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Japanese Patterns

Japanese Sashiko Pattern

Japanese Embroidery Patterns

The term “ornamentation” refers to figures and patterns intended to beautify objects.

Ornaments never stand on their own. They always rely on a foundation. Ornamentation is said to be a solution to man’s intrinsic fear of emptiness and his need to fill vacuums. Thus man has valued ornamentation since primitive times, and has employed decorative patterns which reflect the tastes and values of the day.

Traditional Clover pattern

Most figures and patterns are simplified representations of man’s view of nature and the world, shaped and ordered within boundaries. Among Japanese figures one can find a variety of designs, some modeled on real objects, others symbolic of natural phenomena.

Seven Treasures Sashiko Pattern

Some figures are composed like a painting, but Emoyo “patterns” usually refer to graphic shapes which could be used alone as decoration r could be composed of repetitions of figures. Yet, while a pattern evolves from a graphic form, it is quite different in nature from fine art, which can be seen as a pure expression of man’s essence. While fine art tends to be individual expression, patterns develop from common feelings and world views.

Forms which are combined into a symbolic pattern of those with a specific meaning are often called Mon (crests). These include family crests, highly abstract and refined symmetrical patterns which date from the Kamakura period (12th century), and are modelled after plants, animals, natural phenomena, tools, geometric shapes and characters.

Family Crest of Tokugawa (3 inward-pointing, circularly enclosed hollyhock leaves)

Traditional Japanese Sashiko Pattern
Traditional Japanese Sashiko Pattern

This article is extracted from Sashiko Blue and White Quilt Art of Japan by Kazuko Mende and Reiko Morishige.

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Indigo and Sashiko

Japanese Indigo Plants

Indigo and Sashiko

The word “Indigo” in Japanese evokes special feelings – of both fondness and nostalgia – among many Japanese people.

Indigo is actually the name of a plant. First introduced to Japan from ancient Egypt via China at around the 3rd century A.D., it has been cultivated as a source of dye since then. Cotton dyed in indigo is strong, warm in winter, cool in summer and rarely moth-eaten. Cotton dyed indigo fabric became popular throughout Japan during the Edo period (1603 – 1867). But while the dyed fabric itself needed little care initially, extracting the dye from plant was quite a troublesome and time consuming task. And it took more effort than for other natural dyes to keep indigo in usable condition.

The life cycle of indigo dye is said to resemble that of a human being.

Indigo processing
Soaked indigo leaves are strained though a nylon mesh bag

In the beginning, indigo in a pot is pale in color. As it matures, it becomes darker in color until it ends its life as a dye. Like man, indigo is born, grows, matures and ages. In fact, according to a Japanese saying, nursing a pot of indigo is as difficult as bringing up a child. Although today our work is made easier by the existence of chemical dyes colored indigo, the dye extracted from the indigo plant is still highly valued.

sashiko denim
Sashiko Embroidered Shirt

The pattern craft called “sashiko” was originally employed to make sturdy, warm work-clothes. In order to clothe their husbands in outfits that were both warm and strong, the wives of farmers and fishermen sewed together two or more pieces of fabric and lovingly adorned them with original designs. These patterns were passed on to later generations and their use eventually spread throughout Japan.

Using such traditional materials as indigo-dyed cloth and through the use of the simple technique of sashiko, we have fashioned artistic works which suit contemporary lifestyle.

This article is extracted from Sashiko Blue and White Quilt Art of Japan by Kazuko Mende and Reiko Morishige.