Textile Talk

Quilts and tradition in La Conner


There’s a new exhibit of Japanese textile art—the ninth—currently on view at the La Conner Quilt and Textile Museum

In fact, there are two simultaneous shows: “Wishes Through Our Hands” is a collaboration of three teachers and 15 of their students, and “Works of Junko Maeda,” a one-woman effort. 

The artwork on display has been created out of salvaged, traditional clothing and household materials: kimonos, futons, comforters (kaimaki), work clothes, flour sacks, aprons, banners, hand towels, diapers and even hand-woven mosquito nets! 

These traditional objects, formerly passed down from one generation to the next, are now being thrown out by the young, who prefer Western-style, mass-produced stuff. Thus, there are two levels of artistry: the quilter and the anonymous craftspeople who handmade the everyday clothing, bedding and other textiles in years gone by. 

“Wishes Through Our Hands” consists of large, showy quilts for the most part assembled from pieces of discarded cotton, silk and linen kimonos. They are a payback for quilts that Americans sent to the victims of the tsunami. 

A piece by Sachiko Yoshida, “Hearts are Linked,” is a vast and beautiful meditation of circles and linkages, in which she expresses her sorrow for the suffering people in the tsunami region. The colored pieces, all stitched and quilted by hand, shade from crimson in the upper lefthand corner to indigo in the lower right.

Perhaps the most ambitious quilt from the standpoint of composition and pictorial representation is the Matsuri quilt by Tomoko Imagawa. Matsuri are Japanese festivals, celebrating flowers, stars, temples, kite-flying, ancestral spirits, the moon, traditional foods, folk dancing, etc.  Imagawa’s 68 x 52-inch work consists of four irregularly shaped, conjoined panels, each depicting crowds of people in—to our minds—bizarre costumes, celebrating in very different ways.

And don’t miss “Whisper of the Wind,” on the narrow back stairway, a delicate piece by Yureko Matsumoto:  a pojagi, a traditional Korean patchwork of light stitch-work, white on white.

Pojagi also feature in the work of Junko Maeda, who is a prominent quilter in Japan. She has visited Korea to learn the techniques and this tradition of women piecing together scraps of old textiles into new uses, one of the ways they kept family memories and tradition alive.

Maeda’s art fills the third floor of the Gaches mansion. Especially interesting is her work with the men’s work jackets called hanten, discarded in favor of jean jackets and polyester. She collected and repurposed many into miniatures, one-sixth size, retaining the style, the wear marks and patches, of the originals.  These can now be appreciated as works of art. 

There are examples of the complicated and difficult weaving technique kasuri; the warp and weft are separately bound and dyed before weaving. The weaver makes precise calculations to have the pattern come out exactly right on the loom, and both faces of the material appear identical. Kasuri fabrics exhibit a subtle, blurred appearance, unlike anything in mass-produced material.

A careful look at the work of all the artists reveals their intention to pay tribute to relics of the past as objects worthy of deference and respect—not merely as attractive or curious things. We can only imagine the depth of meaning they have for a Japanese audience.

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