There is currently an exhibition on at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Melbourne, entitled "Blue: Alchemy of a Colour" (until 20th March) that analyses the meaning and history of the blue shade through highly detailed textiles, ceramics, and exquisite works on paper from the 7th century to the present (all of them selected from the NGV's Asian Art Collection). The event looks at the meaning and symbolism behind all the guises and interpretations of this colour, from indigo and cobalt to Prussian and ultramarine blue. Textiles are among the most intriguing pieces included in the event, from Japanese indigo dyed garments to an indigo Burmese jacket, and an 18th century English cotton bodice.
The event also explains visitors how indigo blue is sourced from plant species found across the world and is used as a textile dye and paint pigment. Intricately patterned and expertly crafted indigo textiles from Egypt, Japan, China, Central Asia, India, Indonesia and Italy are on display.
One of the most interesting pieces is a cotton rag kimono (Noragi ranru) from the Meiji period (1868-1912). The feudal government encouraged frugality and attempted through sumptuary laws to ban the wearing of silk clothes by merchants and commoners, so cotton became widespread in Japan by the middle of the Edo period (1615-1868). Indigo dye also became widely used at this time and indigo blue cotton garments came to signify the working-class status of the wearer.
The rag kimono included in this exhibition comes in a style commonly worn by impoverished rural workers and integrates many different types of resist-dyed (kasuri) fabrics from old garments held together with sashiko stitching, a quilting technique consisting in a running stitch used to impart warmth and strength to garments.
There were a few garments in Visvim's A/W 2016 collection - presented during New York Fashion Week - that seemed directly linked to this piece. Visvim's designer Hiroki Nakamura has a passion for learning and reinterpreting handcrafted methods, and quite often turns to vintage suppliers or unknown and obscure craft laboratories to research and rescue artisanal techniques.
Both men's and women's jackets from the next Autumnal season directly borrowed from sakiori (rag weaving) as they were made with bits and pieces of cotton taken from other garments. Nakamura's wife Kelsi also came up with kimonos that integrated in patchwork formations velvet, denim, and other recycled materials. Fabrics (hand dyed with vegetable products) went from indigo to peach.
Wool arrived in Japan later on with the Europeans, and, to pay homage to this material, Nakamura created a kimono made with Harris tweed from Scotland after seeing a woollen men's kimono in a museum. Sashiko stitching was also used in this collection as the finishing for a padded men's dotera jacket with a light silk layer replacing the down filling.
There is actually another beautiful piece in the "Blue" event at the NGV, a Summer kimono (Yukata) from the Meiji period covered in floral motifs (the kimono features more than ten different types of flowers, such as hydrangeas, clematises, chrysanthemums, wisteria, irises, peonies, plum blossoms, lilies, bush clovers and bell flowers). This piece was made using natural indigo painted with a traditional Japanese tsutsugaki yuzen resist-dyeing technique, where a glutinous mix of rice flour and water is applied to the cotton fabric using a tool similar to a cake icing bag with narrow nozzle. Seeing the final results, this seems to be another technique worthy of being rediscovered and reinterpreted in a modern collection.
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos