Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Pandemic Porch Quilt Show Days 25-28 : Over Japan

 Day #25: Tokyo Life

I made this quilt in 1999, a cathartic project working through memories of living in Japan for a year and a half, in the early 1980s.
Tokyo was indescribably dense, and everything seemed tinier than in the US - cars, furniture, cups, plates, clothes, and especially the people. Most of the women and many of the men were smaller than me - I felt like a massive Barney the Dinosaur, especially when perched on ludicrously petite chairs. Each day, I lumbered through a fascinating shopping street, decorated with strings of artificial flowers. The novelty fabric in the center of this quilt reminded me of those places, and launched me on this quilt.
I added Elvis, plus a couple of more traditional figures. I think the flowers are there to advertise the noisy pachinko (gambling machine) parlors. 

Sometimes, Tokyo's density was intoxicating; but over many months, it became exhausting. I couldn't even begin to wrap my mind around where structures and alleys began and ended. 
There was also an abundance of plastic food in glass cases in front of  tiny restaurants....
And there was as much going on underground as above - not just the subways, but more restaurants, more shops, more vendors, more pedestrian hallways. 

Tokyo's infinite above-ground and below-ground worlds were connected by endless stairs and escalators.

Every scrap of space in Tokyo was occupied. Not one inch  was wasted - and it was also extremely clean. 

Overall, I loved Tokyo. It made NYC feel like a wide-open prairie. So much to learn, see and taste, and above all, endlessly kind, thoughtful and interesting people who did their best to make me feel at home.  

Porch Quilt Show, Day #27.
In the early 90s, I returned to Japan, after an absence of ten years, because my husband had a conference there. In Kyoto, we stopped in a little shop called Aizenkobo.

We found a group of men sitting around; they asked us if we'd like to see a demonstration (or at least I thought that was what they asked), and of course, we said yes. They got busy, dunking and dipping and twisting fabric in massive indigo dye pots. It was just wonderful, right up until the moment that they selected seven pieces of fabric for us, folded them into a little bag, and handed it to us with a bill for I think about $100 US.

I was mortified, but figured I must have agreed to it, so we paid. Those indigo pieces sat in the bag, in my cabinet, for 30 years, until I became an empty nester and had gathered the time and courage to use them. I tried to cut off as little as possible - I may have taken an inch off each piece with this design. Find closeup photos of the Aizenkobo indigos, and other interesting and upcycled details in this quilt, in my blog post here. Below, when I took apart a red polyester kimono in my collection - that's the long rectangle on the far right - I found softer, aged cotton fabric with a gorgeous crane (with purple wing tips), hiding inside (that's the fabric in the middle panel). The blue-and-white panel on the far left is from a light Japanese yukata robe.

Day #26: The Wave
The front of this next quilt was supposed to be the back of the previous quilt. (That's why I put #27 before #26). But I liked it so much that I made it a separate quilt! Along the bottom and toward the top, I created log cabin block reflections of the iconic "Great Wave of Kanagawa" woodblock print by Hokusai, printed on the central banner. Find more photos and information about this quilt in my blog post here.

Day #28: More Japanese Culture
This quilt measures 96" x 75" It features more commercial banners and door curtains. I pieced the vertical side borders from scraps - I especially like the quarter-hexagon design on the left.

Of all the banners on this quilt, the one illustrating sumo positions is my favorite. 
See much more of the vivid Japanese graphics in this quilt in my blog post here. 

More from my pandemic porch quilt show is coming soon!


  1. This post brings back memories of a month my husband and I spent in Japan in 1970. He attended a conference there, and then we toured many places. I also felt “large”, being 5’9” tall. I remember that crowds were mostly the tops of heads. It was indeed a welcoming place, with kind people. I love your quarter hexagons! Dot

    1. I'm so glad you can relate, Dot! I'm 5'6"and wasn't skinny; the sensei in a martial arts class I took there laughed at my big thighs (but in a friendly way....) Thanks for the kind comment.


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