A Very Old Double Ikat that I Treasure

This is a fragment of a cotton Japanese summer kimono called a Yukata. I must have gotten it at a flea market in Japan. The cloth is 13” wide, selvedge to selvedge—the common width for many Japanese textiles. The length of the piece is 48”. It is so soft to handle that I’m loving handling it again for this post.


The reason I’m thinking is it a piece of a Yukata is there is an area where the cloth hasn’t faded over time. It probably was inside the area around the front opening.


It is so soft because it is extremely worn. In fact it has holes in it where the cloth wore out. It is almost tissue paper thin. This cloth was salvaged and re-useable because another fabric was added as a backing.


The indigo dyed cotton backing is also what makes it have a lovely body as well as being so soft.


The entire piece and I assume the entire yukata was stitched to attach the backing and back the holes. The rows of stitching are consistently ¼” apart. The stitching and the ikat pattern work beautifully together, I think, which is another reason I love the piece.


I was showing it to a friend and she immediately thought it was a lovely piece even though she is not a textile person. The more I looked and talked with her, I began to think about the double ikat pattern. It isn’t precise like in my previous posts. I think the cloth was dyed, woven, and re-purposed by a farmer’s wife. Cathy and I visited maybe the last farmer’s wife to grow and dye her own indigo in Japan. Traditionally, the women would grow the indigo and weave the family’s cloth while the farmers tended the fields—could be rice paddies.


I love the hit and miss of the warp and weft pattern yet the tiny areas of the threads in the pattern cross exactly in the right places throughout. Once in awhile I could find where the weft ikat pattern really crossed the warp in the right place. This close-but-not- exact gives a real soul to the cloth, I think. It made me think of the woman planting and growing the indigo plants. Then making her vat not with heat, but with cold water. Her son told us that to make the ash for the alkali, they burned the wood for two months which kept them home. Then she tied the warp threads and the weft threads in the ikat pattern. Then the threads would be dyed in the indigo vat and finally woven. I doubt that she minded that the pattern wasn’t precise and thought it was fine the way the threads hit pretty much perfectly. I wonder if the original cloth was a futon cover—a larger piece—or was it always meant to be fabric for a yukata. After the weaving, would be the hand sewing. When washing, the pieces would be taken apart and then put back together again. Probably there were many washings before the cloth was stitched so carefully to the handwoven backing cloth.


I’m making a scroll with the fabric so that I can have it out to look at. The soul of it touches me. I’ve pinned the pieces on top of the fabric for now, but I think I’ll move them up higher.


7 thoughts on “A Very Old Double Ikat that I Treasure”

  1. That is so lovely — I can see why you cherish it! I know you are into scrolls and I love those. But, for this one – if it were mine – I would want to hang it from the ceiling with a light behind it where I could look up at it and see it glowing. Maybe some twinkle lights behind it so its not a harsh light. I love imperfections and since it is so threadbare, I think I could look at it and meditate on all the nuances for a long time. Thanks for sharing it!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your ideas. I do want to have it where I can see it and maybe meditate on it’s beauty and history. Thanks again,
      Peggy

      Reply
  2. Thank you for sharing your personal journey with this beautiful piece of fabric. I love that you included your connections to your trip to Japan and would love to read more about your experiences with travel and textiles. Have you written more elsewhere? Thank you again for your inspirational writing.

    Reply

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