Tuesday, August 18, 2009

China Grass

This will be the last post for a little while, as I recover from back surgery, but I wanted to share something I have been thinking about. I bought a piece of fabric not too long ago, for a summer jacket. It has a traditional scrolling vine pattern, but not at all in traditional colors!

This almost quintessentially Japanese pattern is so commonplace that it seems almost trite, but the variety is still enormous. The name is karakusa, which is translated China grass. It has been around since the 7th century when the first patterns arrived from China, but the origins are much older than that, the arabesque designs that came to China via the Silk Road from Persia.
Several years ago I made a coat for a June Colburn challenge in Houston, with the theme of Along the Silk Road. I spent months researching the history of the Silk Road and the treasures at the old capital of Nara still housed there that came over with the first cultural exchange from China and parts further west. This was before I had my basement dye studio so I had to paste large garment fabric on my dining room table. I dyed the large areas stretched outside but I painted the details inside. I tied up the dining room for weeks. I had such fun designing the stencils to reflect all the different design elements that had their origins in various far-flung parts of the Silk Road routes. I masked off areas and pasted the overall arabesque, then added detail stencils in the voids. The lining was a more traditional Japanese karakusa pattern with large imaginary flowers with clematis centers.

That is one of the things I enjoy most about these designs. You see lots of different flowers, frequently cherry or plum blossoms, even chrysanthemums, which are a very stiff upright flower, but in the karakusa convention the Japanese designers manage to make the stems as sinuous as any vine.

Most often they are seen in indigo and are as common for everyday bedding as ticking stripes are for us, although much more beautiful. I have collected many and cut quite a few. Check my website nautilus-fiberarts.com and see how many you can count!

But they do show up in kimono patterns also. Here are two, one dyed in traditional blue on silk and one beautifully dyed bingata style on a haori coat I bought at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. I had no business doing that, but the dyeing was so seductively lovely I just could not resist.

Keep your eyes out, karakusa shows up quite often in ready to wear, and bold details become quite graphic on pillows.


Terry said...

What beautiful stuff! Good thoughts for your surgery and recovery. We missed you at HFD tonight. Take care--

PaMdora said...

You have a lot of beautiful images on your blog. Hope the surgery goes well.

Kit said...

The jacket you made is absolutely gorgeous. What a fascinating approach to a project! I particularly enjoy the bottom border with the checkerboard accent. Good luck during your recovery.