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Modern kimono represent centuries of Japanese tradition. Until cotton began to be cultivated widely in Japan, women in rural households collected, processed, dyed and wove bast fibres like hemp to clothe their entire family.

Where was this textile created?

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The Tanabata Bridge of Wings

Asia: East Asia, Japan
Late 19th century
Hemp, double thread resist dyed (kasuri) and woven
103 cm x 111 cm
Gift of Dr. Peter Herschman
T84.0011 Textile Museum of Canada

In this boy’s hemp kimono, both warp and weft threads have been resist dyed before weaving, to produce subtle patterns of small lozenges and crosses. Although the patterns are quite standard, they ripple and vary according to the characteristics of this technique, more commonly known as ikat, an Indonesian term.

The creation of a kimono with a double kasuri pattern requires a great deal of preparation, even though it does not require costly or complicated equipment. A family may spend an entire winter tying threads into bundles for dyeing to make one double kasuri kimono. During this time, they might entertain each other with stories of Tanabata, the heavenly weaver, who pined for her husband Kengyu until the birds of heaven wove a bridge of their wings to unite the lovers.

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