Cotton and Indigo from Japan

I received a review copy of Cotton and Indigo from Japan from Schiffer Publishing a few weeks ago. This contains not only dozens of beautiful fabric designs and quilts, but it takes us on a journey through the hundreds of years where indigo meets cotton in a unique way that only the Japanese can do.

Teresa Wong has a special love and appreciation for this and has done extensive research, not from afar (where she lives in Texas), but she regularly visits Japan and documents what she has found.
Cotton and Indigo from Japan
Here's what the official press release says: 

In Cotton & Indigo from Japan, more than 300 colorful photos and behind-the-scenes details reveal the fascinating story of Japan's cotton and indigo, and their enormous contribution to fiber arts worldwide. Learn how Japan and its top fabric designers, quilters, scientists, and artists combine tradition and high tech to weave the thread, fabrics, and stunning designs that are so coveted in today's fiber art world. Take a tour of Japan’s elite textile printing mills to understand why Japan is considered the world's finest producer of quilting cotton. Learn where all this cotton comes from, and its close connection to another prized plant, indigo. Dozens of beautiful fabric designs and quilts by Shizuko Kuroha, Keiko Goke, Yoshiko Jinzenji, Yoko Saito, and others are featured, as well as cotton and indigo folk textiles through the ages. This journey gives a deeper understanding of the connection between contemporary textile art and Japan's cotton, indigo, and traditions.

Let's SEE just a little bit of what she's discovered.

Teresa shares many, many images of antique textiles. The image here is antique katazomi cotton. She talks about it on pages 78 and 84. Basically, this decoration is made by using a combination of stencils and paste resist. Blue and white is such a traditional color combination. But how do they get that blue?
Antique katazomi cotton
First, we need to consider the fabric itself. Cotton! We quilters LOVE cotton. We know how it feels in our hands, how it behaves when we stitch it, and how it behaves when we wash it. Cotton is king and the king of cotton is found in Texas.

The state of Texas is the single largest cotton producing state in the US. Japan is typically among the top ten export destinations for American cotton.
Cotton growing near Lubbock, Texas
This certainly doesn't look like the white Kona cotton I have in my stash, does it? But we start with these cotton bolls and then the factories work their magic.
More cotton
Now it's time to dye the cotton fabric. In Japan indigo is a magical, mysterious, and mighty color. For centuries, indigo dyers closely guarded the secrets of their craft. But one could always distinguish the indigo dyers by their permanently-dyed, blue hands. Read more about this on page 123.
Toru Shimomura has those permanently dyed blue hands, just like the indigo heroes of his past.
A modern day quilter used antique cottons to make this beautiful quilt below. Tamiko Mawatari has been working with traditional folk textiles for many decades and scours many Japanese antique dealers and markets to find just what will work with a design she has in mind.
Quilt by Tamiko Mawatari, 2008 (page 68)
Now, this was a fascinating picture (below). Can you believe this is a fireman's coat? Not from today, but from many years ago. The fireman wore the coat with the highly decorated part inside while he fought the fire, and once it was extinguished, the coat would be reversed to display the colorful insignia. Amazing. You can read more about this use of indigo for firemen's garments on page 80.

Antique cotton fireman's coat (page 80)
When I think of Japan, I think of kimono. I once bought a lot (by weight) of about 30 kimono. I was going to take them apart and make quilts with them. But they were too beautiful. So, I sold them and just gave the last two away to my sister in law, Sarah, the other day. She loves them. They are so beautifully lined, as you can see in this example below.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it became popular to show just a small spot of red in clothing -- either through the lining of a kimono or red undergarments. That's what it says on page 90. (No kidding! I don't think I have any red underwear. And I don't think I would reveal it out in public even if I did. My husband would have a heart attack!)

"Safflower red" dyed cotton textiles were very popular during the Edo period (page 90)

One more photo that is a small snippet of a larger quilt. This is improvisational and the colors are so vibrant! Wish you could see the entire thing. (Go buy the book and you can, right?)

Detail of a quilt by Yasuko Saito. Movement #80, 2016 (page 35)
Here's another beautiful quilt by designer Yoko Ueda:

Quilt by Yoko Ueda
I have some older pieces of sashiko that I started stitching about 20 years ago. Some day I may finish! I just dug these out. What do you think?

Sashiko with stencils so I can follow the lines
I have a few small pieces of Japanese fabrics with blues. You can also see the woven ribbon. I know there's a name for it, but I can't remember the real term! I just know it's beautiful
this piece is finished, but I don't know what to do with it
What do you think of this fisherman's coat? Each patch features a traditional sashiko design. Wow! That's a lot of stitching for a man who worked with smelly fish. Wonder what his wife thought about him wearing something she spent a thousand hours making!

Fisherman's jacket, front
And the back is just as exquisite!

This is the backside of an exquisite fisherman's coat (pg 89)
You can find a great price on this book at Teresa Wong's site. Retail, $34.99. Teresa's price: $25.00, and she will sign your copy!

Check out Schiffer's Twitter account. (This stuff doesn't make sense to me, so if you can figure out what these symbols mean, more power to you: #schifferpublishing and/or @schifferbooks (FB/Insta/Pinterest); @schifferpublishing (Twitter))

Thank you, Schiffer and Teresa for such beautiful examples of textiles and fibers. We quilters love this stuff and I'm going to go read more from this book with my lunch today.


  1. Debby: Thanks for your post on my new book. I appreciate you taking the time to read it and share it. There's lots of great stories in here quilters will love. And keep stitching on your sashiko. It looks great! Teresa

  2. Thank you for sharing all these interesting tidbits about indigo. I knew a small part, but she's done the work to know so much.


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