Sunday, September 9, 2018

Over Japan, Quilt 1 (As in: You Never Get Over Japan)

If anyone asked me what country red, white and blue represents, I'd mention the US, of course; the French flag; and then I'd tell them about Japan's traditional fabrics and quilts. My 75" x 96" quilt below is a tribute to the latter. 
Most fabrics in the large blue rectangles (each about 14" x 19") were dyed in Japan in the early 1990s. I can testify to that fact in a court of law, because I was there.

My husband had a conference in Japan, and I tagged along. I had lived in Tokyo a decade earlier, for about a year, so I was thrilled to re-visit old friends and haunts. I was also a spanking-new quilter, with an eye out for fabric. Our trip took us to Kyoto, and - I can't remember whether it happened on purpose or by accident - we came across a  shop called Aizenkobo, where they stencilled and dyed fabrics with natural, fermented indigo dyes. (It's still there!) Here's a photo from their website:
Not much was happening when we walked in, but our presence seemed to inspire them. They suddenly got busy, dunking and wringing and rinsing fabric in wooden barrels with dye that looks dark green at that stage. My Japanese was terrible enough to be dangerous, so their explanations were mostly lost on me, and I did quite a bit of nodding. Which would have consequences.

After about a half-hour of enjoying the show, they folded up 7 of pieces of gorgeous fabric, placed them into a small blue paper bag -  and handed it to us, along with a bill for about $100.

I was shocked, but way too polite to decline - there was a fair chance that I had agreed to buy it - so we paid and brought it home. This bag sat in my stash for about 25 years, just getting more wrinkled (like me).
I was saving it for something great. That day came this year. Nothing great happened, I just hit a significant birthday and realized it was time to use my Japanese fabric collection.

Although I hadn't returned to Japan, I had by then collected MUCH more Japanese fabric - surprisingly easy in Los Angeles, if you visit flea markets and thrift shops, and have friends who are well-travelled and don't know what to do with their textile souvenirs. My collection included everything from kimono and obis (formal belts), to noren door curtains, handkerchiefs, furoshiki carrying cloths, kasuri ikat fabrics, geometric blue-and-white yukata fabric (bathrobe-like lightweight robes), tablecloths, and much more.

I figured I'd make one giant quilt. Instead, my collection has so far generated THREE queen-size quilts, - six sides, front and back - using a wide array of Japanese and Japanesque fabrics - and I still have enough scraps leftover for more!

At the top of the quilt above, the flying geese (literally!) (herons?) are from a dissected three-panel door curtain. The horizontal strip above them is from a kasuri jacket.
All six fabrics in the top and second rows of dark blue rectangles are from Aizenkobo.
A bit closer: 
Some are merely wonderful, and some are killer. Like the one in the center above, closer:  
The second row:
The wavy one in the upper middle deserves its own photo - it could be a quilting design too, right?
In the third row down, below, the fabric in the middle is from the Aizenkobo pack
It's dawning on me right now as I look at this photo that I installed this panel upside-down! Oh well. The fabric on the far right (below) is from a pair of  farmer's pants I wore in Japan in the 1980s, and on the far left is a heavy blue fabric from I-have-no-idea-where! It may not even be Japanese! (If you know, please tell me!)
The sashing that separates them is cotton from a lightweight yukata robe. A view of the lower right corner of the quilt is below. The red vertical strip on the far right is from a vivid polyester hand-stitched kimono; the fabric to its immediate left I found hidden inside the lining of the same polyester kimono! It's much more worn, gorgeous, cotton print fabric. 
On the opposite side, the wing on the right was in the hidden lining - unfortunately, the head of that bird was not found. 
In the nine-patch above, the red floating flower squares are from a town dump on the Japanese island of Hachijo-jima, where we visited a friend who frequents said dump. There's a dark blue fabric with brown stylized fish, which was a tablecloth; and dark blue-and-white flowers and origami birds were commercial quilting fabrics. 

There's really no place like Japan, and there's nothing quite as wonderful as Japanese fabrics. More quilts made from my extensive collection coming soon!

Note: I redesigned my blog and changed the look of the header and text. I hope this is easier to read, but your feedback would be valuable! Do you like the new design better? Are san serif fonts readable? Email me at 


  1. The blog design is great. The plain background makes everything easy to read, and makes the pictures shine on their own. This is a gorgeous quilt! I have Japanese fabric too that I need to use.

    1. Thank you for the feedback, Shasta! I'm usually worried that san serif fonts are harder to read!

  2. I love the quilt you made! It’s wonderful. I love your article about the Japanese fabric. Hugs,

  3. Love the header quilt so very much! And the Japanese one is delightful and makes me think about digging out my stash of Japanese fabric and kimono also! So inspirational! the font looks great from here...

    1. Dig it out, Jeri, and then let me know if you need more - I have plenty of leftovers!

  4. Love the quilt and the stories and, as always, your writing! The blog looks great...I'm a san serif font fan.

    1. Thanks, Sherry, and I'm glad you found the san serif readable! I like the way it looks, but hoping it reads as easily!

  5. Love the new look, and love the quilt and the story!

  6. The redesigned blog is fresh and modern, and the "timeline" horizontal from your newest mod cityscape looks so vibrant. You are so prolific, I suppose we can allow you to make trad quilts once in a while...

    1. Thanks Eleanor, for the website analysis and the permission to make traditional quilts! I appreciate both!


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