worth getting out of bed for

This morning I broke with my customary weekend habit of switching off the dreaded alarm (I’m not exaggerating about the dread – it often haunts me through the day) and enjoying a rare moment of luxury in bed with no reason to get up, so that I could go on the Oxford Asian Textile Group‘s first outing of 2011 to see Japanese textiles at the Ashmolean Museum. And I’m happy to say that it was definitely worth skipping a lie-in for. We got a guided tour of a fascinating selection of textiles – kimono, fukusa, bits of embroidery, a screen… all sorts. One of the most wonderful things, in my opinion, was a huge (C19?) pattern book, full of all the different stencil patterns that could be printed onto fabric to make into a kimono. I had never seen one of these before, so it was quite a discovery.

We also saw some original stencils such as would have been used to make these samples. They were made out of several layers of mulberry paper, and glued together with persimmon tannin. It must have been such an effort just to make the stencils, let alone print the fabric as well. Similarly amazing, I thought, was a folding screen, which, from a distance looked like a perfectly ordinary screen with little figures embroidered onto the panels.
The four panels contain figures to represent each of the four classes of Japanese society, from the warriors on the right to the merchants on the left. There are several little scenes on every panel, in which people are depicted carrying out the typical activities of their class. However, it was only when you got up close to the screen that you suddenly realised that the figures were not simply 2D embroidery, but 3D appliqued elements, with such realistic human faces that they were almost creepy.
I hate to think how complex these people must have been to make: their features and contours are all picked out perfectly just using the stuffing behind the faces and a few stitches, and their clothes are all folded and draped, just as they would hang on a real person. Quite incredible. All in all, then, I am so very glad I got out this morning. It’s worth breaking with tradition every now and then.