Stencil for textile dyeing, Bird on a tree inside a circle, Tikotin Collection
December 20th, 1997 - April 19th, 1998
Curator: Dr. Ilana Singer
Japan imported textiles and the techniques of their preparation from Korea and China, India and the Ryukyu Islands. The Japanese weavers made the cloth from bast and silk thread, till cotton arrived in the 16th century from India, via China and Korea. The Japanese adapted the textiles to their own requirements and taste. Textile designs changed from time to time, but the design motifs were usually taken from nature, the landscape, and everyday objects. In particular, the Japanese craftsmen are renowned for their great contribution to the development of stencil dyeing (Katazome), and of Ikat weaving (Kasuri) during and at the close of the Edo period (1603-1868).
Throughout the Edo era, peace reigned in Japan, giving rise to a flourishing economy. The family of the Shogun Tokugawa recognized the potential of the textile industry, and they became patrons of weavers and dyers of cloth, creating a cartel to supervise the import and sales of silk and other fabrics from China.
The Tokugawa government was an hierarchical system with four main ranks - samurai, peasants, artisans and tradesmen. Tradesmen were not allowed to wear the colourful garments of the upper classes. Because of this interdict, weavers for the tradesmen of the 17th century created and dyed patterns for decorating their own textiles. This growing demand of the samurai and the merchants led to new developments in techniques of weaving, dyeing, and embroidery. Fashions of dress and design were set by the tradesmen in the commercial centres of Edo (Tokyo) and Osaka. The typical garb was made of dyed cotton, using the katazome and kasuri techniques.
At the end of the Edo period, the fishers' and peasants' influence on patterns for fabrics for work-clothing was very evident. Cloth was soaked in vats of dark blue indigo dye made in the villages. This blue predominated in the rural textiles of the labouring classes, patterned in variations of blue and white by the kasuri weaving technique, and in the katazome dyeing used for the garments of the city tradesmen.
Textile design varied according to the weaver. Typical of the Edo style were such motifs as butterflies, peony flowers, the tortoise, the crane and the pine tree, symbols of longevity which were popular in the Nara period (710-784). The plum tree combined with bamboo canes and tigers, or peony flowers with lion-dogs were fashionable in the Muromachi period (1336-1573). Religious motifs were also used, such as the Zen monks Kanzan and Jittoku; as well as family crests (mon), and geometric patterns.
As the merchant classes attained status in the Genroku period (1688-1704) the demand for kimonos designed in the Komon style increased. (‘Komon'-‘small patterns'). Together with the longevity and good luck symbols of the Edo era, motifs derived from everyday objects also appeared - vegetables, fish, shells, insects, paper umbrellas. After the Meiji Restoration (1868), the influence of the European and American textile designers became more marked. The Japanese began to wear western-style clothing, and to use other types of thread, especially wool and synthetics. Today, very little hand-weaving and textile dyeing is done, and textile artists in the traditions of katazome and kasuri are few and far between.