Tag Archives: washi

back to the future-again

The story goes something like this:

One day Richard and I were emailing back and forth about this and that.  Mostly about textiles and old things he had come across and how they could be saved and utilized.  And about him coming here from Japan to teach another workshop.  And about how he had gone into the attic of an old farmhouse and found some remnants of the family’s sericulture activities.  At the time I was putting together the “Silk Experience, Then and Now” exhibit for last year’s Houston’s International Quilt Festival.  He had found some examples of the straw cocoon bedding and of the cardboard cocoon trays which followed years later.  He saved me some samples that I was able to display at the show.  A couple of weeks later, he emailed me to say that he had come across some washi “cocoon bags”- was I interested?  Without hesitation I said yes! Get what you can, I said, not really knowing what they were but instinctually sure they were important somehow.  If you saw the exhibit last year you saw these remarkable examples of what I consider to be folk craft-handmade objects that served a purpose in daily life. I love stuff like this.  Everyday objects that are used but also are beautiful both visually and for the fact that they fit into the structure of everyday life of the time in which they were produced by craftsman of those times.  Eventually, he had the opportunity to acquire a few more.

cocoon bags at exhibit

cocoon bags at exhibit

Now,  I have been to the main sericulture/silk museums in Japan as well as seen the collection of items at the Tokyo Silk Science Institute associated with Tokyo University.  I had never before seen anything like these washi bags!  I wondered…

cotton coon bag with markings

cotton cocoon bag with markings

I started researching online.  Couldn’t find anything.  In fact, vintage or antique washi itself was rare to find.  Mostly now you find a scrapbooking product claiming to be vintage washi tape.  An image search of “vintage Japanese washi” comes up with this page.  Not e x a c t l y…

this is washi

this is washi

What we have surmised so far is this- that these bags were made in Mino City-known for it’s papermaking and it’s close proximity to where they were discovered by Richard.  That they are easily over 100 years old. That some are treated with kakishibu (persimmon tannin) and others were dyed with tumeric (the yellow ones or yellow patches on them).  That they predate the use of cotton bags for silk cocoon transportation and storage.  That they were regularly sent back for repair and patching when needed and in the end, they were abandoned in favor of cotton bags.  Since Mino was a center of papermaking, they may be a somewhat regional object-using what comes naturally and is close at hand.  Hence, why I have yet to see them in other areas like Gunma or Yokohama which are more north.

Imagine!  Giant gusseted cocoon bags made of thick fibrous paper, patched, repaired and saved for tens of decades.  I have saved one out to give as a gift to the Yokohama Silk Museum if they are interested.  I have not seen one there.  I have saved myself one and have it hanging on a wall where I can see it every day and wonder.  Some people have expressed an interest in using the paper itself in their own artwork.  Either way, these pieces have ki or 気 which is another way to say vital life energy.  That they have resurfaced after all these years is so interesting to me.  We have several of them available in the shop.  It’s a joint effort between us to find these pieces good homes where they can continue to produce 気.

in the shop now

practicality

Image

Image

just working with some vintage kimono lining silk and came across a piece that still had it’s tag on it.  these tags were placed to identify the owner when the kimono was taken apart for cleaning.  often, they were never reassembled.  i removed this tag and realized it was washi (handmade paper).  i loved that the end of it was just twisted into a string/cord and run through and tied into the silk’s selvedge. 

practical.  and lovely.