I’m still in ‘Japanese make do and mend’ mode (after Monday’s post on Kintsugi) and have another recycle-y word for you, Mottainai, which is Japanese for ‘waste not, want not’ or the beauty of respectful reuse of fabrics until they are completely spent (which is how the Japanese would say it).
Japan spent a long time cut off from the world when very little importing of any textile was done, so fabric was carefully recycled by patching and strengthening with embroidery to make it last as long as possible, which was known as mottainai. Just as our parents yelled at us to ‘waste not , want not’, so Japanese parents would hurl the same ‘mottainai!” verbal at their kids.
Much like here, Japan is now a buy-and-throw society, but there’s a growing movement to re visit these traditional techniques and a few artisan craftsmen are making new products using old ideas. My absolute favourite was the reusing of the cotton sakabukuro fabric bags used to strain and purify sake during production. The precious bags are patched up and cured (using the juice of persimmons) to make them last as long as possible, the really old ones end up looking and feeling like leather. You can buy the redundant sake bags on sites like Kimonoboy’s Textiles, (more on this below).
Retailer Naho Rokkoji, from the Hitomonokoto store in Japan, got his mate Takumi Kimura, a leather craftsman, to come up with a tote bag design (top photo) called Shib, made in the old sake bags, lined in antique fishing boat sails which you can buy online here, but really I think someone should tell Stella McCartney as they are crying out to be used in her non-leather range somewhere.
Another lovely example of mottainai can be seen in old textiles that can be found if you search VERY hard in Japan. Because farm workers were poor, they patched and patched their bedlinen and work clothes (mostly indigo dyed) and then handed them down through families, creating the most exquisite examples of mottainai. It is not unusual to find examples of old jackets with fabric patches from the Edo period (1603-1867). There was a great exhibition of old futon covers, farm workers clothing and kimonos in Portland’s Japanese Garden if any of our US readers were lucky enough to visit (nice pictures of it here).
Interested parties might like to know about a dangerously well stocked website called Kimonoboy Textiles, based in Fukuoka (they ship) which has some really wonderful mottainai examples of both the sake bags, futon covers and traditional Japanese workwear.
TEXTILE AND INDIGO GEEK KLAXON! Do NOT go on this site if you have difficulty resisting vintage textiles, just don’t, and for heavens sakes DON’T click on the button that say’s Tattered Treasures.
It’s patching, darning and quilting all the way for 2012 for me. Mottainai!