Saturday, August 22, 2009


Mottainai (もったいない, 勿体無い) is a Japanese term meaning "a sense of regret concerning waste when the intrinsic value of an object or resource is not properly utilized." It is originally a buddhist term that refers to the essence of things. It also applies to everything in the physical universe, suggesting that objects do not exist in isolation but are intrinsically linked to one

Nai is a negation, and an expression of sadness over the repudiation of the ties linking all living and nonliving entities. It is also a concept that reestablishes such bonds and reasserts the importance of treating all animate and inanimate objects with great care. It can be understood as "What a waste", or the misuse of something that can be made valuable. It is finding the Buddha in the fabric.

It is similar to the concept of Gaia. Gaia is the Greek supreme goddess of Earth. The Gaia concept is an ecological hypothesis that the Earth is a self regulating complex interacting system that maintains everything, and that the climatic and biogeochemical conditions are interlocked.

The fabrics are pieced with no apparent pattern except for the aim of making a larger piece of cloth from the scraps.

They speak of decades of hardship in the home that made them. Each scrap sewn with care to cover damage incurred by use, giving it yet another life. They speak of an abhorrence of waste, of creatively making something new from something old, making something from leftovers.

The pieces are sewn together sometimes with sashiko stitches. These fabrics can be made of either cotton, hemp or a combination of both. and almost all of the pieces shown will be indigo dyed in solids, shibori, kasuri (ikat), or shima (stripe) patterns; many will have combinations of multiple patterns.

This concept was an important one for western quilters of previous centuries who creatively made something new from collages of pieces of cloth that were pieced together in specific patterns.

The Japanese used the cloth to mend holes, reinforce worn areas of sleeping futon or work clothes. The cloth is layered to increase warmth and durability. The cloths are used to make futon, cushion covers (zabuton), furoshiki, dust and floor rags. Created because of the need for mending cloth, it is an unplanned art form. They are what happens when design and composition are intuitive and what exists determines the possibilities.

The sheer variety of tones of indigo, the juxtaposition of pattern, the scale changes between patterns and patches, the free-form and meandering stitching, the random assortment of color combinations is very beautiful.

The images of boro and ranru are used with the permission of

Thursday, August 20, 2009



Because of climate, the growth of certain dye plants in India made available the raw ingredients necessary to print and paint bright colors on cotton. The availability of these dye plants, the time consuming processes to use these dyes on cloth and the dangers of travel before the 16th century made these dyes, fabrics and techniques relatively unknown in Europe prior to the 16th century.

In the West, the earliest recorded description of printed fabrics come from the Greek geographer Strabo (63 BC-20 AD). In the middle of the 17th century the Dutch and English, while trading in India, realized there would be a market for these printed textiles. They began to import them to Europe. By the end of the 17th century the popularity of these printed and painted fabrics, called chintz in the West, was well established.

In the East, during the Nara period (646-794 AD), the Japanese had became proficient in obtaining beautiful colors and patterns with simplified resist techniques using the same dyes. Much of their information on dyeing is thought to have come from India through China and Korea. The dyes and dyeing techniques brought by immigrants from Korea and China changed not only Japanese dress but introduced more colorful fabrics, as it did in the West 10 centuries later. The dyes affected the techniques used to pattern cloth and resulted in fabric that was typically Japanese.

Traditional Japanese resist dyeing techniques are the result of highly specialized craftsmen whose precision indicates that their skills were developed over a long period of time. The dye processes they used were time consuming, precise, tedious and labor intensive.

The Meiji restoration of 1867 brought reforms to Japan and contact with the West. Imported textile machines and synthetic dyes initiated changes and dye standards deteriorated. The dyeing techniques which do not lend themselves to mass production continue today mainly because of the Japanese appreciation of hand-crafted works. In Japan, the old dyes lacked a name to differentiate them from synthetic dyes. In 1958 Akira Yamazaki coined the term Kusaki-zome.

Kusaki-zome dyes may be applied to natural fabrics or yarn by immersion into a dye vat (batik or tie-dye) or by direct application (painting, printing or stenciling).

The kusaki-zome method of dyeing involves extracting the dyes from the dye material and making highly concentrated, stock solutions that can be stored in the refrigerator until needed.

The dyes can be purchased from dye companies, herb companies, the supermarket, grown in the garden or foraged in the fields. These dyes may be used on any natural fiber: cotton, linen, wool, silk, ramie, and viscose rayon. © M Joan Lintault