Archive for January, 2010

Collecting Japanese Textiles

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22, 2010 by rjohn

Dear folks –

On January 9, 2010, Jeff Krauss

gave an RTAM program at The Textile Museum here in Washington, D.C. on the subject of “Collecting Japanese Textiles.”

Jeff is an international consultant on telecommunications standards.  He has traveled widely and in about 2000 became interested in Japanese textiles.

His program was designed to let folks interested in collecting textiles consider some of the alternatives available to them, and then demonstrated some of the advantages of collecting Japanese textiles (or one of the large number of subsets of them).

“So,” he began,

“you think you might want to collect textiles.”

“Well, new collectors are often attracted to Turkmen rugs and textiles and you could choose that as your focus.  But quality Turkmen pieces are expensive.  You could spend $5,000 for a given piece.  And there are a number of collectors here locally who have a considerable head start.  So you might spend quite bit of money on the best Turkmen pieces you can afford, and at the end of five years have maybe the 78th best collection in the Washington, D.C. area.

“On the other hand, if you chose to collect some category of Japanese textiles you could, likely, for much less money (most Japanese textiles are from $50 to $1,000 per piece), in five years build one of the five best collections of that category in the whole country.”

“So,” Jeff said, “this is a program designed to let you see, concretely, and in advance:

1) the range of Japanese textiles and their categories,
2) the sort of collecting options collecting Japanese textiles affords,

3) some indications about the available literature, and
4) even some of the sources from which Japanese textiles can be obtained.”

Jeff divided his introduction to Japanese textiles into four broad categories:

o   Material
o   Dyeing techniques
o   Intended use
o   Some other Japanese textile specialties

He began by listing the various types of material available in Japanese textiles.

o   Silk

o   Meisen silk  – often described as “machine-spun” and “stencil-printed” silk.  Apparently, a “commercial” grade of silk made from threads spun from broken cocoons.  A late 19th century innovation. Dyeing technique related to ikat (kasuri).

o   Cotton

o   Bast (ramie, hemp, linen) – these are plant fibers.

o   Sakiori (rag weave)

o   Boro/Ranru – “Boro” (ragged) are mended or patched textiles.

o   Zanshi-ori – a type of cloth that utilizes leftover yarns from various spools.  The leftover yarns are generally used for weft, while the warp yarns are set in the standard fashion.

The dyeing techniques exhibited by Japanese textiles include:

o   Yuzen (resist dyeing plus hand painting)

o   Katazome (stencil)

o   Shibori (resist dyeing methods that use stitching, tying, clamping or wrapping.  The stitching method entails puckering a woven fabric with stitching threads, then dyeing, then removing the stitching threads and flattening the now dyed fabric.)

o   Hand-tied Kasuri (Kasuri is the Japanese name for ikat, a resist process in which the wefts and/or warps are dyed before weaving to create a specific pattern after weaving. Bundles of threads are either wrapped or clamped with carved boards.)

o   Board-clamped Kasuri (itajimi)

o   Meisen Kasuri (thread loom with warps or wefts, then stencil-dye, then weave the fabric)

o   Picture Kasuri (E-gasuri)

o   Tsutsugaki (paste resist dyeing)

o   Rozome (batik)

o   Bingata (a form of stencil dyeing developed in Okinawa)

Jeff said that he had chosen to specialize primarily in “picture kasuri.”

But there are still other facets of Japanese collecting that could shape your collecting focus.  The variety of “intended uses” of Japanese textiles is wide.  Here are the “intended uses” Jeff listed.

o   Woman’s kimono
o   Woman’s haori (a short kimono jacket)
o   Woman’s juban (an undercloth worn under a kimono)

o   Obi (belt or sash worn with a kimono; there are several types)
o   Man’s haori
o   Man’s juban
o   Informal robe (yukata)
o   Sleeping robe (yogi)
o   Child’s kimono

o   Travel cape (kappa)
o   Fireman’s jacket
o   Fisherman’s jacket (mahwah)
o   Happi (festival) coat
o   Apron (maekake)
o   Shop or workman’s jacket
o   Pilgrim’s jacket
o   Futon cover
o   Wrapping cloth (furoshiki)
o   Gift covering (fukusa)
o   Noh/Kyogen/Kabuki costume
o   Banner (nobori)
o   Horse trapping
o   Religious (monk’s kesa, uchishiki altar cloth)
o   Samurai clothing
o   Doll clothing
o   Noren (door hanging)

Other Textile Specialties

o   Shashiko stitching
o   Aniu elm-bark fiber, applique textiles
o   Stencils
o   Auspicious symbols and symbolism
o   Military symbols

Jeff next listed some internet sources for Japanese textiles.


Now Jeff began to show images of some of these types.

Woman’s Haori, Yuzen Dyed

(“Yuzen” is a resist-painting method that permits very thin, precise lines)



Woman’s Kimono, Meisen

Notice that the edges of the devices are not regular.  This “not lining up” is characteristic of many ikat usages.

Woman’s Kimono, Meisen

Woman’s Kimono, Shibori

Woman’s Kimono, Shibori

Woman’s Shibori Haori

Man’s Nagajuban, Shibori and

Hand Painting

Yukata, Shibori

(a “yukata” is an unlined cotton kimono worn for summer outings, during stays at hot springs or at home)

Cotton Bolt, Shibori

This piece was dyed with indigo using a “rice-wrapped” process.

Notice that this bolt is priced at 38,000 yen.   Exchange rates vary.  But if the U.S. dollar was worth 100 Japanese yen, the price of this bolt would have been $380.00 US when it was new and first offered for sale.  As an “antique” today the price would be far less.

Silk Bolt, Shibori

This bolt was dyed in two steps of consecutive green and black.  Each step uses a separate set of threads for puckering.

Child’s Kimono, Cotton

Military Symbols

More Military Symbols

The military motifs used in the pieces above seem to be from the 1930s.


(warps and/or wefts dyed before weaving to create a specific pattern after weaving)

There are two basic kinds of “kasuri,” one is geometric, the other is more representational and is called “picture kasuri.”

Immediately below is a close image of some kasuri with geometric devices on it.

Picture Kasuri

(This design alternates peacock and treasure bag “pictures”)

Here is a closer image of the peacock “picture.”

Picture Kasuri, Bats

Picture Kasuri

(resist dyeing process using carved boards)

(fabric is “asa,” a kind of hemp)

Sometimes geometric and “pictorial” devices appear together in kasuri.

Apron, Picture Kasuri

Traveling Cape, Picture Kasuri

Jeff said that the crane’s wings in the design above reminded him of the Japanese flag.

Futon Cover, Picture Kasuri

The primary design device in this piece is a representation of the Buddhist folk figure Daruma, the Japanese name for Bodhidharma, founder of Zen Buddhism, and a symbol of perseverance and good luck .  He is said to have meditated for many years and as a result both his arms and legs atrophied, hence he has no real appendages in this design.

Yogi, Picture Karuri

(A “yogi” is a Japanese sleeping blanket, worn instead of bedcovers)

Wrapping Cloth, Tsutsugake

(“Tsutsugake” is a method of creating designs on cloth by squeezing rice paste from a cone and drawing free hand)

Fisherman’s Jacket, Tsutsugake

Festival Kimono, Tsutsugake

Wrapping Cloth, Sashiko

(“sashiko” is a variety of decorative stitching)

It is said that if sashiko stitchery is to be of a high quality, the embroiderer must work “rhythmically.”

Monk’s “Kesa”

(a “kesa” is a monk’s mantle, usually in patchwork)

Sakiori (ragweave) Vest

(“Sakiori” is an instance of “recycling” practices in Japanese textiles.  “Boro” (patched) is another.)

“Sakiori” (ragweave) Obi

(“obi,” you will recall are sashes for kimonos)

Formal Obi

Obi Age

(the “obi age” is a piece of material tucked into the top edge of an obi.  It is prominently displayed, if the wearer is a young unmarried woman as in the pink item in the image below,

but it pushed further down into the obi as the woman ages, until, in old age, it is barely visible.)

Sake Maker’s Workman’s Jacket

Happi (Festival) Coat

Fireman’s Jacket

(This jacket is of heavy cotton.  Jeff said that such coats were soaked in water before firemen wearing them attempted their fire fighting.  This jacket also features  “sashiko” stitchery.)

Doll Costumes

“Boro” (patched)

or “Ranru” (rags)

“Boro” pieces are often patched futon covers.  They are the result of Japanese frugality, in which, every hole is covered and every scrap of material is re-employed.  Futon covers have a different layer that is a “back.”  Backs are usually patched, too.

Some collectors, today, consider “boro” textiles works of abstract art.  They can be very pricey.

Nobori Boys’ Day Banners

(now “children’s day”)

18 feet long

Ainu Jacket

Ainu are aboriginal ethnic groups in northern Japan.  These jackets are of woven elm bark with appliqued areas of embroidery.  Ainu jackets are also often quite expensive now.

Katagami (stencil)

The stencils used to create the “katagami” designs above can also be bought and collected.


Sources for Japanese Textiles

o Temple markets (in Japan)

o Internet auctions

o Textile dealer web sites


Temple Markets in Japan

Similar to “flea markets” in the U.S.  Below are two more temple market booths.

Internet Auctions

The following are some “static” images of Internet auctions sites that were captured earlier.  But at this point in the talk, Jeff went online and displayed some actual live sites that have numerous examples of Japanese textiles that are available for sale today.

eBay Auctions Auctions

Japanese Dealer Web Sites

Here is a link to one other dealer in Japanese textiles:


Jeff was asked if there was an English-language literature on Japanese textiles.  He said that there is, but that it is limited and scattered.

One visible element of it is “Daruma Magazine.”

Daruma Magazine entitles itself “…the only magazine in English that devotes itself entirely to Japanese art and antiques.  Daruma has been published since 1993.

Jeff said that while there is no comprehensive introductory book on Japanese textiles one can find useful catalogs.

One of the links that Daruma Magazine provides  is this one:

And there are a few books and articles on Japanese antiques or Japanese dyeing techniques in this bibliography:

One last thought, if you are considering collecting Japanese textiles: Jeff indicated that there do not seem, currently, to be any export restrictions on these textiles.

This was the end of Jeff’s initial lecture.

He and members of the audience had brought in some pieces and he moved next to examine them.  The first was the coat below.

In each case, I will first give the number-letter label for a given piece, then the image of the piece and below it a labeled comment on it.

Image J1

Comment on J1:  This was described as a “great wave” festival coat.  Technicolors.  Possibly silk-screened.


Comment on J1a:  A closer look at the wave.

The next piece was a “rag weave” vest.


Comment on J2:  Jeff said that this kind of clothing was worn by rural people.


Comment on J3:  This piece was stencil-dyed.


Comment on J3a:  A closer look at its designs and drawing.

Jeff moved to the next piece.


Comment on J4:  This is an item of shibori cloth.  The design-producing techniques used in it combine wrapping, tying and stitching.


Comment on J5:  This is zanshi-ori, woven from left-over threads.  Resist techniques were used to produce vertical and horizontal stripes that have a combined plaid effect.

Note: There are no pieces labeled J6 through J9.  Jeff moved to J10.


Comment on J10:  Shibori.


Comment on J11:  This piece is a sample of a formal obi pattern.



Comment on J11a and J11b:  Note the floating threads on the back.  Some metallic threads were used.


Comment on J12:  Jeff described this piece as an example of “meisen silk.”  It is woven from silk threads that were spun from broken cocoons (much less expensive than unreeling the filament of a unbroken cocoon.)


Comment on J12a:  Jeff said the surface of this piece is “hard”.


Comment on J13:  This is a piece of “rice-wrapped” shibori.  It is cotton.


Comment on J14:  This is an baby diaper of cotton shibori.  It was dyed by folding and then clamping between two boards.  The fabric that protrudes the clamped areas are colored with the dye.


Comment on J15:  This piece is a fragment of shibori-dyed silk in a “hemp leaf” pattern that was intended for a woman’s nagajuban (under-kimono).


Comment on J15a:  It is unambiguously orange.



Comment on J16a:  Another shibori fragment.


Comment on J17:  This is indigo-dyed “picture kasuri” cotton showing a flower cart and bonsai or flower arrangement.


Comment on J17a:  A closer look at the “picture” device.


Coment on J18:  This is a length of kasuri-dyed “asa,” that is the fabric is hemp. Threads were dyed by board-clamping (itajime).



Comment on J19: Fisherman’s jacket


Comment on J20:  This long piece is an “obi,” a sash for a kimono.  This one is done in a “rag rug” structure very similar to the rag rugs still woven in the U.S. and Scandinavia among other places.


Comment on J20a:  Such rag structures testify, as to the entire corpus of Japanese  “boro” (patched) textiles to the frugality of aspects of Japanese culture.


Comment on J20b:  A closer look at this rag structure.


Comment on J21a:  This is a wrapping cloth with many Japanese symbols.

Jeff took a closer at one corner.

Comment on J21a:  Pointing to the “cloak of invisibility”


Comment on J22:  The piece above is another wrapping cloth, this time the designs were created using sashiko decorative stitching.


Comment on J23:  Someone in the audience had brought in a Japanese horse decoration.  It is “asa” (hemp) and seemed not to be able to stand much wear.  It was dyed with a paste-resist technique.

If we rotate the piece 45 degrees you get a larger comprehensive image.


Comment on J23a:Such horsecovers were used by merchants or in festivals.

There are “ties” on the right hand side of this piece, in the above orientation, that served to tie it in place on the horse.

And here’s a look at three properly oriented close details moving left to right.

J23b: koi (carp)

J23c: mon (family crest)

J23d another carp image

A very interesting and unusual piece.


Comment on J24:  This is a wedding kimono.  Notice that the bottom edge is padded.  It is meant to drag on the ground.


Comment on J24a:  The inside lining is entirely in a brilliant crimson.




Comment on J24d: Cranes and tortoises and bamboo plants provide the designs in couching and other embroidery stitches.


Comment on J25:  The above piece is silk a kimono.  Its blue and silver designs are of autumn grasses.



Comment on J25b:  A closer look at the ground fabric and this design.

J25 front


Comment on J26:  This piece is a “haori.”


Comment on J26a: A little closer look.


Comment on J26b:  Still closer.  The design at first might look like shibori but it is of woven dots.

J26, inside, front

Comment on J26, inside, front:


Comment on J27:  Jeff said that this is a post-WWII kasuri-dyed kimono.  It is cotton and unlined.

Two closer looks at this design.



J27, inside, front


Comment on J28:  This is a wrapping cloth with design of bamboo, pine and plum blossoms (“three friends of winter”).


Comment on J28a:  There is sashito stitching on this piece done before dyeing.


Comment on J28b:  Mon (family crest)


Comment on J29:  This is a second wrapping cloth with a pine tree design.


Comment on J29a:


Comment on J30:  This is a third wrapping cloth.  It has a pine tree, bamboo and plum blossom design and sashiko stitching.


Comment on J30a:  Some closer looks.


This was the last of the “brought in” pieces.

Jeff answered questions,

and brought the session to a close.

Folks came forward to ask Jeff questions,

and to claim their “brought in” pieces

or to get a closer look at,  and some hands on, some of this material.

I want to thank Jeff for permitting a virtual version of his interesting session and for the considerable editorial work he did during its development.

Thanks, too, to Amy Rispin for a good set of notes.

I hope you have enjoyed Jeff’s interesting effort to equip you to consider whether collecting Japanese textiles might be for you.


R. John Howe