Fukusa

Traditionally in Japan, gifts were placed in a box on a wooden or lacquer tray, over which a fukusa was draped. The choice of a fukusa appropriate to the occasion was an important part of the gift-giving ritual. The practice of covering a gift became widespread during the Edo or Tokugawa period (1615–1867).

The scene or the motifs depicted on fukusa are chosen to indicate either the occasion for which the gift is being given, or because they are appropriate for one of the annual festivals, when gifts are exchanged. The richness of the decoration of the fukusa attests to the giver’s wealth and aesthetics.

After being admired, a fukusa, along with its box and tray, were typically returned to the donor. However, when gifts were presented to a high official, the fukusa was not always returned. This was one of the subtle devices used to control the wealth of the lords and samurai.

In the first part of the 18th century, the art of the fukusa reflected the taste of the aristocratic minority of Japan: the daimyo and samurai. The subtle cultural references inherent in the designs were recognizable only to the educated members of these classes, who lived and exchanged gifts in the cities of Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo) and their surrounding areas. The use of ornamental fukusa in the Edo era was almost entirely confined to these geographic areas.

By the 19th century, the merchant class moved up the social ladder and adopted customs of the aristocracy, including gift giving with fukusa. Family crests, or mon, were added on the lining side of gift covers beginning in the late 18th century and tassels were placed at each corner so the gift covers could be picked up without touching the fabric. Today, fukusa are rarely used, and when they are it is almost exclusively around Tokyo and Kyoto for gifts given at the time of marriage.

In the Edo era, textiles were an integral part of Japanese art. There was no arbitrary division of art into fine arts and decorative arts, as is prevalent in Western art. Eminent artists were commissioned to design textiles and each work was an original creation. Unfortunately, artists seldom signed their work.

Satin silk was the fabric preferred for embroidery, which often made extensive use of couched gold- and silver-wrapped thread . As paste-resist (yuzen) dyeing became popular, crepe (chirimen) silk was favored. Tapestry weave (tsuzure-ori) tapestry also was a popular technique as well as weft brocade (nishiki).

The Symphony of Light

If Japanese artist Itchiku Kubota had his way, he would of lived to be 120. That's how long the late textile master believed it would of taken him to complete his life's work a series of 80 elaborately handcrafted kimonos, which, when hung side by side, would of formed a panoramic tapestry celebrating the four seasons and the cosmos. Kubota, a renowned craftsman and painter, considered this series, entitled "Symphony of Light," to be his masterpiece. By the time of his death aged 86 in 2003 only 46 were completed.

Each work is designed to be an atmospheric painting of a certain season, element or setting, but is also part of a more important landscape which is magically unveiled once the kimono are placed next to each other.

Born in Toyko in 1917, Kubota began studying yuzen (rice-paste resist) dyeing at age 14. Six years later, he stumbled upon a fragment of elegantly patterned cloth in the Tokyo National Museum. "Trembling in the face of such mastery and refinement of beauty," he relates, he stood transfixed for three hours. "In a sudden moment, I encountered a source of boundless creativity which revealed to me my calling."

More than 350 years old, the remnant was a rare example of the lost art of tsujigahana, a complex method of tie-dyeing embellished with intricate embroidery, elaborate brush painting, sumi ink drawing and gold-leaf application. The technique so often referred to as "illusionary dyeing," flourished in Japan during the 14th to 16th centuries.

 

Over the years, Kubota's fascination with tsujigahana grew. After his release in 1951 from a Siberian prisoner-of-war camp, he decided to devote himself to creating a modified version of the lost art a goal that consumed 20 years. He has since won international acclaim for his unconventional designs, distinctive use of colour and unwavering dedication to an extraordinarily laborious craft.

The juxtaposed kimonos of the "Symphony of Light" series compose a continuous mountain landscape that pans poetically through the purple shades of evening, the mauve starkness of a sudden snow and the golden shafts of autumn's last light. "I cannot die in peace until I have finished the series to which I have devoted my life," insists Kubota. "While envisioning a panorama of 80 works, I am but a traveller wandering on a path in search of more depth to my dye-colours."

 

Shibori Clouds

Whispering, flowing clouds are in the skies at the moment and we've picked up some wonderful pieces to replicate this.
The amazing 'Made in Heaven' by A Lab on Fire is a wonderously understated scent, 'Cloudburst' by La Montaña Candles will fill your home or office with the most luxurious and beguiling fragrance that can transport one to the skies above.
Gavin Pretor-Pinney's 'The Cloudspotters Guide' on Sceptre makes for some wonderful, floaty reading & the cute little cloud wash bag from Oliver Bonas will see you right.

Kimono are simple, straight-seamed garments. They are worn wrapped left side over right and secured with a sash called an obi. The length of the garment can be altered by drawing up excess fabric under the obi. Other adjustments can be made to suit the wearer, such as pulling back the collar so that the nape of a woman's neck can be more sensuously revealed. The wrap style allows for ease of movement - a useful feature for a culture where many activities are performed while seated on the floor. The kimono is also well-suited to Japan's climate, with unlined kimono worn in the humid summers and multi-lined kimono worn in the winter.

In kimono it is the pattern, rather than the cut of the garment, that is significant. Indications of social status, personal identity and cultural sensitivity are expressed through colour and decoration. Only the elite regularly wore luxurious kimono; the majority of people would only have worn silk garments on special occasions. The choice of obi and accessories, such as combs and pins worn in the hair, are also important.

The images used on kimono often have complex levels of meaning. The most popular bird depicted on kimono is the crane. Believed to live for a thousand years and to inhabit the land of the immortals, it is a symbol of longevity and good fortune.

 

Specific motifs were used to indicate virtues or attributes of the wearer, or relate to the season or occasion such as weddings and festivals where it bestows good fortune on the wearer.

Colours also have strong metaphorical and cultural meanings. Dyes are seen to embody the spirit of the plants from which they are extracted. Any medicinal property is also believed to be transferred to the coloured cloth. Blue, for example, derives from indigo (ai), which is used to treat bites and stings, so wearing blue fabric is thought to serve as a repellent to snakes and insects.

Indigo

The ancient and secretive tradition of Indigo dying, is a skill that has historically been passed down through generations. Derived from the Aizome plant also known as the Shoi, indigo is a highly transient dye that will fade and develop with time. These days it is normally associated with denim jeans but for centuries it has been seen as one of the most respected and revered skills involved within Kimono making. We have put together some items for your home and body that can help you delve into this rich and interesting world.
The British Museum published book ‘Indigo’ by @Jenny Balfour – Paul is a wonderful introduction to the art of indigo around the world. (19.99; The British Museum)
501 – This is a pair of Levi's Jeans by Lynn Downey was published in 1995 and has been one of our go to guides for inspiration and knowledge about the intricacies and nuances of indigo on other fabrics, in a similar way, Lightening Magazine Vintage Denim (£20; GOODHOOD) has a wide variety of archived collections from collectors all around the globe.
The beautiful serving bowl from Nick Membery - Kitchen Pottery has been fired in a very specific way to achieve the stunning hue of indigo colour that looks deeper and deeper with every use. Le Crueset make some wonderful Mini Cocotte servers (£7; Le Creuset), take this along with the delightful Blue Willow thermos (£16.99). 
UERMI Fragrance Collection from Italy specialise in creating interesting and diverse scents based on fabrics and materials. Oh+Denim is the perfect Indigo inspired scent (£115; Roullier White)

The Art of Kimono Making

Kimono are made from single bolts of cloth, about 36cm wide and 11 metres long, which are cut into seven straight pieces. Two panels - each extending up the front, over the shoulder and down the back - create the body, two the sleeves, two more the overlaps, and a narrower panel the neckband.

This simplicity of construction meant that kimono could be sewn in the home. In the Edo period many households, particularly in rural areas, also had their own loom, and a woman's sewing and weaving abilities were considered very important. The creation of silk bolts, however, required the skills of specialist artisans, the majority of these being men. Fashion was big business and supported an extensive network that included spinners, weavers, dyers, embroiderers, specialist thread suppliers, stencil makers and designers.
The simplest way of weaving fabric is to pass the weft (horizontal) thread over and under each successive warp (vertical) thread. This is known as plain weave (hira-ori) and in Japan is the principal method used in the creation of cotton, hemp, ramie and certain kinds of silk fabrics.

Stripes and checks are produced by using different coloured threads, while more elaborate patterns can be created by weaving with selectively pre-dyed threads, as in the technique known as kasuri. Silk crepe (chirimen) is also a plain weave, but has a crimped appearance that is produced by over-twisting the weft threads.

Passing the weft over or under two or more warps creates what is known as a float. In satin (shu) long floats are created by passing the weft over or under four or more warps which gives the fabric a lustrous appearance.

In float weaves the surface of the fabric can show either predominantly warps or predominantly wefts depending on the weaving sequence. By using different combinations of floats, patterns can be created in the cloth as in rinzu, a monochrome figured satin similar to damask. Like chirimen, rinzu was introduced to Japan from China in the 16th century.

Ishidatami

Ishidatami has many different references in Japanese culture, taking the form of a simple checkerboard which is featured throughout Japanese design and textiles. It normally features the fashionable colours of the era and can be made using a variety of techniques, from Meisen like this one featured or a resist dye technique like Shibori.

Ishidatami has another meaning too.

Ishidatami or ‘paving stones’ were laid down on rough patches of road, particularly over the mountain passes which were steep at the top and prone to erosion in the rainy season. Stones were laid carefully so that porters and carriers would have sure footing when they most needed it. Other than this, no attempt was made to pave the highways. During the feudal era of Japanese history these stones were the only ways the peasant or non-Samurai class were able to create roads and ways to transport goods and livestock.

Kimonos and the Undying Love of Purple.

At one point in Japanese history the colour purple was very rarely seen – this was because it was so expensive to produce and needed to be extracted from the Purple Gromwell Plant and the process was very long and arduous. The scarcity of the colour meant it was reserved only for the Imperial family. Eventually, in around the year 604 when Buddhism became prevalent in the country, monks, in recognition of their virtue, were allowed to wear the colour. Ordinary people were denied the romantic and mystical colour.

The Gromwell Plant known also as ‘Murasaki’ has very long roots – this coupled with the fact it was so mysterious and available for only to the highest orders of society meant it began to symbolise undying love. There are very few things as rare and everlasting as undying love and this was embodied by the richness of the purple dyes during the Asuka to Kamakura periods of Japanese history.
The colour was eventually introduced into popular Japanese culture during the Edo period when wealthy merchants, although not of a high social class, were able to purchase and obtain silks and fabrics dyed with the Murasaki plant. This enabled a much wider variety of Kimono designs and patterns to emerge, many of which now feature the plum blossom, chrysanthemums and other flowers that bloom with purple hues.

You can see from this ‘Ishidatami’ kimono the way that two tone of purple have been used to create a bold geometric pattern in the ‘Meisen Ikat’ style which creates beautiful, uneven feathered edges that are full of character and texture.

Sakura

In Japan, the Plum Blossom (Ume) is the first flower to bloom in spring. This, alongside the Cherry Blossom (Sakura) symbolises new beginnings. There are however a few variances between them. The plum represents longevity, renewal and perseverance. It has also been known to guard against evil spirits. Cherry Blossom also stands for renewal but in a more human, transient form. They are both a much loved feature on Kimonos of many different styles and within many different regions.
This 'Sakura’ Kimono is a perfect example & one of my favourites.

 

It has been made using a traditional ‘Meisen Ikat' weave, whereby the process of creation involves using a temporary weft which is widely spaced in a zig-zag pattern merely holding the warp in alignment. Coloured paste is applied to the warp threads through a stencil using a spatula. These stencils were traditionally made of mulberry paper. Each stencil is then very carefully placed into its next location and the pattern grows.
In many parts of Japan 'Hanami' (literally; blossom viewing
) is a revered cultural festival during the early spring time. Plum, alongside Pine and Bamboo, collectively known as the ‘shōchikubai, are considered the three friends of winter.  The pine is evergreen and lasts the whole year, the bamboo, which bends yet never breaks and the plum is the first flower to blossom every year. A favourite for a winter Kimono as it signifies that Spring is not long away.