death and i will coquette
there’s a dance in the old dame yet
toujours gai toujours gai

Though Archy and Mehitabel are timeless archetypes in the tradition of Aesop’s fables or the Br’er Rabbit stories (Marquis, not incidentally, was once an editor at Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus’s Magazine), they are also very much of their time. And the striking parallels between Don Marquis’ era and our own give the poems a renewed resonance. Many of Archy’s reports, such as “Archy in Washington,” would not be the least bit out of place on The Daily Show:

…from official
circles here i learn
that things could not well be worse
with regard to the war situation and that
this is no time for
pessimism as we have
the enemy licked to a
frazzle everything
is gloom and america
is about to save the

Like all great political humor, these little poems have you laughing even as they force you to confront a big question: should we ponder the ills of the world, fight off our own despair, and speak truth to power à la Archy, futile though it may be? Perhaps it’s better to emulate Mehitabel—embrace the promise of pleasure as a duty, keep consuming and ignore the refuse mound by any means necessary.
xxv mehitabel dances with boreas

well boss i saw mehitabel
last evening
she was out in the alley
dancing on the cold cobbles
while the wild december wind
blew through her frozen whiskers
and as she danced
she wailed and sang to herself
uttering the fragments
that rattled in her cold brain
in part as follows

whirl mehitabel whirl
spin mehitabel spin
thank god you re a lady still
if you have got a frozen skin

blow wind out of the north
to hell with being a pet
my left front foot is brittle
but there s life in the old dame yet

dance mehitabel dance
caper and shake a leg
what little blood is left
will fizz like wine in a keg

wind come out of the north
and pierce to the guts within
but some day mehitabel s guts
will string a violin

moon you re as cold as a frozen
skin of yellow banan
that sticks in the frost and ice
on top of a garbage can

and you throw a shadow so chilly
that it can scarcely leap
dance shadow dance
you ve got no place to sleep

whistle a time north wind
on my hollow marrow bones
i ll dance the time with three good feet
here on the alley stones

freeze you bloody december
i never could stay a pet
but i am a lady in spite of hell
and there s life in the old dame yet

whirl mehitabel whirl
flirt your tail and spin
dance to the tune your guts will cry
when they string a violin

eight of my lives are gone
it s years since my fur was slicked
but blow north wind blow
i m damned if i am licked

girls we was all of us ladies
we was o wotthebell
and once a lady always game
by crikey blood will tell

i might be somebody s pet
asleep by the fire on a rug
but me i was always romantic
i had the adventurous bug

caper mehitabel caper
leap shadow leap
you gotto dance till the sun comes up
for you got no place to sleep

i might have been many a tom cat s wife
but i got no regret
i lived my life as i liked my life
and there s pep in the old dame yet

blow wind out of the north
you cut like a piece of tin
slice my guts into fiddle strings
and we ll have a violin

spin mehitabel spin
you had a romantic past
and you re gonna cash in dancing
when you are croaked at last

i will not eat tomorrow
and i did not eat today
but wotthehell i ask you
the word is toujours gai

whirl mehitabel whirl
i once was a maltese pet
till i went and got abducted
and cripes i m a lady yet

whirl mehitabel whirl
and show your shadow how
tonight it s dance with the bloody moon
tomorrow the garbage scow

whirl mehitabel whirl
spin shadow spin
the wind will pipe on your marrow bones
your slats are a mandolin

by cripes i have danced the shimmy
in rooms as warm as a dream
and gone to sleep on a cushion
with a bellyfull of cream

it s one day up and next day down
i led a romantic life
it was being abducted so many times
as spoiled me for a wife

dance mehitabel dance
till your old bones fly apart
i ain t got any regrets
for i gave my life to my art

whirl mehitabel whirl
caper my girl and grin
and pick at your guts with your frosty feet
they re the strings of a violin

girls we was all of us ladies
until we went and fell
and oncet a thoroughbred always game
i ask you wotthehell

it s last week up and this week down
and always the devil to pay
but cripes i was always the lady
and the word is toujours gai

be a tabby tame if you want
somebody s pussy and pet
the life i led was the life i liked
and there s pep in the old dame yet

whirl mehitabel whirl
leap shadow leap
you gotto dance till the sun comes up
for you got no place to sleep


-don marquis, "archy & mehitabel" (1916-1927)


Pictures Of People As Young Adults And 100 Year Olds (12 pics)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

May 10th, 2018 Thursday, Japanese textiles, craftsmanship and patterns

Kiosk store in SOHO, their online archive. From their marvelous little artifacts from Japan, a much treasured present from fellow MeFite, Xurando. 


15.5" x 10.75"
Paper & Ink
Made by Isetastu, 
who has been making washi papers since
the Edo period.
As such, their offerings are varied and diverse.
It was hard to choose only one.
This print is made by hand with wood blocks.
It was designed in the 1930s 
and was produced for
a candy maker. 
If you look carefully,
you will see
each candy has a name next to it.
This was the maker's catalog.
Why have a book when a sheet will do?

Listen! +1(646)693-3590, Ext #2097

Soothing, humbling, inspiring and fascinating: Videos of various examples of Japanese craftsmanship. ach one a gem.

A Short History Of Japanese Textiles

Silk may be the best known Japanese textile because of its stunning beauty and value for fashioning luxurious kimonos, but in pre-industrial Japan only the nobility and upper classes were permitted to wear silk clothing. In contrast to courtly silk garments, commoners dressed in humble garments made from homespun coarse hemp and cotton fabrics. These same unrefined, handmade textiles were also employed to create utilitarian articles for the home.


This narrative sets aside the examination of refined Japanese aristocratic silk. Instead, it will focus attention on natural early homespun cotton and hemp indigo textiles of the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. Often called Japanese folk art textiles, or arts and crafts textiles, these fabrics are associated with the once impoverished Japanese rural population. Such utilitarian fabrics became Japanese peasant clothing and common household textiles. As in the manner of other Japanese folk crafts ( mingei e.g., pottery, lacquerwork etc.) what was considered a basic necessity by the Japanese who created and made use of these textiles, subsequently became collectable textile art for modern-day Japanophiles. 

The Historical Importance of Hemp and Cotton Textiles

From very ancient times until the 1600s, Japanese peasants wore clothing made from common hemp, a locally grown and processed bast fiber.Japanese Kasuri Jackets Rural Japanese craftswomen spun the hemp and handloomed the fiber threads into usable fabric which was turned into everyday farm field clothing and household articles. The Japanese did not distinguish between linen and hemp, the two have similar fibers and appearance and are referred to by the same Japanese word, asa. Hemp fabric was the only material available for general use in Japan until the introduction of cotton. The Japanese imported raw cotton and finished cotton goods from China from the 15th century and also from India somewhat later. Japan Spinning CottonThis situation lasted until 16th century when the Japanese adopted Chinese cotton cultivation methods and began to produce cotton domestically. Cotton farming quickly became established in the warmer western regions of the Japanese archipelago where the moderate climate and fertile land were well-suited for growing cotton plants.

Spurred on by the ruling classes, spinning became a fast-growing cottage industry for Japanese peasants with central production hubs developing initially in rural Kyushu Island, then spreading to other warmer regions. These home industries sold expensive and limited amounts of homemade cotton fabric throughout the country.

Gradually cotton production increased with the introduction of more efficient home-based spinning wheels and weaving looms. Cotton fabric manufacturing became geographically more widespread Japan Meiji Period Kasuri Cotton Kimonoswhich resulted in a significantly reduced cost for cotton cloth. Domestic cotton fabrication produced comfortable cotton cloth as a replacement for the ubiquitous coarse hemp fabric.

Japanese rural females assumed most of the cotton spinning and weaving duties in their homes. This work was done for personal consumption and as a means of earning a primary or secondary income for their families. 

By the 1870s, the Japanese had imported modern cotton milling equipment from Europe. This was done rather late when compared to the West where factory style milling was already well estabished. A few large commercial cotton spinning and weaving mills operated near Osaka. The initial production of milled cotton fabric was priced at a premium. This was due to the material's excellent quality and high manufacturing expense. The price of cotton fabric was too costly for most ordinary Japanese who depened upon less costly homespun fabric. As a result, the large Japanese textile mills did not turn out the bulk of the cotton threads and fabric for the gerneral marketplace of the period. That task remained firmly in the hands of the rural Japanese textile cottage industry, in the homes of the rural peasants.

1500s: Recycled Cotton Goes North

Cotton was a precious commodity in the Northern Japanese provinces, where the climate was too cold to permit the cotton plant to thrive. The people living in these provinces, who could afford the high cost of cotton, were forced to seek suppliers outside their region in order to purchase the much desired cotton fabric. Beginning in the Edo Period, seafaring Japanese traders sailed up and down the coastal waters trading in used, discarded indigo cotton cloth. This cloth was acquired in Western Japan and then sold into the poorer Northern rural and seaboard communities. Japanese farm women purchased these used fabrics and gave them new life by remaking them into boro field clothing (noragi), futon covers (futongawa) and other useful household textiles.

Japanese Sewing and Weaving Techniques

Recycling of cotton textiles has a long history in Japan, going back at least to the early 1600s. In the Northern Japanese islands industrious Japanese women worked with used cotton indigo dyed fabrics to perfect several sewing techniques in order to give renewed life to the secondhand cloth. They created new uses for these discarded materials by layering several pieces of cloth, attaching each together with sashiko stitching and then, if needed, boro patching them. Subsequently, these patchwork textiles could then be reassembled into warm clothing, futon covers and other common household items for the family's use. The resulting soft cotton textiles were a welcome relief from the harsh textured hemp fabrics native to the region.


Japanese Kogin SashikoSashiko is a traditional form of Japanese hand sewing that uses a simple running stitch sewn in repeating or interlocking patterns, usually piercing through several layers of fabric. From the 17th century onward, creative rural Japanese seamstresses discovered an important feature of sashiko stitching. If the layers of fabric were held together with sashiko stitching, home made hemp and cotton clothing provided much better protection from the elements, lasted longer and even added a creative and individual flare to their handmade garments. As a result, sashiko grew into a widely favored sewing technique and quickly became established throughout Japan for use as a utilitarian and dramatic embroidery. 

Thrifty Japanese farm women also employed the sashiko stitch to boro repair common household items like futon covers, garments and pillows. Sashiko stitching is commonly found on boro futon covers, noragi clothing (jackets and vests), aprons, zokin dusting cloths and other Japanese folk textiles. Sashiko thread colors range from white to a deep blue-black. White sashiko thread was used most often with contrasting indigo-dyed cotton fabric. 

Kogin sashiko, as seen in the photo here , is the extreme esthetic example of sashiko usually employing white thread stitching over solid indigo fabric for the design.

Sashiko clothing was worn by all members of the lower working classes of Japanese society and carried with it a inferior social status of the communities from which it originated. As a result, sashiko never became fashionable among the middle and upper classes but remained firmly culturally linked to poverty-stricken rural regions.
Country women had few choices of fabrics for use when it came to tailoring their working garments. They might use either (1) locally produced, labor intensive, woven bast fiber materials (asa, mainly hemp) or (2) remnants of discarded cotton fabric that seafaring traders carried northward from the warmer cotton producing areas of Western Japan.

Once large quantities of scrap cotton regularly began arriving in Northern Japan, it quickly became the fabric of choice among rural women because it was easier to work with, softer, warmer and generally more versatile than locally grown bast fiber materials. Soft cotton was favored for clothing because it was considered a luxurious fabric as compared to rough and prickly hemp.

Heavy winter-weight fabrics were constructed from cotton remnant fabrics that were attached to each other with sashiko stitching in patchwork styled layers; the more layers, the warmer and stronger the fabric (as seen in the photo above.). Subsequently, rural wives used these newly made larger pieces of sashiko fabrics to fashion cold weather utilitarian working garments for their farmer and fisherman husbands as well as other family members.

Sashiko Textile Collection

Zanshi Weaving (zanshi orimono)

Zanshi is a Japanese word which means “vestige,” or “leftover”. Zanshi textiles were woven from the extra threads which remained after looming fixed pattern weavings. These limited quantities of leftover zanshi threads were unable to be utilized, because there were not enough of them to make another weaving of the same pattern. Thus, these vestige threads were used to weave wonderful Japanese Zanshi Textilesone-of-a-kind mixed threads Japanese Zanshi folk textiles. At the time they were made, these zanshi folk textiles were regarded as seconds, or items that were not up to standard quality.

Zanshi weaving is often recognized and characterized by slubs (lumps or thick places in the yarn or thread), uneven looming, and random color threads woven together to create a unique textile. At rural textile cooperatives, home spun threads were handloomed into casual zanshi designs. These designs provide today's collector with an excellent illustration of the depth and variety of Japanese folk textiles.

Zanshi Textile Collection

Sakiori Weaving

Japanese Fishman Jacket, c.1900
Sakiori is a method of looming together strips of old cloth. Sakiori comes from the words "saki," which means to tear or rip up, and "ori," which means weave. "Saki" relates to preparing the fabric by striping it into pieces and "ori" refers to weaving it together. The process is similar to American rag weaving but different in a single respect: rag weaving uses only fabric to make the woven pieces. Japanese sakiori employs pieces of cloth along with threads to weave the sakiori. With sakiori, the torn cloth pieces are rolled into 13 to 16 inch lengths and loomed together in weft (width) rows with cotton or hemp as the warp threads (length). Sakiori weavings were often used to make casual kimono obi, but sometimes they were also used to make other useful textiles, such as jackets, vests, and rugs. From time to time, we carry several very unusual, difficult to find Japanese fishermen and field workers' sakiori with sashiko stitching jackets and vests. 

Sakiori Textile Collection

Keeping Traditional Sakiori Weaving Alive in Aomori Prefecture, Northern Japan

Farmer's Clothing Jackets & Vests (noragi)

japanese farmer clothesJapanese farm women spun and loomed cotton fabric so that they could make clothing for their family. Fabric that they did not use at home was often sold for supplemental income. This homemade, hand-stitched rural work clothing is called noragi in Japanese. Jackets, vests and monpe pants were the three most common noragi garments. The noragi tradition was passed down from each generation to the next, from mother to daughter, and became part of the basic homemaking repertoire of every Japanese farm woman. These women not only made clothing but also created other household items from the cotton fabric: futon (mattress) covers, curtains, furniture covers, aprons, and other workaday articles. Indigo was the primary textile color. Kasuri, katazome and shibori patterns were popular and were often incorporated into the fabrics’ design. These patterns enriched the fabrics, evoking a feeling of joy and sometimes mythical significance, thereby helping to alleviate the routine drudgery of farm life. The vintage/antique farm clothing we catalog and sell on this site were actually used by Japanese farm women, who wore the garments while working in the house or in the fields. In addition to their household workload, Japanese women spent as much time laboring in the fields as their men. Their clothing might have been made from scraps or new fabric, or a combination of the two.
Farmer Clothing Collection

Uniquely Japanese, Boro Futon Covers

Boro is a Japanese word meaning “tattered rags” and it’s the term frequently used to describe lovingly patched and repaired cotton bedding and clothing, used much longer than the normal expected life cycle. Like early North American patchwork quilts, boro textiles revealed much about the Japanese family's Japanese Boro Futon Coverliving standards and the nature of the economy of their time.

The penny-wise Japanese rural wife repaired the family’s sleeping futon covers again and again by “boro” patching fabric scraps over thin areas and holes in the fabric. Adding sashiko sewing to the repair gave greater strength to the material.

The same sewing technique that was used to repair boro futon covers was also put into practice when repairing noragi (farm clothing). This was done in order to increase the lifespan of the clothing and add extra layers of fabric thickness for warmth.

At the time when Japan was struggling to recover from the devastation of the Second World War, the Japanese regarded boro textiles with great shame in that these utilitarian textiles served as an open reminder of Japan's impoverished past. Today both Japanese and international collectors regard boro textiles as striking examples of a bygone and lost folk craft. These same textiles are cherished and collected for the stories they tell and the windows they open into Japanese folk culture and history.

Boro Textile Collection

Kaya Mosquito Netting

Japanese Kaya Mosquito Netting
Beginning in the middle 1700s and continuing through the 1950s, the Japanese depended on mosquito netting (kaya) made from hemp fibers for protection against the ubiquitous summer mosquito. Homespun and hand loomed hemp was a common fiber used to make kaya but not the only material. Cotton and less common bast fibers from tree and bush bark were processed into fibers, woven and also employed for making Japanese mosquito netting.

Very large kaya mosquito nets might surround the family's entire sleeping area while smaller kaya were hung around individual futons. These very porous hand made textiles allowed the free flow of air and generally discouraged flying insects.

Kaya was important and highly regarded in Japan for its help to protect against the mosquito that it often took on an artistic tone. Famous 17th ~ 19th century Ukiyo-e artists selected kaya as background or subject of their paintings. There was even a romantic flavor about kaya in that these same artists would include kaya in some of their erotic works. Here are a just a few kaya Ukiyo-e examples.

Japanese Kaya Textiles

Ukiyo-e, "pictures of the floating world"), is a genre of woodblock prints and paintings that flourished in Japan. It was aimed at the prosperous merchant class in the urbanizing Edo period (1603–1867). Amongst the popular themes were depictions of beautiful women; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; and erotica. Wikipedia

Even Japanese poets found inspiration from kaya. An old poem attributed to the famous poetess Chiyo from the Edo Period. Having been challenged to make a poem of seventeen syllables referring to a square, a triangle, and a circle, she is said to have immediately responded,

"Detaching one corner of the mosquito-net, lo! I behold the moon!"
Kaya no te wo
Hitotsu hazushite,
Tsuki-mi kana!

The poetess envisioned the top of the mosquito-net, suspended by cords at each of its four corners, represents the square;--letting down the net at one corner converts the square into a triangle;--and the moon represents the circle.

The colors of hemp kaya varied from beige, green, indigo, brown and some had small stripes running the length of the fabric panel. All hemp fabric colors fade over time into charming variegated muted tones. Mosquito net hemp fibers came in both thick and thin diameters. The kaya with large hemp fibers were bulky, heavy, and somewhat difficult to hang but once positioned remained in place for the season. The thinner fiber kaya were lighter, simple to set up and easily relocated from place to place, and were especially popular with people who traveled. As mentioned, kaya was used to protect people from mosquitos. However, Japanese poet and Zen BuddhistJapanese Kaya Jacket monk Ryokan (1758 - 1831) slept under mosquito netting in the summer, not to prevent being bitten by an insect, but to avoid squashing one inadvertently while he slept, or so the legend goes. Buddhist tenets prohibit monks from killing any creatures, even insects, and the kaya served well those devoted monks who solemnly adhered to that principle. Numerous contemporary Japanese artists and clothing designers work kaya into their creations. like the vest garment pictured here. The designer incorporated several different colors of mosquito netting and some cotton indigo to fashion this one-of-a-kind boro folk art vest.

Kaya Textile Collection

Cotton Sakabukuro Sake Bags

Japanese Boro Sakabukuro Sake Bag
Sakaburkuo sake bags possess a captivating appearance and evoke properties of strength and character. These characteristics are suggestive of the dedication and tradition that Japanese sake brewers have for their craft. During the 1800s and early 1900s, Japanese sake brewers filled sakabukuros with nigori-sake (unrefined sake) which was then hung, so that the pure seishu (refined sake) could drip out into collection vats. This process filtered out the remaining sediment in the fermented rice sake brew.

Shizuku is the Japanese term for the drip method of pressing unrefined sake through a sakabukuro. Thrifty sake brewers would make sure that any bag which was damaged regained a longer, useful life by sewing meticulously stitched mukatenui (hand sewn) patches on the bags, using thick cotton threads. Once repaired the bag was again ready to use to press the sake. 

Every summer, skilled sakabukuro specialists repeatedly applied fermented persimmon juice (kakishibu) onto the sturdy sakabukuro to infuse the bags with its natural strengthening agents and antibacterial properties. Repeating this process many times over the years caused sakabukuro's cotton fabric to gradually transform in appearance and texture into something that resembled variegated brown leather.

Sakabukuro Textile Collection

Komebukuro Rice Bags

Japanese Komebukuro Rice Bag
Komebukuro were traditionally used in Japan society to carry rice offerings to the temple during important religious ceremonies, and at other times to hold a gift destined for a dear friend or relative connected to a significant personal event. Like many other Japanese historical traditions, this age-old custom is no longer practiced and currently komebukuro bags are only rarely made.
Komebukuro bags were hand sewn in patchwork style and individually designed with a variety of fabrics at hand. The typical komebukuro employs cotton drawstring cords to close it securely.

Indigo Dye

The Japanese discovered that cotton was a difficult fabric to dye except with indigo. Consequently, organic indigo dye was widely used throughout Japan as a coloring and designing agent for cotton textiles. Indigo dye became especially popular in the Edo period (160Japanese Indigo Dye Vats3 - 1867). The indigo fabric dyeing process lasted a week or more and required individual cotton pieces to be immersed and removed from the indigo dye vat more than twenty times. This process assured the dark blue color was firmly fixed in the material. Over time, use and washing, the dark blue appearance gradually faded, producing a visually striking variegated indigo coloring, a unique feature of indigo favored among collectors. In addition Japanese peasants preferred indigo blue shades for their textiles because they felt the color mirrored the hue of the oceans surrounding the Japanese islands, a symbol that was both culturally and economically important. The Japanese made indigo dye through a natural organic process by fermenting the native indigo weed which transformed the plant material into liquid indigo dye. This pre-industrial method of making indigo dye required that the indigo plants remain in a vat where a culture soup of heat loving bacteria disintegrated the plant material, while drawing out the dark indigo dye. Interestingly, Japanese believe that indigo dyes contains properties that naturally repel insects and snakes. This belief is the primary reason why Japanese farm women prefer wearing indigo clothing when working in the fields.

Kakishibu Dye

Japanese Kakishibu Dye
Kakishibu is a natural reddish-brown organic liquid prepared from the fermented juice of unripened green persimmons. Japanese have utilized kakishibu, not only as a dye for textiles, but also as a preservative and weather-proofing agent for wood and washi (a type of paper traditionally made by hand) since the Heian Period (782 – 1182 AD).

The Japanese technique of combining reddish-brown kakishibu color with indigo produced exceptionally interesting color pattern variations as seen in some cotton katazome fabrics. Making a textile with multiple dyed colors required more skill than dyeing solely with a single color; as a result, these fabrics became more desirable and subsequently more expensive. Both indigo and kakishibu are colors that are derived from the natural pigments of plants and botanical products. The Japanese did not use chemicals to manufacture these dyes, but rather applied a variety of organic occurring fermenting processes. Other organic dye colors were extracted from plants, animals, and minerals found in the local regions. These colors had limited applications while indigo and kakishibu were the most popular dyes for cotton folk textiles.

Cotton Textile Design Techniques: Shibori

Japanese Shiibori Pattern Noragi Jacket
Shibori is a Japanese term for dyeing cloth with a unique design by binding, stitching, folding, twisting, or compressing the fabric. Shibori in the West is associated with what is commonly called tie-dyeing. Shibori includes binding methods of dyeing, known as bound resist. For the Japanese, shibori is a highly refined and precise dyeing method. 


Japanese KasuriKasuri fabric is woven with fibers dyed indigo specifically to create patterns (splash) and images (e-gasuri) in the fabric. It is an ikat technique, meaning that during the dyeing process, threads are bundled together in a predetermined way so that when loomed, a geometric pattern or picture design is revealed in the weaving. The Japanese are credited with originating the picture design technique. Kasuri designs appear slightly fuzzy, an idiosyncratic feature of this weaving technique.
Kasuri Textile Collection


Japanese KatzomeKatazome is a Japanese originated method of dyeing textiles with a resistant rice paste applied through a paper stencil (katagami). A sticky paste mixture made from rice flour and rice bran is forced through a katagami paper stencil onto a piece of fabric; the stencil is then removed and the paste on the fabric is allowed to dry. Next, the fabric is coated by brushing on a sizing solution of soybean liquid. When the fabric is completely dry, the dyeing color is applied by brush. Next, the sticky paste is washed away and what remains is the stencil pattern in the fabric's original color; the surrounding area has absorbed the dye color. Japan is credited with developing this dyeing technique to a level of unparalleled sophistication.

Katazome Textile Collection


Japanese Katazome Katagami StencilKatagami is the Japanese word for a handmade katazome paper stencil. The word is comprised of 2 words. The first word “kata” means “pattern or template” and the second “gami” represents paper. Therefore the Japanese word denotes paper template or in English, stencil. The katagami was made of “washi”, handmade traditional Japanese paper. The paper was infused with kakishibu (dye) which enhanced its strength and stiffness. A skilled pattern craftsman hand cuts a design into the sheet of katagami paper. Because of the delicate paper patterns, a fine silk thread lattice is overlaid on the katagami so that the stencil is held in place on the fabric while the fabric goes through the dyeing process.


Japanese Indigo TsutsugakiTsutsugaki is a Japanese term for the practice of drawing designs with rice paste on cloth, dyeing the cloth, and then washing the paste off. The paste is applied through a tube (the tsutsu, similar to the tubes which are used by bakers to decorate cakes). The rice paste is composed of glutinous rice powder, rice bran, and lime. This mixture is then steamed., It is then very sticky and adheres easily to fabric because of its high starch content. White cotton is normally the fabric of choice with indigo dye applied, resulting in a white on blue design. Often designs are patterned after a family crest, or a name in kanji, flowers and trees, or creatures from Japanese mythology, such as the tortoise or the crane.
Tsutsugaki Textile Collection


Japanese Sarasa

Japanese Sarasa had its origins in the 16th century and the term is derived from the Portuguese word for calico. During the Edo Period, Portuguese traders introduced cotton calicos from India into Japan where these beautiful, exotic fabrics quickly became enormously popular among wealthy samurai and merchant classes. These calicos, with vivid colors and striking abstract geometrics, were very distinctive to the Japanese eye when compared with traditional cotton and hemp indigo fabrics. Indian calicos were expensive and therefore small pieces were used to make valuable and colorful items like bags for tea ceremonies, tobacco cases and pouches. Already skillful at making distinctive textiles, the Japanese easily replicated the hitherto expensive Indian calicos into their own style and production techniques. While maintaining the eye-catching floral and scallop Indian fabric patterns, Japanese textile makers applied their indigenous katazome (rice paste resist dyeing and stencils) textile printing skills to making domestic sarasa, characterized by shades of kakishibu (madder, reds and browns) with distinctive Japanese floral designs and geometric shapes. As domestic sarasa became widely produced, less expensive, and more common than the imported calico, sarasa became a standard for wider use among the Japanese population. Sarasa was used in ordinary domestic applications like futon covers and wrapping cloths.

Sarasa Textile Collection

Traditional Symbols in Japanese Textiles

Japanese Katazome Crane Pattern
Both the turtle and crane are symbols of long life and good luck in traditional Japanese wedding ceremonies because of the auspicious traditional meaning associated with these animals. The origami crane is a well known worldwide symbol of peace. According to Japanese tradition, if one folds 1,000 origami cranes, their wish for good health will be granted.Japanese Katazome Tai Fish Pattern Both the turtle and crane motifs are frequently seen in Japanese katazome and kasuri cotton textile patterns. Another less frequently seen image in these textiles is the sea bream fish (tai) which symbolizes happiness. Sometimes other symbols like monkeys or castles appear on fabric. Arabesque or scrollwork filigree of Indian origin was another popular symbol found on cotton textiles, usually katazome. Katazome Mum PatternThe chrysanthemum flower, introduced into Japan in the 8th century, became another common design for Japanese textiles. The chrysanthemum crest is a general term for the flower's blossom design; there are more than 150 different patterns. A version of the chrysanthemum pattern was adopted by the emperor in the 14th century for the family's exclusive use as the imperial crest. It has been in contiual use over the centuries, still displayed today by the Japanese Imperial family.

Additional Sources of Study

NYT Article: A Culture Invested in Indigo, From Plant to Kimono
Wikipedia Indigo Dye
Wikipedia Katazome
More About Japanese Kaya Mosquito Netting
Mingeikan, Japanese Folk Crafts Museum
Jeff Krauss' Fabulous Kasuri Collection
Kyushu Kasuri
Collection of Meiji Period Photographs
Wikipedia Japan
Click Here To See Textiles For Sale

Japanese pattern book, from the early 19th century cataloguing all different stencil patterns that could be printed onto fabric to make a kimono

Katazome  is a Japanese method of dyeing fabrics using a resist paste applied through a stencil.