Recently I caught a lovely little exhibit called “A Mother’s Touch”, focused on the interaction between sewing and mothering across China, Korea and Japan.
Along with all sorts of lovely little toys and trinkets that women sew for their children, the exhibit included an assortment of sewing boxes and baskets used in various parts of Asia.
The beautiful wood grained box shown above is one of the styles typical of Japan, while the heart-shaped basket at right is from China. The sewing tools below are from Korea.
Whether a simple basket, a fold of paper or an elaborate wooden box, each of the displays reflected the attention women paid to caring for their needles and threads. And both the containers and their contents often revealed not only the cultural differences but also the cross-cultural universality of sewing.
But the main focus was on the wide variety of hand sewn children’s clothing and cloth toys women made for their children in the countries covered in the exhibit, hence the name “A Mother’s Touch”. Shown at right is a collection from Japan featuring pouches in various styles as well as a few traditional rag-doll babies, all made from an assortment of kimono remnants.
Below is a young boy’s kimono from solid and checkerboard indigo beautifully embroidered with elaborate sashiko designs showing the mother’s wish for her child to be blessed with both wealth and longevity. Note the use of white thread against the blue and blue thread against white.
Sashiko is one of the Japanese embroidery techniques that has become better known in the west. It consists of small evenly spaced running stitches outlining the design and may be purely decorative, as shown in the example at left, or may be used to patch, repair, reinforce or quilt layers of fabric for use in clothing and housewares.
Photos of women stitching, like this Chinese grandmother, were sprinkled throughout the exhibit.
In Guanzhong Region of China, infants and young children are adorned with fabulous little hats embroidered with animal faces. As in many agrarian societies, the mortality rate is high for young children giving rise to a mythology that when demon-spirits looked down and saw a beautiful child, these demons would become jealous and snatch that child away. Thus, the animal hats were an effort to disguise the children, to hide and protect them from jealous demons. Of course, knowledge of disease and medicine has supplanted such mythology, but the tradition of these cute little hats has continued, though I am told that it is, like so many other hand arts, on the edge of disappearing as technology advances.
The individual hat designs are derived from papercuts like the one at right. Folded paper is cut freehand to develop a symmetrical design based a combination of abstract and natural forms. The resultant design is then colorfully re-interpreted with needle and thread making each work a unique piece of art.
But the application of this technique is not limited to children’s hats. At left are a few more examples of little slippers, stuffed toys and pillows. It’s a beautiful folk art that I’d like to investigate further.
With each piece in the exhibit, you could feel the love that added with every stitch—a visual celebration of the bond between mother and child.
And with that thought, may I wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day!