The two pieces of mid 19th century hand spun and hand woven cotton shown above are dyed using benibana or safflower. This flower in the thistle family is used to dye cotton and silk a range of colors from light pink to deep red. As benibana dyed fabrics age they begin to turn a more brown or rust color like the pieces in this post.
both of the fabrics shown here has been pattered using a katagami, or paper stencil used to apply rice paste to the fabric as a resist before dying. These stencil dyed fabrics are known as katazome.
I found this fabric in Tokyo back in July. at first I thought it was just a piece of indigo dyed cotton, but after picking it up and noticing the texture and light weight I inspected it closer and found that it has a cotton warp and a paper weft. The fabric must date to around the early 20th century.
Above you can clearly see the paper weft threads in one of the ragged ends of the fabric. Below I placed a skein of my handmade paper thread next to the fabric.
While visiting Kyoto I went to Gallery Kei, the gallery had recently exhibited a huge collection of antique paper fabrics. Below is a link to the exhibit at Gallery Kei and some photos of the interior of this beautiful shop. http://gallerykei.jp/event-index.html
Bashofu is a fabric made in Okinawa from the inner fiber of the basho banana plant. The fabric is very hard to come by and I am very lucky to have been able to collect an unused bolt of Bashofu from the first half of the 20th century. The color is a beautiful golden gray and the ikat design of crosses has been beautifully worked. Bashofu is a very labor intensive fabric to produce and each thread is produced by gently knotting the strands of basho fiber resulting in a light textile with lots of texture.
The fiber collected from the central rings of the basho plant must be boiled, scraped, dried, soaked, split, tied, and spun before dying or weaving can take place. Due to the delicate nature of this fiber these processes are all carried out by hand making Bashofu a highly valued textile. Here is a short video that includes the process of making Bashofu: https://youtu.be/Nve0PFa4og4
When this thread arrived from Japan there were small bits of newspaper from the 40’s or 50’s clinging to some of the threads. I assume they were packed away in a weavers workshop for many years. Everything about this thread makes me contemplate the extreme skill needed to produce such consistent and strong thread. The hemp was harvested, steamed, dried, boiled, the fibers were then separated and hand spliced. In the second photo you can see the joins where the spicing was done. After splicing a final twist was added using a spinning wheel. I have several hanks of this thread and I think I will use it for the warp of an upcoming project.
This vintage Japanese cotton plaid was hand woven using machine spun thread during the first half of the 20th century. The weaver included chunky silk threads in the weft to mimic the texture of hand spun threads. The deep indigo colors are great and the fabric has a wonderful worn feel. this fabric had been used as the top of a futonji.
Here is my collection of hand spun and hand woven Chinese fabrics from the Chongming Islands near Shanghai at the mouth of the Yangtze river. In the past it was the custom on these Islands to present newlyweds with handmade fabric in honor of their weddings. much of this fabric was never used instead it was stored and treasured by the couple. This fabric has a beautiful texture due to the hand spun threads.
The width of the fabric varies between thirteen and nineteen inches. This width is a good indicator that these fabrics were woven on a small hand loom. Much of the fabric has small bits of organic material from the cotton plants that show up on the fabric as small tan dots. I love these fabrics. Some of them can be purchased at my shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/luckyredbat