Sunday, October 11, 2015

Visiting the Kyoto Costume Institute, Kyoto, Japan

Anyone who is seriously interested in Fashion History probably owns the book called Fashion. (ISBN3-8228-1206-4)  Within the book are photographs and details about costumes from the 18th to 20th centuries, as found in the Kyoto Costume Institute. Here is an image of the different covers you may find. Note: Sometimes the book is in two parts.

Various versions of the book Fashion by Taschen

While in Kyoto, I was fortunate to be able to visit the Kyoto Costume Institute and spend an hour looking at several pieces in the archives of the collection. The Institute’s corporate sponsor is WACOAL CORP., a clothing manufacturer who specialized in underclothing.

The Kyoto Costume Institute is not really a museum, although they do host exhibits at their location at times. More so, they are an Institute, whose role it is, to collect and document fashion costume from all parts of the world and through time. They work with various museums around the world (e.g. the Metropolitan, Seattle Art Museum), loaning, and coordinating exhibits. If you saw the Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion at the Seattle Art Museum (or other venue), then you were looking at many items from the Kyoto Institute.

Prior to my visit, I had communicated with one of a curator, Rie Nii, and discussed my interest to see unique fabrics in costume, used through history. As a result, the staff had selected about 10 garments for me to see.  Photographs were not allowed, and so, I will direct you to the visuals of some of the garments through online links. There are about 200 items in the online archive, and they are organized by silhouette. Enjoy the entire collection.

Online Digital Archives

Make sure you use the magnifying feature to see closeups of each garment!

The book, Fashion, is available in a few formats (single or double volume), and the covers vary. 
As I walk you through the various garments I saw, I will refer to the page number in the single volume Taschen book.

Page 17
Probably the most exciting item I was able to see was a bodice owned by Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). This is the oldest piece in the collection, and sadly, it isn’t in the online digital archive, so hopefully you have the book.  The bodice was probably given to the Queen by the mother of Robert Devereux, in hopes of gaining a pardon for her son. The bodice did not serve its purpose, however and Devereux was beheaded. This piece is made of a plain-weave linen and then heavily embroidered with metal and silk threads using plant and floral motifs.

Page 69

Let’s look now at a dress know as a “robe à la française". This one dates to the late 18th century.
This dress is made of a silk brocade, woven in Lyon, France (the silk capital of France). It has a matching petticoat and stomacher, and is heavily embellished with passementerie (elaborate decorative trimmings).

Page 226

This garment called a visite was popular in the late 1800’s. It is essentially a cashmere shawl (whose popularity started with Napoleon’s Josephine) that has been sewn into a coat (as was the practice in the late 18th century). Zoom into this one, so that you can see the amazing imagery woven into the cloth. The fabric was woven in Lyon, France.

Pages 260-261
Next, we have a Charles Frederick Worth Dinner Dress, c. 1883.

Worth is considered to be the first couturier. This gown, is made of a deep red silk velvet. The pile of the velvet appears in stripe and leaves (make sure you zoom into the image to see this detail). A bustle would be worn under this gown, in order to give the silhouette you see.

Pages 342-343

If you like crochet, you will love this Italian dress made from Irish cotton. Crocheted motifs of flowers and dragonflies are everywhere throughout the gown. I can’t imagine how long it took to make this.

Pages 442-443

Now, let’s look at a cape by French fashion designer Paul Poiret, 1925. The textile design was by an artist Raoul Dufy. Poiret often collaborated with artists to bring art and fashion together. The cut of the cape itself is simple, basically a rectangle, but the design of the cloth (an orange lamé jacquard) with the print on top is what becomes the focal interest.

Page 482

Elsa Schiaparreli was an Italian designer, who incorporated elements of current art movements into her designs. This evening cape from 1938 is made of black velvet and is heavily embellished with gold thread embroider, sequins and beads. The image is of the Greek God Apollo.

I am very grateful to the curators who took the time out of their busy day to allow me to view first-hand garments I’ve discussed in my Fashion History lectures. Looking at them was such a fantastic experience.

The Kyoto Costume Institute
Kyoto, Japan

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Indigo Dyeing with Hirojuki Shindo in Japan

Two trains and two buses. That is what it took for us to get to the magical village of Kita in Miyama, which lies 60 km north of Kyoto, Japan.


The goal; to visit the Little Indigo Museum, and meet Hiroyuki Shindo, a master of Indigo dyeing. He is known in the fiber arts community and has shown his art indigo pieces in numerous major museums throughout the world.

Shindo-san and his family live in Kita, a village composed of amazing thatched-roof dwellings, many of which are more than 200 years old. The Little Indigo Museum’s dwelling is the oldest, and functions not only as a museum, but a workspace, and living quarters.
A typical house in the village of Kita
The Shindo family was most gracious. The museum, in the upstairs of the home held many examples of indigo fabrics, demonstrating dyeing and printing techniques from around the world.
A view of part of the Indigo Exhibit

A fringed indigo veil worn by a Berber bride in Tunisa 
18th century Indigo print, France

Shindo-san cutting hemp for our projects
The workshop part of our visit allowed us to experience indigo dyeing first-hand. Shindo-san provided each of us with a meter of vintage hemp, and discussed various techniques we could apply using a clamp-resist process. 

The first step was to fold the fabric vertically, so as to expose as much of it as possible in the dye bath. Then, we sandwiched the fabric between wood pieces and clamped them in place.
Folding the fabric vertically
Folding the fabric vertically
Off to the dye vats!

Indigo Plants
Dried Indigo

Indigo, as a dye substance, is processed from the leaves of the indigo plant.
Here you can see the plants, and leaves once dried, that will be pulverized for use. I was intrigued to learn that a healthy dye bath will be capped with a crowing ‘flower’ formed through a vigorous stirring process, which signifies a healthy ph value.
Stirring to create the 'flower'
The 'flower'
Don and I decided to use two different techniques. I dipped my cloth completely, and Don space-dyed his, meaning he kept part of his cloth from immersing in the fabric.

The amazing thing about indigo dyeing, is that the bath is a yellowish-green. One doesn’t start to see the blue/navy until oxidation takes place. This can happen through exposure to the air, or through the oxygen in water.
 Here you can see my fabric as I have unclamped the wood.

Here are our finished pieces; This was too much fun!
Don's space-dyed piece (left) and my complete immersed piece (right)
This visit was one of the highlights of my Japan trip. I cannot thank the Shindo family enough for their generosity in sharing and in spirit.

To learn more about Hirojuki Shindo and his Little Indigo Museum, click on the link below: