Today I am offering 9 treasures from my collection for sale. These are pieces I have never or rarely worn. They live in my Durham, NC, closet. Many of you know that I am now walking 8,000 to 10,000 steps at least four times a week and have maintained size small for almost two years. These beautiful clothes are now way too big for me to wear. I’ve decided it is time for these pieces to be with others who appreciate them as much as I do.
To Buy: Send me an email — email@example.com with your name, address, and item number. I will send you a PayPal invoice to pay with credit card. Please be sure to use the payment option “sending to family and friends.” Once I receive your funds, I will mail via USPS to anywhere in the USA. I will add on $12 for mailing to the invoice. Thank you VERY much.
#1 is from the Oaxaca coast in Santiago Ixtlayutla, near Pinotepa de Don Luis. It uses fuchsine dye, which locals call “cochineal” but it isn’t! It actually creates a more purple stain on cotton cloth that then bleeds intentionally into the base fabric. Fine silk thread is woven as the supplementary weft creating the figures in the cotton cloth. It is the silk that takes the dye after the piece is finished. The style is to dye and fold the cloth, soaking it in water so that the dye runs into patterns that are mirrored into the surrounding cloth. Those of us who know these textiles, covet and cherish them. The finishing joinery stitches on this one are very secure and fine.
All fuchsine-dyed garments are rare and collectible!
Notes from Traditional Innovation in Oaxaca Textiles: There is another colour that can be found in several textiles from Oaxaca: fuchsia. The costume of men and women from the Mixtec town of Santiago Ixtayutla use locally-raised silk from San Mateo Peñasco, where silk is dyed with fuchsine, a magenta dye invented in mid-19th century which chemical composition is rosaniline hydrochloride. Since these dyes arrived in Mexico during the second half of the 19th c., weavers started using them: they were quick to use and cheap to obtain.
SOLD. #4 is from the warm, humid coastal region of Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas, where lightweight hand-woven textiles are preferred. This is fine cotton woven on a back-strap loom. The colorful figures uses synthetically-dyed cotton in the supplementary weft. Measures 25″ wide x 25-1/2 long — size L-XL.
SOLD. #5 is woven on a back-strap loom in a Chiapas village of medium-weight cotton, hand-tied fringes. The design is incorporated in the weaving using the supplementary weft technique. It is not embroidered!
SOLD. #6 is a medium-weight cotton poncho with hot red needle work down the front to join the two pieces of cloth together. This is an unusual piece because of the texture of two different weaving styles used in the cloth (it does not have a seam). The front of the piece is shorter, hanging hip length and the back hangs longer to cover the rear!
SOLD. #7 was purchased from Remigio Mestas’ Oaxaca city shop Los Baules de Juana Cata. He is cited as a top authority on Oaxaca textiles, and offers only the finest woven and naturally dyed fabrics for sale, created by the best weavers. The dye is called Palo de Aguila, which translates to Alderwood, and is found in the Sierra Mixe of Oaxaca.
SOLD. #8 is from the back-strap loom weaving village of Pinotepa de Don Luis. There is a very fine young weaver there named Sebastiana Guzman Hernandez. She was educated and worked as an engineer but preferred to weave and rescue her family’s indigenous traditions. I purchased this huipil from her workshop studio in the village. She dyes the indigo and buys the caracol purpura threads from the few local dyers who collect the rare purple snail dye from the Oaxaca coast.
SOLD. #9 is a slinky blouse, machine embroidery on polyester, with see-through eyelet detail from Zinacantan, Chiapas. It is not hemmed because traditional women will tuck this inside their wrap-around skirts.
The Japan Textile Study Tour is filling up. We are a small group, limited to 10 people, and there are 4 spaces remaining! If you are thinking about coming with us to Japan, please don’t wait much longer.
I have confirmed plans to visit a noted Japanese national treasure, a textile artist who works in indigo, known as Japan Blue. Her studio is at the foot of Mt. Fuji near Lake Kawaguchi. We will spend a good part of the day with her, dyeing with indigo in her studio.
I have explained to her that we are visitors who understand and appreciate the art of indigo dyeing. I am told that our dye master is very selective about who visits her and welcomes anyone who understands and appreciates her art.
We will have a several hour immersion experience with her as we learn about her dye process and participate ourselves in dyeing pure cotton cloth that she will provide. Since she is very serious about what she does, she asks that we participate fully rather than just coming to visit and observe. I have promised her that we are coming to honor the age-old tradition of indigo dyeing in Japan, and honor her work as a serious artist and dyer.
The man who is helping me put this experience together is Japanese, a Harvard graduate, and he will serve as our guide and translator for our time at Mt. Fuji. He tells me the following:
The dye master is “living” with 4 pots of indigos in her small atelier, and she cares for her indigos like her pots 24/7 — like they are her babies!
In order to create the exact colors she needs in her art works, she precisely controls the fermentation of each of 4 indigo pots during the production processes of her art works. When she is preparing art works for big exhibition events, she pays special attention to the fermentation status of the indigo.
That is the basic reason why she does not usually provide easy-going, superficial “experience” programs for travelers; it will damage her indigos. From her artist’s point of view, she believes that brief“experience” programs that are business-focused and the art creation profession cannot co-exist.
What makes this indigo dye master’s art unique can be summarized into several points.
She is “building” indigo exactly in the same traditional way as the artisans back in 17th and 18th centuries.
She uses traditional fermented indigo grass which is now only produced in limited supply from Tokushima Prefecture.
She utilizes timber ash NOT sodium carbonate for the fermentation in the pots. To obtain good quality timber ash, she must use a wood-stove in her daily life.
So, our dye master is literally “living” with indigos.
She believes this was one of the most important aspects of traditional “Japan Blue” – artisans fed, cared for and raised indigo like it is their baby! They literally lived with indigos.
Our dye master is an artist first and foremost. She is creating contemporary art utilizing traditional indigos.
After the advent of chemical dyeing productions, and also Japanese apparel culture being westernized, traditional indigo dyeing has lost its position in the dyeing industry. But, our dye master believes that there must be artistic expressions which only “Japan Blue” can make. She is committed to proving that traditional “Japan Blue” can existent as a way of artistic expression in an era of high technology and streamlined processes. This is the only way that traditional “Japan Blue” can survive into the next generation.
To our best knowledge, there are no artisans or artists who are incorporating all of this.
We will be one of the few groups that our dye master will accept into her atelier, and let us “use” her indigo. We will have a unique opportunity to dye with Japan Blue and have our own piece of art to take with us.
She asks that if we appreciate what she does, we can also purchase her art work ONLY IF we like it!
We now have 6 people registered to come with me and Nathan Somers, a North Carolina indigo dye master, on this Japanese textile adventure. I will accept no more than 10 people. If you know of anyone else who would like to join us, please ask them to contact me. It is important that we have a small group experience that is meaningful for each of us.
Japan Textile Study Tour, November 6 – 19, 2020, 12 nights, 13 days, start in Kyoto and end in Tokyo — SOLD OUT. Get on the waiting list.
We take you on a textile adventure of a lifetime to the land of the Rising Sun. Japanese style elevates textiles to a fine art form. We go deep into the culture of hand-weaving and indigo dyeing, high fashion and simple garment construction, venturing into old mercantile shops, contemporary design studios and temple markets to discover how cloth defines a people. Along the way, we discover historical sites, eat traditional foods that have ceremonial significance, visit museums and immerse ourselves into a modern Japan that is underpinned with ancient tradition.
Japan is an amalgam of ancient craft wisdom that is translated into art as a metaphor for life – from pottery to textiles to knife-making to humble and refined cuisine to garden landscape. We visit craftsmen who were provisioners to emperors. Throughout our travels, we touch on the philosophy that girds the culture – aesthetic sensibility, wabi-sabi (perfection in imperfection), and iki (simplicity, originality, sophistication, spontaneity, refinement).
You will travel with Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC director, writer, producer and photographer. Our co-leader is Nathan Somers, textile artist, collector, indigo dyer and historian. You will visit many sites Norma and Nathan know from personal and professional experience.
This is a hands-on, slow-savor, deep cultural immersion travel experience for up to 10 active textile lovers.
Our itinerary concentrates on the textile culture
of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, and Tokyo, once known as Edo, where day-glow
neon and phantasmagorical skyscrapers cast a futuristic glow over the old
In Kyoto and Tokyo, we will navigate the city and reach our local destinations using outstanding public transportation – faster and more reliable than private services. Bus and Metro service is punctual, frequent, safe and reliable. This gives us an opportunity to travel with the locals and familiarize ourselves with neighborhoods and the ease of travel in Japan. We have engaged locals to help us navigate and translate this fascinating culture.
Who goes on the Textile Study Tour to Japan? Artists, makers, educators, life-long learners, writers, textile
lovers, historians, photographers and those wanting to learn more about Japan, weaving
and natural dyeing there.
F-11/6: Depart your home city and travel to Kyoto, Japan
Sa-11/7: Arrive Kyoto in late afternoon. If you are up to it, join us in the hotel lobby to meet up for an optional group dinner (cost is OYO)
Su-11/8: Meet at 1 PM for a Welcome Lunch, stroll the Imperial Palace, visit a traditional miso shop and confectionary maker (B, L)
M-11/9: After breakfast, we will set out to explore the Nishiki Market, meandering the famed fish and food stalls, have lunch, then stroll Teramachi Street where we will visit vintage textile galleries, then transition to the Geisha neighborhood of Gion for more! (B, L) Dinner OYO
Tu-11/10: Shibori Workshop and Shibori Museum. Hands-on session to make your own shibori-designed textile with indigo dye. (B, L)
W-11/11: Our focus today is on the old weaving center of Kyoto with a visit to Nishijin Textile Center and several shops that dye and make indigo garments. Afternoon OYO (B, L)
Th-11/12: It’s important to have choices! Take the day to create your own itinerary or come with us to visit Arashiyama where we will stroll the famed Bamboo Forest. You have the option to take a rickshaw ride and meander sacred temples in this more rural Kyoto neighborhood, with optional and traditional keiseki multi-course lunch (B)
F-11/13: Travel to Kawaguchi Lake and stay overnight in guest house/lodge. (B, D)
Sa-11/14: Visit the workshop studio of an indigo dyer in a small Japanese mountain village for a demonstration, to see her collection and shop. Take afternoon train to Tokyo. Check into our hotel. (B, L)
Su-11/15: Attend two major Temple Markets — Takahata Market and Oedo International Forum — where you will find old kimono, pieces of vintage cloth including silks, natural dyes and hand-weaving, vintage collectibles such as ceramics, carved wood, figurines, jewelry, art and much more. (B)
M-11/16: We set you loose in Ginza — high fashion center of Japan — for Department Store Shopping and to explore the Basement Food Courts. Department stores feature unparalleled designer boutiques and food treasures. If you prefer, you might like to go to Nuno Works in Roppongi and peek into the upmarket world of Akasaka boutiques. (B)
Tu-11/17: Tsukiji Market Meander. We love markets and the most famed in Japan is Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market where we will get to early in the morning to take in splendid company of super-fresh oysters the size of fists, sushi and sashimi bites, sake sips, and crispy tempura rolls. Then we are off to Nippori Fabric Town to shop for yardage, with a stop at Kata-Kata or Gallery Kawano (B, L)
W-11/18: After breakfast, Yu Design Studio show and sale. They are a new, innovative design studio working in hand-woven cotton, silk and hemp with indigo dyes. Then, set out on your own to chart your own course. You might like to visit the Imperial Palace, the National Museum or retrace steps to go back for a treasure that passed you by. We will meet again for our grand finale dinner to say our goodbyes. Dinner (B, D)
Th-11/19 Tour ends and participants depart (B)
*Travel Note: You can arrive to Osaka Kansai International Airport which is 40 minutes from Kyoto and depart from Tokyo Narita Airport. You might also find more favorable airfares flying to/from Tokyo. Check www.skyscanner.com for schedules and airfares. If you fly to Tokyo, you will take the Shinkansen bullet train (2 hours, 15 minutes) to Kyoto to meet up with the group on November 6. Rail tickets can be purchased in advance online. We will send more detailed information to the group after our travel cohort is formed. You can choose to arrive earlier or stay later at your own expense.
Norma Schafer is director of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC, writer, blogger, photographer and food aficionado. Her love of indigo has taken her to Mexico, India and Japan to explore the culture of weaving and natural dyes. On this return visit to Japan, she takes you to her favorite textile haunts to meet makers and collectors.
Nathan Somers is an educator, textile artist and vintage Japanese fabric collector who lives in Durham, NC. Nathan teaches indigo resist throughout the southeast United States, and making guest presentations at spinning an weavers’ guilds. His primary area of study is Japanese textile traditions.
In 2016, Nathan was the subject of a Japanese
television show that came to Durham to film his collection. The producers then tansported
him to the Island of Amami Oshima, Japan, to study with an indigo dyer.
How did it all begin for Nathan?
In 2007, Nathan found himself rummaging through a
box of Japanese textile scraps at a Portland, Oregon, antique sale. The fabric,
with its hand spun threads, uneven selvedges, complex patterns, and deep indigo
inspired him, but at the time he didn’t understand the techniques that had been
used to make the textiles.
Nathan began to study all he could about how these
fabrics were produced and what their designs were meant to convey. Nathan’s
textile collection comes from Japan’s temple and shrine markets and through
contacts with dealers. The collection spans the late Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912)
periods. He focuses on Tsutsugami (freehand paste resist), Katazome (stencil
paste resist), Sashiko (mending or reinforcing stitch), Zanshi (waste thread
fabrics) and Boro, (repeatedly mended and patched textiles). These textiles
heavily inspired Nathan’s own work, which focuses on the Katazome stencil paste
the years since first finding that box of fabric scraps, Nathan has researched traditional
Japanese fabrics to best understand their production and design. He has traveled
to China and Japan to deepen his knowledge about dyeing and weaving. Nathan
experiments extensively, grows cotton in his home garden that he weaves and
dyes, and also works with foraged fibers like Kudzu, wisteria and hemp – all essential
parts of fabric production in Old Japan.
Nathan is an outstanding resource to guide us on this textile adventure, explaining dyeing, weaving and design processes as we travel, helping us to identify cloth origins, quality and value.
What is included?
A total of 12 nights accommodation
12 breakfasts, 6 lunches and 2 dinners as outlined in the
Hands-on indigo dye workshop
Textile fabric shopping – vintage and
Natural dye, weaving and stitching
Market and gallery tours that
encompass textiles, food, culture
Visits to cultural and historic sites
Shinkansen Bullet Train tickets or
luxury van transportation from Kyoto to Tokyo
Intra-city metro and bus tickets
Entry fees to museums and galleries
as part of the itinerary
Comprehensive pre-trip planning guide
Knowledgeable tour leaders – Norma
What Nathan says:
I am so excited to have this opportunity to
co-lead this tour. Japan is an
amazing country and regardless of where you travel you have a strong connection
to the past and to the Japanese concepts of mottainai (make the best of what you have) and wabi sabi (beauty through imperfection). I am excited to share with others my
love and appreciation of Japan and its traditional textiles. The beauty and
simplicity of the fabric is plain to see, but by learning about the complex way
in which they are made offers a greater appreciation for the intricacies and
aesthetics of this textile tradition.
We reserve the right to
substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.
Cost • $6,495 per person double room with private bath (sleeps 2) in top-rated accommodations • add $985 for a single supplement
Reservations and Cancellations. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. If for any reason, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC cancels the tour, a full-refund will be made.
We will send you an itemized
invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. If you cancel on or before August
22, 2020, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date (less the $750
non-refundable deposit). After August 22, 2020, there are no refunds.
If you register after December 22, 2019 and before March 22, 2020, you will owe 1/4 of the balance due. If you register after March 22 and before May 22, you will owe 1/2 of the balance due. If you register after May 22 and before August 22, you will owe ¾ of the balance due. If you register after August 22, you will owe 100% of the balance due.
How to Register: Complete the Registration Form. Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Who Should Attend:
Artists, makers, educators, life-long learners, writers, photographers, textile
lovers, historians and those wanting to learn more about Japanese art,
textiles, culture and history. If you love First World Exotic
Travel and the inspiration of the best of Asia influences, this trip is for
Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:
We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes
$50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be
sent at least 45 days
In addition, we will send you
by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma
Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by
email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen!
Reservations and Cancellations.
We accept online e-commerce payments only. We will send you an itemized invoice
when you tell us you are ready to register. All documentation for plane
reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be
received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel
your registration without reimbursement.
Fitness Level – Moderate Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: Tour participants must be able to walk two miles, board buses and trains, carry their own luggage unaided, and navigate uneven surfaces including stairs. We may walk more on some days. We recommend you bring a walking stick if you need something to lean on! If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour for you.
Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.
My quest for Japanese indigo fabrics and clothing took us to remote villages and high-end designer boutiques. I searched old kimono stacked in department store corners and flea market stalls. In the old Geisha district of Gion, two vintage textile shops offer 100+ year-old pieces in varying condition. I traveled from Tokyo to Kyoto to the remote thatched roof village of Miyama with blue on my mind. We lingered at the Amuse Museum exhibition of boro cloth in awe of indigo-dyed hemp and cotton patchwork born of poverty.
Indigo is my passion. It’s why I wanted to go to Japan. Oh, and the food. Oh, yes, and the cherry blossoms. Temples. Zen. Gardens. Oh, my.
My sister was more interested in Kabuki and Noh theatre, so we negotiated time dedicated to our interests. We attended performances of both and met with a foremost expert on Noh, a US ex-pat living and teaching in Japan for 40 years. We managed to walk blocks that became miles, traveled by bus, train and taxi, all in search of blue, art and food.
Finding indigo in Japan is not easy. Sometimes we couldn’t locate the address. Sometimes we got lost despite Google maps. Sometimes I would stand on a street corner and call out, Does anyone speak English? to help us get our bearings. (Always, a kind, helpful person came to our aid, even guiding us to where we needed to go!) Sometimes the source was in such a remote area that we couldn’t get there. Tokyo is a vast megalopolis, on a scale beyond my ken. Kyoto, described as smaller, hardly pales in comparison.
The art of dyeing with indigo today is uncommon, as it is in Oaxaca, Mexico, where it is necessary to travel twelve hours from Oaxaca City to meet the maker. In Japan, one must also ferret out the dye masters and makers who turn indigo-dyed cloth into clothing. The practice is almost extinct, just like Mexico. And, as with all things made-by-hand, quality comes with a price, when you can find it.
I also noticed construction similarities between traditional Oaxaca huipiles and Japanese kimonos. Both are simple assemblages of cloth squares and rectangles, with hand-stitchedSi seam sewing and no tailoring (ie. no darts). The long, drooping kimono sleeves are merely rectangles attached to the main robe. Hand-stitching for seams and embellishment a standard practice.
Few pieces, I discovered, are hand-loomed now. Indigo-dyed ready-to-wear can be designed in Japan and made in India to keep prices in check. I found one amazing Meiji period kimono in perfect condition. Price tag, $1,800 USD. Pass. I’m looking for wearable art and not creating a museum-level collection.
What I also discovered is that a focused quest for indigo takes time. Even more than a three-week introductory visit such as the one I just completed. Perhaps another trip is needed to go deeper and wider. Perhaps.
I also want to thank Nancy Craft of Esprit Travel and Tours, Japan Travel Expert, who generously shared her list of Kyoto textile shopping resources with me. I hunted down those most relevant to my interests.
My friend Madelyn wrote, I hope you found yourself a wonderful indigo garment or textile. Plural, I replied. I filled a duffle bag with blue. Ancient blue. New blue. Traditional blue. Deep, dark, almost black, blue. Kimono with wide, boxy sleeves. Cozy, contemporary long-sleeved jacket with roll-up cuffs. Vintage farmer’s coat with sashiko stitching. All perfect with blue jeans or black skirt. I have satisfied my lust for blue.
Sidebar: Barbara and I were flaneuring down the main street of Tokyo’s Aoyama district (which easily overshadows Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive) after visiting the Meiji Jingu Shrine. I noticed a pop-up shop and stepped in to find Yu Design Office featuring hand-crafted indigo clothing.
Yu Design Office was founded by artisan Hiromi Yamada and her architect son Yuji Yamada. They use natural indigo dye from Hanyu City, Saitama, employing a traditional kimono-making technique called itajime from Mizuho City, Tokyo, and fine cloth from Hachioji, Tokyo. Combining indigo, persimmon juice and pitch black, the wool-silk scarf they make takes on a deep greenish blue hue. The cloth is folded and stacked and pressed between wooden boards to give it texture.
Aizenkobo, indigo workshop and gallery, Kyoto. Third generation workshop, producing traditional garments, scarves, yardage. People love it. I was underwhelmed.
Little Indigo Museum, Miyama, Kyoto Prefecture, is operated by Mr. Hiroyuki Shindo. In picturesque town of thatched-roof houses, this is a full-day trip. Small souvenir indigo samples and scarves are for sale. email@example.com
Gallery Kei features vintage textiles and is operated by Kei Kawasaki on the famous Teramachi Street (671-1 Kuoinmae-cho Teramachi Ebisugawa-agaru), just south of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. At our visit, she had vintage boro from Northern Japan, garments and cloth fragments of hand-woven natural materials (hemp, linen, cotton, silk) and dyes. Write to confirm they are open. firstname.lastname@example.org
Gran-Pie, also on Teramachi Street between Ebisugawa-dori and Nijo-dori, is a contemporary clothing store with garments designed in Japan, dyed and made in India.
I can’t publish this post without mentioning NUNOworks Fabrics in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. On our last afternoon in Japan, I went bonkers over the bolts of fabrics, and sewn-on-the-premises clothing. Delicious scarves. Beautiful garments. Outstanding design. Reasonable (by Japan standards) prices. Though few pieces are naturally dyed.
Department stores like Isetan (Kyoto Station), Takashimaya, Mitsukoshi and Matsuya Ginza feature contemporary Japanese designer boutiques, including Issey Miyake, Comme de Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, and others. Some use indigo and other natural dyes, and are priced in the stratosphere.
Where to Stay in Tokyo: the b roppongi hotel. Loved our stay here. Convenient to metro, restaurants, fair price, excellent service.
Where to Stay in Kyoto: we loved the YADO Hotel in Arashiyama. Book room #308. Recommend also staying in Gion area for more central experience.
Writing from Kyoto, March 25, 2019. It’s been four days since I landed in Tokyo and I’ve managed to learn four words: konnichiwa (hello), sayonara (goodbye), arigato gozai mas (thank you very much), and oishi (delicious). I knew ai (indigo) before I arrived.
Mexico and Japan share a common language through indigo.
Everything here is delicious. Economy meals at corner restaurants where you order and pay in advance from a menu machine are delicious. In my view, as delicious as the priciest sushi set. The people are delicious, the kindest and most generously helpful of any I have met. The fashion is delicious. It is pure deliciousness to be under a cherry tree as buds begin to blossom pink. To say I’m in love with Japan is an understatement.
My sister Barbara and I have filled our days with what my friend Liz Bell calls flaneuring. The discovery is in the meandering, the randomness of what you will find without a plan. Like the pure ai (indigo) coat I found in an off-beat shop hanging on a rack among nondescript clothes, made in the style of a workingman’s jacket crafted from old recycled cloth in pristine condition, redesigned, repurposed. I didn’t buy it but it was a delight to wear, even if for the moment.
Like Mari Ishibashi, a 2013 graduate of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, who gave me her phone number and said if we need anything, to call her.
With intention, we made it a priority to visit the Amuse Museum in Asakusa, Tokyo, where an incredible textile exhibition of boro was on display until the end of March. Here, we could see and touch an extraordinary exhibition of vintage cloth, saved by folklorist Chuzaburo Tanaka. The textile is now recognized as a national Tangible Cultural Property. Indigo plays a central role in this story.
Indigo is a reverential art form here, and nothing speaks more proudly of Japanese ingenuity, creativity and self-discipline than the utilitarian Boro patchwork from the coldest, northernmost region of Japan in Aomori Prefecture.
Boroboro means something tattered or repaired. In the layering of the cloth and the accompanying long stitches, called sashiko, used to hold the patches to the base fabric and hemp filling, the fabric takes on a quality of shimmering texture and beauty. It was not intended this way. Boro was born from poverty. It´s purpose was to make a quilted piece of clothing or bedcover from leftover material that would provide warmth in a frigid, inhospitable, harsh climate. Hemp was used because cotton could not be grown in cold areas. Threadbare areas of cloth were repeatedly patched over, reinforced, and reinforced again.
Hard scrabble peasant farming classes made boro, mending the same garments over and over again with spare scraps. Scraps were saved like treasure. Collected, scarce. Hemp dyed with indigo was common. Garments were passed down from generation to generation. Working class people made do with dignity.
Today, the story is different. Vintage pieces of boro are collectible, scarce and costly. Classes are taught around the world in boro patchwork and quilting techniques. Boro is adapted by fashion designers to embellish blue jeans. Boro has become romanticized, commodified as a fashion statement, taking on a life far from its humble roots.
We might compare the indigenous cultures of Mexico with the native peoples of remote Japan, who struggle to survive and thrive in the face of poverty, lack of education and with little or no access to health care. In the face of adversity, they create extraordinary cloth. I have written about cultural tourism and how we seek to get closer to those who are the creators. We admire their creative outputs. We may even yearn for a simpler life for ourselves — more basic, more grounded, more meaningful. In our yearnings, do we create a false romantic vision that obscures the harsh realities.
A core aesthetic of Japanese life and values is called wabi-sabi. It is a worldview based on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Some say that boro is one of the best examples of wabi-sabi —the cloth and the stitches reflect the beauty of natural wear and use. The cloth and the stitches change, become asymmetrical, born of simplicity, roughness and economy. Beauty is in the simplicity of all.
Wabi-sabi acknowledges three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.
Boro cloth is quirky, repaired, subtle, weathered, imperfect, rustic, spare, minimalist. The cloth is organic, changing, deconstructed and reconstructed. Like the people who made it, boro is resilient and enduring, a testimony to cultural continuity.
I am on a quest for ai. The imperfect piece of ai. I know I will find it.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
Click image to order yours!
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace
We send printable map via email PDF usually within 48-hours after order received. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle