Article: Ainu Culture – Garments and Embroideries of the Ainu People

Image by Keisuke Fukamizu

This article, with text by Kosuke Ide and fantastic photographs by Keisuke Fukamizu, examines the clothing of the Ainu people of Hokkaido island, Japan. Ide explains that hundreds of years ago these were made from the animal skins – there was a reference to them wearing “bird skin” as late as the eighteenth century. Over time they began to use fibres obtained from the inner bark of elm and linden trees to weave their textiles.  The cloth woven from these fibres was known as attush, and was sewn into garments primarily used as work clothing. These garments were decorated with patterns embroidered in cotton. Later, as cotton became cheaper and more accessible, they began to use it for their clothing rather than the attush. However the art of making attush has not died out completely. It is still practised by Rumiko Fujitani, using a traditional backstrap loom.

Ide also interviewed Nobuko Tsuda, who has conducted research on traditional Ainu garment culture and for the past 20 years has served as a curator at the Hokkaido Ainu Centre in Sapporo. I was particularly struck by her appreciation of what she refers tom as the “natural imperfections” of Ainu embroidery done in the traditional way, as opposed to the “perfection” which can be achieved using more modern methods.

The full article, which really does have some wonderful images, can be accessed on the visvim website here. Please note that this does take quite a while to load – presumably because of the quality of the images.

Textiles of Japan by Thomas Murray has recently been published by Prestel and contains over 100 pages on Ainu textiles. This book is already available in Europe and will go on sale in the US from 29 January 2019.

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