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decorated embroidery on kimono

Kimono continued – techniques and design influence

Kimono deconstructed

Following on from Susan’s blog I thought I would write a little more about some of the different techniques and influences we learned about at the V&A ‘Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk’ exhibition. As seen above, the kimono is fairly simple in structure – strips of cloth joined and unlike western style dress of the time, the focus was on the way the fabric was decorated rather than the body silhouette it enhanced or created.

Kimono for a woman (kosode) 1730-70

This kimono is decorated with a technique known as Yuzen dyeing. A cloth tube with a metal tip is filled with rice paste and applied in ribbons to outline the drawing on the fabric. Then dyes are brushed within the paste boundaries – similar to techniques used in silk painting with gutta. This is a kosode kimono – because of its short sleeves.

Kimono for a woman (furisode) 1800-50

The design for this kimono is made using a kanoko shibori technique. Look closely and you will see rows of tiny circles. These are made by tightly binding the fabric as a means to resist dye when the cloth is immersed in the dye vat. The red colour here comes from the safflower. This furisode kimono has ‘swinging sleeves’.

Hand painted kimono
Kosode Kimono, c.1785

This kimono is hand-painted in ink and colours, and thought to date to around 1785. It was created by the Japanese artist Masumura Goshon (1752-1811). Just as an artist signs a painting, Goshon included his signature and seal on the front of this kimono, indicating that he considered it a work of art.

Kosode kimono
Kosode kimono, 1780-1820

This kosode kimono was made from figured satin silk (rinzu), then hand-painted with ink (kaki-e). A stencil decoration to imitate tie-dyeing was then added (sorihitta) and finally it was embroidered in silk and gold wrapped silk threads. The text embroidered on this piece is a poem from a tenth century anthology.

Kimono for a samarui class woman
Kimono for a young samarui woman, c.1730-60

Again this kimono is created with a range of techniques but it also shows a development in design – quite boldly asymmetric and something that became fashionable in the mid-eighteenth century. Worn by a young woman of the samuri class this gown also shows how the ruling classes were becoming influenced by their social inferiors. According to the hierarchy of the day, the merchant classes were set below not only the elite classes but also the farmers and the craftsmen. As people whose fortune was made through the work of others they were put in the lowest rank. As they became wealthy they gained greater power, also the ability to lead fashion.

Kimono with small all over design
Kimono, 1750-60

By the second half of the eighteenth century, small scale designs became more common. This one was produced using the Yuzen technique (the freehand paste resist dyeing as described above).

Early 19th century kimono

Then as sashes became more elaborate and wider, kimono designs moved to the hem and then the front of the garment – rather than traditionally on the back. This kimono dates from the early nineteenth century.

Japanese street scene showing Parade of Courtesans in 19th century.
Print of Nakano Street in Yoshiwara by Utagawa Hiroshige II (1826-69)

Another big fashion influence were the courtesans – the fabulous gown of one you can seen in Susan’s blog. Here is one section of a print on display in the exhibition which shows a Nakano Street in Yoshiwara. It depicts the towns greatest spectacle, the parade of courtesans who wore the most extravagant attire. The glamorous lifestyle depicted was in sharp contrast to the realities of life in the sex trade.

Sanogawa Ichimatsu – actor and fashion influencer

Actors too were often seen as fashion icons. In 1741 Sanogawa Ichimatsu wore a chequerboard waist sash (obi), which became an instant fashion craze. The design became known as Ichimatsu check. This print shows Ichimatsu coming out of his shop – many actors had their own shops and ranges of goods.

Sarasa Handbook of textile designs.
The Sarasa Handbook (1778) – Indian designs for Japanese textiles

Indian fabrics were another influence – from the 1630s Japanese textile artists made versions of Indian fabrics. The Sarasa Handbook published in 1778, was the first technical guide to such cloth.

Tobacco cases and pipe case; Dutchmen portrayed on an inro and netsuke

Indian fabrics were imported by the Dutch – the first western traders with Japan. Known as the ‘red-haired people’ (komojin), the Japanese thought their fabrics highly prized and even the smallest pieces could be turned into saleable items. The Dutch people themselves were also exoticised and turned into inro and netsuke.

Kimono for western popstars

There was much more to see in this exhibition which ended with more modern developments of kimono – from both the west and the east. However, I was particularly struck by the the global influences and connections which have been a feature of kimono for centuries. As examples of more modern day global connections I have included these three items which are all associated with twentieth and twenty-first century music artists, who have other global connections. On the left is a kimono gown once owned by British artist Freddie Mercury (whose parents were of Indian descent). The red outfit was worn by American artist Madonna (whose parents were of Italian and French Canadian descent). The gown on the far right of the trio (and in the image) was designed by British designer Alexander McQueen in collaboration with Bjork, the Icelandic singer for her ‘Homogenic’ album.

If you are unable to visit the exhibition (which may already be sold out) it is still worth looking at the V&A online curator’s tour – the first part of which can be found HERE.