Sep 1, 2015

Japanese Yukata cotton - perfect for quilters

Japanese Yukata cotton is perfect for quilting. Here's why.

Japan began making cotton textiles at the end of the 19th Century. And ever since then, the Yukata (or summer kimono) has been growing in popularity. Breathable cotton kimonos were a welcome relief from silk during the warm summer months. Historically, the Yukata was also a type of robe worn to the bath houses and hot springs. 

For hundreds of years, all kimono fabric (at first only silk, and then later cotton) has been sold in very long rolls of fabric that are standardized at roughly 14 inches wide.

However, there are some textile producers who are currently producing kimono fabric in 16 or 17 inch widths due to customer demand for larger sizes. The uniform panels are perfect for constructing a kimono --- which is essentially made from 4 panels in the front and 4 panels in the back. And interestingly, this same standardization makes Yukata perfect for forming uniform quilt blocks. Or you can take inspiration from the vibrant colors and mix and match for a completely unexpected look.
Patricia Belyea. Floating World. 40 x 40 inches. Front view. Courtesy of Okan Arts blog.
In recent years, the Yukata has become a fashion icon and many men and women wear colorful Yukata to summer festivals, and sometimes just when they are out and about, especially in Kyoto. Trendy fashion designers and artisan studios are creating stunning Yukata designs today using a combination of time honored dyeing techniques, or even modern digital printing. 

Rolls of Yukata cotton. Photo Courtesy of Okan Arts.
Visit their online site  for more vintage hand-dyed Japanese Yukata cotton!

The hey-day of traditional hand-dyed Yukata cotton is the period following the rapid industrial growth of Japan in the post WW II years. And during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, there was a plethora of beautiful cotton Yukata fabric that was produced, but never sold.

That's where entrepreneurs like Patricia Belyea come in! She makes frequent trips to Japan and scours her special sources to find this unique vintage cotton and she imports these virtually untouched bolts to the United States to sell in her Seattle shop and online.

Her shop is called Okan Arts and she has curated a fantastic selection of this vintage cloth.

Okan Arts has recently commissioned me to sell this cool fabric as I go around the country for my book tour. As I talk to quilt guilds about the history of Japanese quilts, I find that quilters are very interested in these fabrics that can't be found in local retail quilt shops.

Members of the Quilt Guild of Greater Houston, August 2015, shopping for Yukata cotton.

Look at all these gorgeous one-yard cuts of Yukata cotton. So many ideas.... Here's a quilt top I just finished. I used two (one-yard cuts) of this vintage textile. I mixed it with a set of Oakshott shimmering cotton solids. All the piecing was improvisational (no rulers). 

I plan to machine quilt this and I can't wait to see it finished.

The other benefit to these gorgeous panels is they make a perfect backing... just add a strip of something whimsical and a couple of uncut panels of Yukata and you have a striking, completely original backing for your quilt.
Patricia Belyea. Floating World. 40 x 40 inches. Back view. Courtesy of Okan Arts blog.
Patricia at Okan Arts teaches this curved piecing technique and improv style in her classes. More info here. Isn't this stunning?

I hope you enjoyed this post about this interesting Japanese textile.

In a few weeks, I will be returning to Japan and I'll be posting about the wonderful textiles and artists I encounter. Can't wait to share more!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting form a textile and historical point of view. I had never heard pf Yukata fabrics. The Japanese have a rich heritage of fine craftsmanship in so many areas.