Saturday, July 21, 2018

Shishu (Japanese Embroidery) [1]
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Embroidery is an ancient form of decoration that was introduced to Japan in the sixth century. A Chinese embroiderer was brought to Japan by Kibi no Makabi, a Buddhist priest, on his return from China. That Chinese craftsman became the first nuimonoshi - a person who embroiders textiles in many colored threads. At the beginning, embroidery was used to apply additional decoration to the woven and dyed cloth, but later embroidered design was used as an alternative for achieving the same effect as brocade, and was considered very valuable.

Embroidered Shakyamuni preaching to the disciples surrounding him.
Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), China.
National Treasure [1].
Courtesy of Tokyo National Museum.

Shishu (Japanese Embroidery)[1]
The oldest embroidered cloth in Japan, Tenjukoku Mandala (Heavenly Paradise Mandala), in Chuguji temple at Nara, is a silk ra executed during the first part of the seventh century. Only a small piece of the original embroidered silk remains intact. It is in the form of Chinese characters stitched in parallel lines of twisted silk thread on the backs of two tortoises.

As early as the Jōmon period (14,000 – 300 BC) people used fishbone needles for simple stitchery. By the seventh, creative stitching decorated ceremonial robes for the emperor and nobility. However most of the early embroideries were used for Buddhist banners, sewn by friends and relatives of the deceased for the purpose of helping them along their way to heaven.

Artist Unknown: Ladies-in waiting. Year 622.
Medium: Silk thread on gauze and twill.
Subject Tenjukoku 天寿国, "The Land of Infinite Life".
Dimensions: 89 cm × 83 cm (35 in × 33 in).
Designation: National Treasure of Japan.
Location: Nara National Museum, Nara.

During the Muromachi Period (1336 - 1573), embroidery was used as a substitute for expensive brocades. This versatile form of fabric decoration appeared on kosode and Noh costumes, which glittered with nuihaku (the combination of embroidery and imprinted gold or silver leaf). The softer silks of the Momoyama period (1568 – 1600) were embellished with stitchery, using untwisted silk and gold or silver thread to create small, simple designs.

Back of kosode (short-sleeved kimono) with alternating blocks of flowers and plants in embroidery and gold leaf. Momoyama Period (1568 – 1600).

By the end of this affluent era, embroidery had reached its height. Under the patronage of Toyotomi Hidewyoshi, fabulous Noh costumes and kimono entirely covered with embroidered designs were created.

In the isolation of the Edo period (1603 - 1868) embroidered motifs became more Japanese in style and the popularity of this decoration increased. Embroidery was in such high demand that one shogun ordered thirty-two elaborate embroidered kimono's over a period of sixteen years.

Gorgeous embroidery work on a black rinzu kosode with motifs of pine, bamboo. chrysanthemums, rippling water, snowy herrons and baskets in rich colors. Family crest is done by gold couching.
Edo period (1603 - 1868).
Courtesy of the Tokyo National Museum.

With a thinner thread careful couching is done over the silver or gold thread [1].

Embroidered forewomen's headgear with gold thread couching.
Edo period (1603 - 1868).
Courtesy of the Tokyo National Museum.

The popularity of this decorative form soon declined, because of its extravagance, and moreover, the simpler and less expensive method of appliqué emerged.

Magnificant Noh costume embroidered all over with exceptionally dainty autumn-flower motifs on a black background.
Courtesy of Eisei Bunko collection [1].

Flying birds, weepy cherry tree in bloom, and ocean wave on an obi by Shizuka Kusano.

Roundels of plum, chrysanthemum, pine, maple, peony, bamboo and bellflower in a basket pattern by Mitsuko Kashimura [1].

Lower part of a kimono embroidered in motifs of pretty flowers, grass, and shippo tsunagi (interlocking rings) in bright colors by Shizuka Kusano.

Japanese embroidery employs several stitches, some of which are: French knot (sagaranumi, dating from the Nara period (710 to 794 AD); the outline satin stitch (nuikiri); back-stitch outline (matsuinui); satin stitch (warinui); and long couched stitches (watashinui). The gold or silver thread used for couching is made by wrapping silk thread with gold and silver covered paper. This thread is applied to the fabric by stitching it down with a very thin filament. Couching is used to highlight dyed kimono and to apply the family crest (kamon) used on the outer garments for family identification.

For obi embroidered with different techniques by Hyakutei Hashio. The flowers appeared as if they have been dyed rather than stitched[1].

[1] S. Yang, and R.M. Narasin, Textile Art of Japan, Shufunotomo, Tokyo (1989).

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