Saturday, April 30, 2016

Motifs: Zig-Zag

There are a number of motifs that can fall under this category, as there are many ways that simple lines can be turned and turned again to create interesting geometric patterns. As geometric motifs are appropriate for all seasons, this is yet another instance where color and other motifs present will determine just how appropriate it is for any given occasion.

My first example today is from a home-made obi using a mottled green cotton fabric originally manufactured for quilting. This particular zig-zag is called 'Hishi-sayagata' or 'diamond-shaped key pattern,' as the lines of the pattern are all on the bias, as opposed to being square to the warp and weft of the weave.

Close-up of hishi-sayagata obi. It was very difficult to get a clear photograph of this one.

The second zig-zag we have for today is called 'Matsukawa-bishi, or 'Pine Bark.' This example is actually the 'plain' side of a reversible han-haba obi. When I'm looking for obi, particularly han-haba as I have more occasion to wear them, I really like to find ones that are reversible. Not only does it double their chances of being worn, but the sides compliment each other so I can make knots that have more visual appeal.

Close up of matsukawa-bishi obi. Also very hard to photograph clearly!

Both of these examples are fairly plain making them good choices for coordinating with buisier motifs, but don't think that geometrics like this have to be uniformly plain.

Another hishi-sayagata, but as interpreted on a kimono.
The example above is another sample of the diamond key motif, but in this instance, the artist chose to fill in the space of the pattern with flowers. It makes for a very interesting and colorful arrangement, most suitable for late winter and early spring. With a pattern like this, I would look for obi that were of a relatively solid color or even larger floral-type design to counteract how much is going on in this fabric.

With this post, we come to the end of the A-to-Z blog challenge of 2016. To those of you who found this blog through the challenge, welcome, and I hope you continue to read as I work on ensuring a more regular posting schedule. For those of you who have been following for some time, thank you for your continued support!

On Monday, I plan to offer a reflection this experience before moving on to other topics that have had to wait so very patiently while I focused on getting through the month with a post a day. If you have any topics in particular you would like to see addressed here, please don't hesitate to make your suggestions in the comments!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Motifs: Yabane (Arrow Fletching)

As a representational motif or striking (pardon the pun) geometric, yabane can be one of the more versatile motifs in a collection. Since it is a 'man-made' motif and usually geometric in execution, it doesn't really have seasonal associations which further lends to its versatility. Like many motifs, there are exceptions, like a yaguruma (arrow fletching pinwheel) configuration which is heavily associated with Kodomo no Hi, or Children's Day (May 5).

Yabane are considered to be very auspicious; fletching from a broken arrow is often used as a talisman against bad luck. This particular aspect makes it a good choice for accessories, like the kinchaku pictured below.

With geometric patterning and classic red/white color combo, this can be paired with practically any ensemble.

My most interesting examples of this motif come from the kimono of some of my ningyou. My first example is the top worn by my somewhat rakish samurai who wields the fan more freely than the sword

This ningyo was bought at a sale supporting the Yu Ai Kai in San Jose's Japantown.

In this example, the fletching and part of the arrow shaft are represented and scattered over a field of purple. While it's a very interesting pattern, it is not one that I have personally encountered on a full-scale kimono. Far more common is the geometric rendering of the yabane, like my first example and as shown in the images below.

This lovely lady was purchased at a thrift store in Willow Glen, CA.

A clear example of what sun exposure can do to fabrics. The purple of her kimono was likely just as vivid as the samurai's, if not moreso.

When I first saw this lovely lady, I was quite charmed, and very taken with how strikingly pale her kimono was, and how subtle the patterning. As the coloring was so uniform, it didn't occur to me until I got her home and was able to take a closer look that what I considered striking, others would see as sun damage. The second image illustrates very well what the original color of her kimono would have been, and might suggest why she found herself in a thrift store. I know very little about her though her kanzashi and the positioning of her hands suggest to me that she is depicting a dance. If my kind readers have any further speculation or suggestions, I should love to read them!

You may remember the following example from earlier this month, wen we were discussing ajisai (hydrangea).

The yabane here is the 'plain' side of a reversible obi.
This obi was a gift and its reversible nature has made it a valuable addition to my collection. The pattern of the visible side here is created within the weave of the fabric, so it is a subtle color shift and a great compliment to many 'busier' yukata.

We have just one more day of the A-to-Z challenge, and I hope that you'll join me tomorrow for our final motif!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Motifs: Hexagons

Traditionally, there is no 'X' in Japanese, in that there are no native words that would require that specific letter for Romanization (unlike Chinese, where we can find words like 'xiao,' depending on the method used to convert Chinese characters to Roman letters). As a consequence, I have found a way to work around and totally cheat for today's letter, hence "heXagons."

Hexagons are a very popular geometric motif, and the six-sided shape can be found as part of many larger designs. 

Obi with kiku, hanabishi and hexagons.

Kimono with kiku and hexagons.
I've used both of these as examples earlier in the month, but both do show off very well how different components can be brought together to make interesting and cohesive designs. Sometimes, this can make it a little difficult to figure out what might pair best with a garment, and that is when color and occasion for wear can come into play.

Both of the above examples show hexagons as part of a broader design, but they can appear all on their own, too!

Asa(?) motif on lattice yukata with hexagon obi.
The yukata above was one of my more interesting finds from ebay, and the photo offers us a double dose of hexagons! Not only do we have relatively plain hexagons on the obi, but the latticework pattern on the yukata creates hexagons as well. To me, the leaf motif on the yukata is far louder than the latticework, so using hexagons in the obi makes for a fun and subtle visual play.

The patterning in the obi above is made up only of concentric lines, unlike the hexagons with central flowers in my first two examples. This more 'pure' form of a hexagon might also be referred to as 'kikko' or tortoise-shell. Since the hexagons themselves are the main pattern, not a component of a larger design, it works well as a complimentary obi for a number of yukata in my collection.

We're getting down to the last two days of the A-to-Z challenge. I've enjoyed all of the comments that have been shared so far and hope that those of you who discovered this blog through the challenge will continue to read along as I work towards a regular posting schedule.

Tomorrow, we'll be having a look at one of my all-time favorite motifs: Yabane (Arrow Fletching)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Motifs: Waves (Seigaiha) and Wheels (--guruma)

Today's first motif doesn't fit neatly into some of the categories that we've studied so far this month. Waves are hardly botanical or zoological, and unless one is in a theme-park, they aren't really manufactured either. The closest categorization might be geometric, but this isn't always the case. Even so, they can be found as a design element and motif in many kimono and accessories. Waves are not really seasonally specific, though they can be found in combinations that will lend themselves to a specific seasonality or occasion.

Cream hitoe kimono with wave pattern

Closer shot of the hitoe, with a little more of the wave pattern detailing visible

This ensemble was put together to commemorate the reopening of a tea house in San Jose's Japanese Friendship Gardens. In this example, the wave pattern reads a little like scales on a fish, punctuated with green and maroon 'wave' arches over kiku. I chose this particular kimono because of it's fresh and spring-like coloring as well as the fact that the 'wave scales' pay a (very subtle) homage to the koi that live in the nearby ponds.

Wheels, our second motif for the day, are a little more straight-forward. There are several different styles of wheels to be found as traditional motifs, like ishiguruma (stone wheel) and genji-guruma (carriage wheel). Wheels are also not particularly seasonal, though they might be found a little more commonly in winter-appropriate designs.

Obi with wheel and crane motifs
We saw this obi earlier this month when we were talking about cranes (tsuru) but in this image, at least, the wheel is actually the more prominent of the designs. this particular wheel is more like a genji-guruma, as it is fairly ornate in configuration.

For many of the motifs, I haven't really delved into deeper symbolism. With so many natural  motifs on display, it's far easier to talk about seasonality, and in many cases, there really isn't much to delve into; the motifs are admired because they are reflections of nature and admirable for that alone. With the wheel, however, I feel that I would be remiss if I did not try to make mention of some of its deeper meanings, especially in relation to Buddhism and specifically, Dharma.

This Dharma Wheel is the insignia for Buddhist Chaplains in the USAF. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

While I dance at Obon, I am not someone who was raised in Buddhist teaching, nor am I an active practitioner. Even so, to try to say that the wheel is nothing more than a pleasing motif seems disingenuous to me, so please bear with me.

My understanding of Dharma as one of the 'Three Jewels' of Buddhist teaching, is that Dharma is the 'cosmic law.' Some congregations may see it as specifically the teachings of Buddha himself (specifically the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path), while others view it as 'the way things are.'

What does a wheel have to do with all of this? Traditionally, the Dharma wheel (Dharmachakra) will have eight spokes for the Eight-Fold Path. The hub or center represents moral discipline. The rim of the wheel represents meditation and mindfulness; those things which hold the practice together. The perfection of the circular shape is the perfection of Buddha's teachings.

Not all wheels or wheel motifs will be representative of the Dharma, but I feel that it's important to know that there are wheels and wheel motifs that will have a deeper meaning than what might otherwise be obvious. Just as I try not to wear kimono with family crests, or kana or kanji that I do not understand, similarly do I try to avoid unfamiliar motifs until I have made sure I understand what they are.

I am sure that all of us, at one time or another, have been confronted with misunderstandings due to language or unfamiliarity and gone on to learn from them. If my kind readers care to share their own experiences, I hope that you will do so in the comments.

Tomorrow, we're cheating a bit to get an 'X' motif. Your clue is that it is a geometric, and I hope you join me tomorrow to find out which one!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Motifs: Vines

There are several different ways that vines might show up as part of a design. In some cases, they can act like a geometric pattern, offering a background against which other motifs might play. In other cases, it may be that the leaves most commonly found growing on vines are the central motif. I've got some examples of each, and how and when they are worn depends, of course, on season and occasion.

Fuji (wisteria) is a sort of vine, and the tendrils of flower and leaves often make for lovely designs!
The swatch above is from a tan (roll of fabric) that I found in Savers and have since made into a hitoe kimono. The cool colors and flow of the pattern make it ideal for spring, especially here in California where spring can sometimes feel like summer.

Grape-leaf haori paired with bias-striped kimono.

Back view and close-up shot of haori. Having the ivy as a background was purely coincidental.
We've seen this autumnal ensemble before, when we were looking at stripes as a motif, but now I want to focus on the haori. The warm orange serves as the background for a scattering of grape leaves and tendrils. It's a little 'dressier' than some of my other haori, as the dark leaves are done with a thread that has a sort of metallic sheen to them. Paired with the not-at-all embellished kimono, it really has a chance to shine.

Tomorrow will be a double-feature for motifs, both of which are quite versatile! I hope my kind readers tune in tomorrow when we discuss: Waves and Wheels

Monday, April 25, 2016

Motifs: Ume (Plum Blossoms)

Close-up of kimono with burgundy ume blooms on a field of stripes.

Plum blossoms, not sakura (cherry blossoms) are the very first herald of spring, and so they are most appropriate for wearing in late winter (to push the season) and into the early spring months. They also form part of a popular motif for New Years-- Shochikubai-- as we saw when we were looking at juxtaposed motifs earlier this month.

Full view of the kimono with coordinating obi and kanzashi. Photo by Thad Gann.

While both ume and sakura are usually portrayed as having five petals, the plum blossom petals are rounded where cherry blossoms are notched. Also, ume is almost always portrayed as the full flower, while the sakura petals might be shown falling freely in the design in which they are depicted.

We saw this obi earlier in the month when we were talking about matsu. In that instance, we were looking at the pine needles.

The blue obi above is only missing bamboo for it to be an example of Shochikubai. As we learned earlier, it is fairly common to find ume and matsu paired together, as they are two of the 'three friends of winter.' As we've moved through the motifs this month, I'm sure that you've noticed many common pairings, even ones that I haven't pointed out specifically. I suspect that my kind readers have patterns or colors that they like to pair on a regular basis, and I would love to read about them in the comments!

Tomorrow, we'll be looking at another botanical motif: Vines!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Motifs: Tsuru (Cranes)

Symbolic of a long life, it is no wonder that cranes are a popular motif in a variety of mediums. That they are graceful and easily portrayed in a number of ways certainly doesn't hurt their popularity, either!

Whenever I'm going out and want something particularly auspicious or commemorative, I will try to incorporate this obi into my ensemble.

Obi with crane and wheel motif.
Because of the amount of gold thread in this particular obi, I often worry that it is a little too formal for wherever I may be going, but it is by no means the most formal item in my collection.

If I am going out for less formal occasions, or I don't wish to feel quite as confined as I sometimes do in kimono, I will often dress in hakama and hakamashita (this is the term I use for kimono tops, mostly ones that I've made, that are cut short so that I don't have to fold them to accommodate the rise in my hakama). Back in January, I had an opportunity to attend the Edwardian Ball in San Francisco (in honor of Edward Gorey), and for the second night of that event, I chose to dress as inspired by the Meiji Era.

Hakama and hakamashita, with haori and derby hat. I wore a collared shirt under instead of a juban, as was becoming fashion during the Meiji Restoration (late 1800s).
Detail image of the hakamashita pictured above. I'd also like to point out the matsu, or pine motifs, and apologize for everything being sideways.
The cranes here are pictured a little more realistically (as long as we ignore the purple pine trees) and not so uniform as the cranes of the obi, but the coloring and pattern lend this garment to slightly more whimsical and informal settings, and the Edwardian Ball was most certainly 'whimsical.'

Some of my garments featuring cranes aren't even likely to be seen by the casual observer. It isn't uncommon for undergarments like juban to be decorated, and earlier this month, I gave you a peek at one of my kimono underskirts (susoyoke) that is covered in origami style cranes. A garment like that isn't really one that I figure into the effect of an ensemble as a whole, mostly because it shouldn't ever be seen except in very brief glances. I think that there is a lot to be said for having little secrets like that in a wardrobe, and if my kind readers have any that they are willing to share, I would love to read about them in the comments!

I'll be back on Monday when we'll be having a look at a very popular botanical motif: Ume (Plum Blossoms)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Motifs: Sensu (Folding Fan)

Unlike the uchiwa (rigid, round, paddle-shaped fan) which is most appropriate in the summertime, the sensu, or folding fan, can be found throughout the year. With motifs such as this, color and positioning with other motifs will determine when the garment is best worn.

This yukata fabric features a shape reminiscent of  folding fans without the ribs and hinge-point.

It's hard to tell in this photo, but this pattern really IS a scattering of fans over a field of momiji. This kimono is lined, which, along with the colors and pairing of patterns, make it more suitable for autumn.
The versatility of this motif means that it's very easy to incorporate into many ensembles. Geometric motifs are likely the easiest to use to coordinate, such as with the first example below. In some cases, such as with the decidedly geometric sensu in the second example below, floral motifs might be used to compliment the garment to greater effect.

This swatch is of a lined kimono in colors that remind me very much of Taisho-era styling with bold colors and designs. The shape of the fan is abstracted, but undeniable.

This might initially appear to be a diamond motif, but the detailing at the left-hand corners suggest instead that this is a fan motif as well.

 All of my examples so far have been some sort of abstracted interpretation of the fan motif, but it is quite possible to find honest-to-goodness sensu on garments as well.

Unlined (hitoe) kimono with a scattering of fans from shoulder to hem.
I feel that this is the most whimsical of my sensu-motif offerings. The unfolded fans flutter from the shoulders down to a denser congregation at the hems and bottoms of the sleeves. These fans are also the most like fans of any of the other offerings, which can make pairing them with obi a bit of a challenge.

If you've been reading along from the beginning of this challenge, you may have noticed that I appreciate versatility in my motifs. As I try to give due consideration to what effect I might have with my choices, having options that can be a little ambiguous, or can set a different tone depending on the items with which they're paired, gives me a much greater 'vocabulary' than I might otherwise have if I was trying to be seasonally specific at all times. Versatile items really are a must for any wardrobe and if my kind readers have any special items that they find themselves reaching for when all else fails, I would love to read about them in the comments!

Tomorrow, we'll be looking at another versatile motif and one that, earlier this week, I promised I would be discussing: Tsuru (Crane)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Motifs: Rangiku (Spider Chrysanthemum)

Today, we're a little late in getting posted as I've just returned from an amazing trip to Portland Oregon. I'd made sure to have posts set up for while I was gone, but neglected to have a little buffer for when I returned. Now that I'm back, I hope to continue on track as I've quite enjoyed this challenge and hearing from my kind readers out there who have had a moment to stop by and cause to comment.

Rangiku, or the Spider Chrysanthemum, is another one of my favorite motifs that I have very few of in my collection. As a consequence, some regular chrysanthemum (kiku) will be making an appearance, as I would feel negligent if I did not mention all facets of this very prominent flower motif.

Part of my fondness for rangiku has to do, in all honesty, with anime. Rangiku is the given name of a character in the manga/anime series BLEACH, of which I have been a long-time fan. I found it to be such an unusual name (though giving women flower-names is not an uncommon practice) that I had to look it up and found that it was for an 'unruly' flower.

This kanzashi is now part of my collection. The photo is by the artist ImlothMelui, from whom I have purchased several other quality hair ornaments.

Most often, the chrysanthemum will be portrayed as a compact bundle of petals, either round, or diamond shaped (to fit into hanabishi diamonds), but there are, of course exceptions.

A 'wilder' chrysanthemum motif on faux-shibori yukata.
The yukata pictured above is one of my favorites, and not just because of the motif. It's a faux-shibori print on seersucker fabric, a weave that is light on the skin and absolutely perfect for summer weather. Real shibori would create a similar effect, as the tiny ties used in the dying process create a similar pucker. It seems that I have a fondness for the slightly wilder forms of kiku; I think that I find them a little more expressive than the orderly, compact blooms.

I do have some of the more orderly blooms, though, and the next example doubles down on the chrysanthemum theme.

Lined kimono featuring kiku in pattern and in the weave of the fabric.
Not only does this kimono show the more common kiku with its round shape of dense petals, but if you look closely, you can see that the fabric of the silk is woven with a pattern of much smaller chrysanthemums. It isn't uncommon for there to be patterns woven into the silk, and it is up to the artist to determine how prominent they will be in the finished work.

Traditionally, chrysanthemum are an autumnal theme, but their pervasiveness and importance as a symbol means that they can be found on garments fitting for any season. While the sakura, or cherry blossom, is often held up as a symbol of Japan, it is the chrysanthemum that is found on official seals and is the crest of the royal family.

Tomorrow, we'll be moving out of the garden and having a look at Sensu (Folding Fans). As always, I look forward to comments and questions you, my kind readers, may have!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A-to-Z Challenge Interlude: Questions?

In my effort to bring examples only from my personal collection, I seem to have sabotaged myself in regards to Q. Realizing my quandary, I did what any logical person does these days and reached out to my social circle for assistance. From them, I have received several questions regarding kimono, kitsuke, and, of course, motifs, that I am using today to answer. If you, my kind readers, have questions of your own, please don't hesitate to ask in the comments!

How much should one expect to pay for a quality authentic kimono?

There area  variety of factors that can go into the price of a kimono, from the materials and style in which it is made to who is selling it. Pre-worn kimono tend to go for a lower price, and many sellers will be sure to point out any flaws or stains that might be present. I do a fair amount of shopping on ebay and have found several reputable shops based in Japan who specialize in used kimono and offer some starting as low as $10-$15 USD. While that price is more reflective of yukata or other unlined kimono, you can sometimes find lined kimono at such deals if you know what you're looking for. Bear in mind, however, that if buying from Japan, you will also be paying a greater amount for shipping. This is definitely the low end of the price spectrum and realistically, you are more likely to see prices in the $50 to $200 range, again, depending on the quality and formality of the material. Also to bear in mind, prices like this do not even come close to what something exceedingly formal, like an uchikake (wedding kimono) is likely to fetch.

I should add here that I have never bought a new (never worn) kimono that was not a yukata, and it's my understanding that modern kimono have significantly higher prices. They are also more likely to be bought for a specific formal occasion and will see minimal wear.

As for the caveat of 'quality,' I do not consider pre-worn kimono to be of an inferior quality to new. What is important to me when looking for a kimono is fit, coloring, versatility and wearability (good sellers will be frank if a garment is no longer wearable and better suited for taking apart and used for other projects) What I would consider to be inferior quality are garments are Asian-inspired prints on cheap satin fabric, such as 'costume pieces' that you might find at Halloween.

What's a good source for buying your first kimono and obi?

The most ideal situation for a first purchase is to be able to do your shopping in person, where you can hold the garment up to check for size and fit, and compare it to a selection of obi for the best match. If a shop or vendor is selling kimono, one would hope that they would be able to offer some insight into best matches for motif and color. This is not always the case, especially if you have managed to find a vendor at an anime convention or similar, but at least you would be able to handle the garments in person.

I realize that this is not possible for everyone and so my next recommendation would be to have a look at Kimono Flea Market Ichiroya. Ichiroya has a very good 'sizing guideline' and an excellent reputation for customer service, so if you have further questions, I feel confident that they would be able to assist.

Are there gender specific kimono?


While patterning on a kimono can be a huge tell as to whether it was meant for a man or a woman, the best way to be sure is to look at the sleeves and side seam on the body. If you look at my left sleeve in the photo below, you can see where I am showing how it is open at the back.

Taken at my 'Don't be That Gaijin' kimono panel at Clockwork Alchemy 2015.
Women's kimono will always have this feature at the sleeves, and at the side-seam, there will be a space of approximately 3 inches between where the sleeve is affixed at the shoulder and where the top of the side-seam begins. This space is built in to allow for ease of movement with the wider obi that are worn by women.

On a man's kimono, the seam affixing the sleeve to the body will be much longer, leaving only 2 inches or so of fabric at the back of the sleeve where they are not connected This section of sleeve will be closed on a man's kimono, and there will be no gaps in the side seam as there are on women's kimono. As the obi for men are narrower, and the obi itself is worn more about the hips than waist, men have no need for the space at the side seam to allow for mobility.

Also to note: A women's kimono should be as long as she is tall, as it is folded in the middle to take up any extra length. A man's kimono need only be as tall as he is at the shoulders as a fold is not taken when he is dressing.

Whenever questions surrounding kimono and gender arise, I feel it necessary to point out that kimono are decidedly gendered and there really isn't any sort of middle ground. People, on the other hand, are not so easily categorized, so my best recommendation is that if you wish to wear 'men's' garments, wear men's garments. If you wish to wear 'women's'  kimono, then wear women's kimono, but in either case, be aware of what guidelines should be followed and don't try to mix the two-- centuries of fashion have come to dictate that the articles for one are not meant for wearing with articles of the other.

What are 'mon' and how can I identify them?

Mon are family crests that can be found dyed or embroidered at certain specific points on a kimono. The number of mon found on a garment will dictate just how formal the garment is.

The mon in this example is a stylized flower, placed at center back.
If you find only one crest at the center back, that marks the least formal of formal kimono. next in level of formality would be three crests: one at the center back, and then one on the back of each sleeve, a couple of inches from where it attaches to the body. The most formal kimono will have five crests: the first three as outlined above, plus one on each front panel, just inside where the sleeve attaches to the body.

If you have a kimono that has mon, I highly recommend making the effort to discover which family it belongs to, and there are resources and guides to mon to assist this. To do so is to show respect for whomever previously owned the garments, and it can help you answer any questions that may arise if someone notices the crest.

Thank you for joining me for this brief reprieve from motifs. We'll be back to the theme properly tomorrow with Rangiku (spider chrysanthemum, but I'll likely talk about other chrysanthemum too). If you have any questions that we didn't manage to answer today, please feel free to ask in the comments. I am happy to help, if I may.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Motifs: Pine (Matsu)

Here, we have a botanical motif that is decidedly appropriate for late autumn and winter. Pine can be depicted as pairs of needles scattered throughout the overall design, but there is a more popular rendering that is often mistaken for clouds.

The 'gumdrop' matsu kimono with a softer, woven obi.
The rounded motif of Japanese pine is not at all what many in the West would associate with an evergreen. Rather than being tall and pointed, this motif is drawn wide and rounder, more like a low-growing shrub, and it's this roundness that often causes it to be mistaken for a cloud motif, especially if branches or roots are not drawn in.

Matsu motif on the sleeve of a furisode kimono, on loan from Nichi Bei Bussan.
In the above example, another photo from my panel 'Don't be That Gaijin,' from Clockwork Alchemy 2015, the matsu that are dyed into the fabric almost look like fans. This particular kimono is not part of my collection, but Nichi Bei Bussan was kind enough to loan it to me for the purposes of demonstration. It is a furisode kimono, which means that the sleeves are quite long and fluttering; a style most appropriate for young (up to early 20s) women. With my collection, I strive to maintain only pieces that I myself can wear, and as I am past the age of furisode, I do not own any.

So far, we've only seen matsu represented on kimono, but the motif can most certainly be found on obi as well. In my first example, an antique obi from the Meiji era (approx. 1860s), the pine motif is not the motif of the pleasant rounded trees, but sprays of needles amid which rest pheasants.

Meiji Era obi with pine boughs, pheasants, chrysanthemums and peonies.
The other obi I have which sports pine motifs is actually a 'tsuke-obi' or pre-tied obi. This style is VERY convenient for getting the look of the popular Taiko Musubi, or drum knot, but without all of the hassle.

This is the 'bow' portion of a pre-tied obi with pine needles, ume (plum) and kiku (chrysanthemum).
Even with the flowers, this is still an obi that is better suited for late winter and early spring ensembles. I haven't found an occasion to wear it out yet, and as we are now in April, it may be some time before it gets to go on an excursion. I have several items in my wardrobe, not just in my kimono collection, that I reserve for specific times of year or occasions, as I am sure my kind readers do. If you care to share a story about your favorite winter sweater or summer skirt, I would love to read about them in the comments!

For tomorrow's post, we're taking a step away from the motifs  so that I can field Questions. Many of these were asked in social media, but you'll be more than welcome to ask your own!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Motifs: Origami (Paper-folding)

Stylized depictions of folded paper, usually cranes, are another whimsical motif that can be found on garments, though they are often reserved for children. As a consequence, the only garment I have immediately to hand for demonstration of this motif is one I made for myself out of a cotton print manufactured primarily for quilting.

Origami cranes on susoyoke
As cranes are the most popular design for this particular motif, it's very hard to not jump ahead of myself and talk more about their symbolism (we're saving that for  4/23). Instead, I can point out that with origami motifs, you can have items that are suitable for any season. The 'paper' of the motif can be used to reflect any number of popular themes, depending on the designer's intent. In the case of the susoyke that I made, it hardly matters what designs the cranes bear as they are not likely to be seen , and if they are, it will be only briefly.

I developed an interest in origami long before I developed my interest in kimono. I was fascinated with the concept of taking a flat square of paper and, with a few strategic folds, creating a tiny bit of art. When I moved to California, I discovered washi paper and what a delight it was to fold. As I worked, looking at the patterns printed on the paper became a part of the meditation of folding. I spend a lot of time folding, cranes in particular, and have quite lost count of just how many I've folded. Have any of my kind readers tried origami? Were you successful or simply frustrated? I would love to read your stories in the comments!

Tomorrow is another decidedly seasonal motif as we have a look at Pine (Matsu).

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Motifs: Nadeshiko (Pinks)

Delicate and frilled, nadeshiko are (like so many of the flowers we've seen so far) best worn in the spring and summer months. It should be no surprise, then that my two best examples are found on yukata.

Swatch of yukata covered with nadeshiko blossoms.

I was surprised to find that I didn't have any examples of this yukata being worn-- it's another one of my favorites, particularly for obon practices. It's made of a lightweight cotton, so it is comfortable for wearing on warm summer evenings and the festive colors make it a very striking piece.

My other yukata is a little more subdued, and nadeshiko are not the only flower to be found in the patterning.

The nadeshiko are on the sleeves in this photo; there are also bell-flowers.
We saw this yukata before, when we were talking about Linear motifs (in this case, we were clearly using the obi for the example). When I am pairing pieces, I do like to have a little bit of color carrying from one piece to the other to keep some sort of cohesive sense to the ensemble as a whole. It can be difficult, though, because you can run the risk of having too much of the same thing in the ensemble. With this pairing, the mauve of the obi is reflected only subtly in the tinting of some of the flowers. so the pieces are complimentary without one overpowering the other.

When I am dressing in kimono, I take a lot of things into consideration but when I try to do this with western fashion, I feel like I fall short. I admire those of you who can pair accessories with an ensemble to create a visual spark and hope that you might share some of your success stories in the comments!

Tomorrow's motif, Origami (Paper-folding) is another 'manufactured' motif and I hope you join me to read about this whimsical offering.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Motifs: Momiji (Maple Leaves)

What could be more symbolic of autumn than falling leaves? There is no denying the seasonality of momiji, often portrayed in warm tones as they flutter and fall in kimono patterning.

Once again, my very best example is on a ningyo. This lovely lady was a rescue from a thrift store and is much taller than some of my other ladies, so she appears here in her natural habitat-- on top of one of my book shelves.

"A Japanese Lady Walking in the Rain" is what I believe the little tag on her base reads. You can see one of my rare male dolls lurking behind her.
Her kimono has faded over the years, but I don't think this lessens just how striking the falling leaves are against the pale mauve fabric. Her obi is emblazoned with kiku (chrysanthemums) in paler cream tones and silver.

Out of my own collection, one of my best momiji examples is combined with another design element-- sensu (fans). Such small patterns are often refered to as 'komon' and are generally considered to be relatively informal (there will always be some sort of exception, but it's a reasonable guideline to follow).

Photo taken at Clockwork Alchemy 2015 during my panel 'Don't be that Gaijin'
The above photo is not the clearest example of the kimono in question (I promise I'll have a better one when we get to S for Sensu/Fans) but it does offer the surprise bonus of momiji as part of the pattern of the VERY formal fukuro obi I had brought along for demonstration purposes. The leaf pattern is in the little cloud at the bottom left.

There are many other design elements in that particular obi, including botan, or peony, and it was only when I was looking for images of this kimono that I discovered this little facet of the design. There are many pieces in my collection which have neat or intriguing little designs, and if my kind readers have favorite 'Easter Eggs' in their own wardrobe, I should love to read about them in the comments!

I am spending some time away from the keyboard this week, so any replies to comments may be slower than usual. I do have plenty of posts lined up for the challenge, though, and with tomorrow's motif, we are back to spring and summer motifs with the Nadeshiko (Pinks).

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Motifs: Linear (Tate-Jima/Yoko-Jima)

Lines may not be a 'motif' in the strictest sense of the word. They don't have the glamour of carrying meanings in the same way the other motifs I've talked about do, but there is no denying that they are exceedingly versatile, serving as a base to moderate more outspoken patterns in a variety of ways.

If you've been with me for the whole month, you might remember my post on fuji (wisteria) and the simple pin-stripe kimono I wore to set off the very striking haori. I put together an ensemble using the same idea a couple of years ago, but in that case, I wanted to lessen the somewhat dizzying effect my kimono could have on the unsuspecting viewer.

Hitoe kimono in bold stripes of black and white, interspersed with primary colors. Note that the stripes all run on the bias, or diagonally.

Same ensemble, but with the addition of an orange haori.
In the above examples, both garments work in harmony to create one visual whole. The haori would be too loud if placed over another floral kimono, and the hitoe on its own lacks a certain visual panache, despite the bold striping on the bias. The combination was also chosen to reflect the season, with the grape leaves on the orange field of the haori added a touch of autumn.

With the next example, the components have been switched, and we have a striped haori over patterned kimono.

Yukata with snowbunnies under striped haori.
The bunny yukata is not one of my boldest kimono as far as coloring and patterning go. It's unique in that it is a decidedly wintery pattern printed on cotton and intended to be worn as yukata (the idea being that the motif leads the viewer to think on the cooler seasons and be refreshed while the season is warm). As a consequence, this is a garment that I will pull out for summer, because it is lightweight and comfortable, but also for winter because the motif then reflects the season and the garment can be 'dressed up' to make it less causal than a yukata might otherwise be when worn outside the summer season. Part of that 'dressing up' is aided by wearing a haori as a final layer, and this subdued striped haori completes the impression that 'cooler weather is here.'

We've already seen how geometric motifs can be highly complimentary in obi, and stripes are certainly no exception to this rule. The next example, a yukata with multiple flowers making up the design, is set off by a mauve obi with subtle striping in the pattern. The slightly curved pattern on the obi compliments the circular flower motifs without being too similar and still adding visual interest without making the ensemble feel busy.

Yukata with bell-flowers and nadeshiko with mauve striped obi.

Putting together this entry was really eye-opening for me; I didn't realize just how many striped items I had in my collection. As I combed through all of the images, I saw that I wouldn't be able to create such a variety of looks if I didn't have this powerhouse of versatility. Do my kind readers have an unsung hero of their wardrobe? I'd love to read about them in the comments!

Tomorrow will bring us back to botanical motifs as we look at Momiji (Maple Leaves)!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Motifs: Kasa (Umbrellas/Parasols)

Practical and stylish, kasa are highly underrated as far as motifs go. They carry a certain amount of whimsy into an ensemble that can't be matched with a pure floral or geometric motif. Until I started my kitsuke practice, I would never have considered reaching for a garment adorned with umbrellas, but that changed when I spotted this han-haba obi in Nichi Bei Busan:

Yes, it should look familiar! I get a lot of use out of this obi.
While kasa themselves do not have any specific seasonality associated with them, the presence of these on a brightly colored han-haba obi makes them ideal for summer wear with yukata.

As you may have discerned from the brevity of this post, this obi is the only thing in my collection with kasa. I'd really like to change that, but in the meantime, instead of boring you with photos that you saw in I for Iris (Ayame), I thought I might instead talk about another artistic medium where kasa show up-- woodblock prints.

Specifically, I'm thinking of the illustrations that were inspired by yokai (monsters). A googling of 'kasa-obake' will bring you any number of hits on the story behind these creatures as well as the illustrations. The story with which I am most familiar is the 'creation myth' behind such yokai. It's a cautionary tale, to be sure.

In legend, it's said that a whole collection of long-used and abused household objects were finally cast aside by their owners. Under normal circumstances, this might have been fine, but these particular items, including the kasa had been used for so long that they'd actually taken on a life of their own. (This seems to be a common theme in Japanese tales, the long life equated with more power, like how kitsune, or fox-spirits, will get an extra tail every 100 years they live.) Upset with how they had been abused and neglected, the cast-away objects took revenge on their former owners by tormenting and haunting them.

In our modern society, with so much focus on 'newer' and 'better,' I think this serves as a very good reminder to take care of the things we do have, so that they will serve us well and leave us in peace when it is time for them to retire. If my kind readers have any stories of a most-cherished object that abides in their home, I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Starting tomorrow, I am going to be away from my keyboard, but I have plenty of posts scheduled until I return. If I am not as prompt at replying to comments and questions as I might be, please understand and I look forward to being back next week! Tomorrow, by the way, our theme will be 'Linear,' with a look at how stripes can play a strategic role in kitsuke.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Motif: Juxtapositions

Rather than taking today to talk about any of the motifs I could have used for 'J,' I thought it might be fun to instead look at some motifs that are created with different design elements. On their own, these items might have one meaning, but in juxtaposition to other designs, the intent is subtly shifted.

When I came up with this solution to my 'J' problem, I had one specific motif in mind. This combination of bamboo, pine, and plum is so common that it has its own name: Shochikubai. Also referred to as 'The Three Friends of Winter' this motif is considered to be highly auspicious and is most associated with the New Year season (Lunar, but also Gregorian), and is also the name of a very popular brand of sake.

Shochikubai with cute mousy-type critters guard our kitchen

The noren above is the only example of this motif that I could find in the house, which was very surprising to me, given how very popular it is. Bemused, I went back through my collection and stumbled upon another motif that is made up of many singular aspects drawn together-- Shoen Road.

This motif, also known as 'Shining Road,' is actually more like a river motif, and the other aspects that go into making it a cohesive whole can vary greatly, depending on what impression the artist behind the fabric wished to convey.

Detail of sleeve on pink 'shoen road' kimono.
The floral motifs (fuji, ume and kiku-- wisteria, plum, and chrysanthemum), as well as the soft pink hue mark this as a decidedly 'early spring' kimono. You might notice some other design elements in this very busy piece-- the hanabishi diamonds, as well as a faux-shibori print ground for the wisteria. There are also auspicious (if somewhat drunken) cranes scattered through the design.

I find that pieces like this one do much better with uncomplicated obi and accessories; something that will mute the effect of having so much going on visually. When I wore this piece out for a very (VERY) late winter excursion, I chose a vintage knit shawl to compliment the ensemble. It was still cool enough for the second layer to be necessary, and made the whole effect less 'springy' overall.

Pink 'shoen road' kimono paired with blue ombre obi and knit shawl.
If you've been following along so far, you may have noticed that there are a great many pieces in my collection that are not limited to just one motif. I think this adds to the versatility of the garments, as well as to the effect I can have in making my own juxtapositions in ensembles. I'm sure that this is quite common in fashion and in art, and I would love to hear about any favorite pairings of theme or color my kind readers have in their own arts and fashions. Please feel free to write about them in the comments!

Tomorrow, we will be looking at what I refer to in the labels as a 'manufactured' theme. So far, we've been seeing either plants or animals with the occasional geometric, but tomorrow's theme of Kasa (umbrellas/parasols) is a motif that is clearly man-made in origin.