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Antique Japanese Textiles

We sincerely thank Betsy Miller for allowing us to post her extremely interesting & informative article titled WINTER KIMONO which follows and appeared in the March 2002 issue of THE ANTIQUER:

Rustic winter kimono (no "s" whether singular or plural) don’t appeal to everyone.

Many collectors, educated to the fine points of the elegant silk variety, don’t understand why anyone would be interested in the thickly padded, crude cotton coverings of the peasants. Yet, they too tell a story about life in Japan. This time, instead of the fancy courtesan, we are addressing the needs of the farmer, field worker and mountain dweller.

Japanese royalty weren’t supposed to get cold. When winter approached, families, extended families and the elite moved south to warmer locations. If, by chance, they encountered a chilly day prior to their departure, they would don layer upon layer of their silk kimono – up to 11 at a time – until they got warm.  The working class was left behind to fend off snow and icy winds as best they could.

One way these people made-do was by inventing a winter kimono. Using the basic design, they created a wrapped, thickly padded garment made of cotton or ramie (a linen-like fiber). The exterior was usually a vegetable dyed print, filled with cotton batting, then lined in cheaper solid cotton. Hand-made, each garment reflected the individuality of the maker. Some had large seam allowances; deep hems and quilted padding. Others skimped on seams and tied the cotton batting in place instead of using long stitches.

No matter who made the winter kimono, today, they all display a naivete and charm similar to the feeling of our American folk art pieces. In fact, the "make-do" quality we love in domestic quilts is exhibited with equal flare in these Japanese garments.

Collector and expert Carol Lane-Saber has been accumulating winter kimono for almost 20 years. In her travels she has discovered that these pieces were patched, repaired, re-patched, then disassembled so that the components could be re-used. "Once thoroughly worn," she says, " the scraps of fabric that remain and any batting would be reused by incorporating them into some other textile garment. I have seen such kimono made of scraps taken from various original sources."

An example of this economy is the contrasting "yoke treatment" or pieced linings – characteristics that would never appear in the fine silk varieties. But, even though the maker may have been trying to stretch the use of the wrap, there is always a flare associated with this piecing.

This same flare is exhibited in the attachment of the batting itself. The collector says, "I have seen incredible differences among winter kimono. Some will tie knots and leave corded ends flying. Others tie on beads or buttons. Still others will use running stitches." No one application is more desirable than another.

While winter kimono continued to be used as outdoor garments, they also developed into what has come to be known as the "sleeping kimono". This thickly padded garment (also for the lower class) was made exactly the same as an outdoor kimono, but was extra long - as long as a person, and even thicker. Its purpose was to act as a blanket.

With batting up to 8" thick, Lane-Saber says, "It was almost impossible to move in one of these extra heavy sleeping kimono when standing. "But," she adds, " I have read that in ancient times the samurai class males who were on the move would wear the padded kimono all day and sleep in it at night."

Surprisingly, winter kimono were the uniform of choice for 18th and 19th century firefighters. The cotton garments were soaked in water, then donned, along with helmets with eye slits, leggings and gloves. While they were extremely cumbersome, they could be wet down if they began to smolder. (!)

Collecting winter kimono is a labor of love. They are seldom shown at antiques shows and only infrequently come up on eBay. Still Lane-Saber does offer a few from time to time (retailing at $300.00 - $800.00) and they can be discovered at local auctions if persistent.

Since each piece is individually made, there are no hard and fast rules for what constitutes a "high quality" collection. Beyond the differences in how the batting is affixed, other points to consider may include whether the fabric is vegetable or chemical dyed, the thickness of the thread (thicker/coarser means home-spun), the thickness and roughness of the batting (Does it contain seeds? Was it machine carded?), even the imprint of the wearer. (Like a favorite sweater, these winter kimono take on the shape of the owner over time.). They were never machine stitched.

Lane-Saber also says that a few pieces have fabric appliques with stenciled patterns attached. These are from the Ainue tribe of Northern Japan (Hokkaido Island). They are distinctive and rare – having been made during a brief 50-year period.

While no books on this subject have been published, there are general information books on peasant life in Japan. And some publications have appeared on folk wear (called "mengei" in Japanese). The Mingei Museum in Tokyo, Prefectural Museum in Nara, Seattle Art Museum and deYoung Museum in San Francisco all have collections, although, sadly, they are not on permanent display.

We are pleased to offer the following antique garments and textiles:          

Padded winter kimono (below T3): garment weighs 5.5 pounds, is hand quilted, has cotton lining is 50 in wide and 67 inches long.    Cost is $300.

saberdesigns    Japan   textiles  fabrics

Winter sleeping kimono (below T6): weighs 21.5 pounds is 56 inches wide and 74 inches long.  This cotton katazome garment has a velvet collar and indigo lining.  It is hand quilted.   Cost is $500.

textiles   fabrics  kimono  Japan



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