A Mother’s Touch

Japanese sewing boxRecently 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.

sewing basket 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.

Korean sewing tools
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.

handsewn Japanese cloth toys


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.

A child's kimono with sashiko embroidery 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.
Chinese woman sewing

Chinese baby wearing an embroidered hatIn 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.

Chinese papercut pattern for embroidery 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.

Assortment of embroidered toys and children's clothing from China 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!

5 thoughts on “A Mother’s Touch

  1. ebbandflo aka pomomama

    beautiful blog post and thanks for sharing such lovely information. i loved the story behind the animal hats, even though they were intended to face such harsh life realities. my son is running around in a sweater i just finished for him (in time for the summer, with lots of room for growth!) – he was genuinely pleased to see it finished and took an interest in it being made. handmade does mean something different, even to the young.

  2. Jane

    This seems like a lovely exhibition. Amazing, isn’t it the amount of time and effort that goes into all these things that we make for our children (or in my case niece and nephew).
    I have one of those Japanese sewing boxes, nice to think that even so many miles away from it’s original home it is still being used for the original purpose.

    You have my sympanthy for your loss.

    jane

  3. Ellsea

    Thank you so much for sharing this exhibiton with us – yet another well-thought out and well-laid out post, with such clear narrative to give a beautiful insight into another culture, whilst at the same time highlighting our common humanity – a mother’s care for her children.

  4. yoon see

    Wow! I am so happy to find your blog through twitter.
    I love these touching ancient Chinese, Japanese and Korean art and stories.
    Beautiful gem arts from mother to her children does make a different, I am so thrilled that you move to Japan because your son would love to study comic art. You are a great mother and you have sacrificed a lot for your child, I salute you!

  5. Susan Elliott

    LOVED this post! What a beautiful mother’s day tribute even though I’m reading it a month late…I enjoyed it so much I told others about it on my blog post today. Thanks for sharing. Susan

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