Monday, 26 September 2011

Banana Stock Threads to Fabric: National Treasure

The Okinawan islands are at the very southern tip of the Japanese archipelago. The islands are closer to Taiwan than the actual Japanese main islands. The climate is tropical and the customs and language quite different from the rest of Japan. The islands remained under American jurisdiction after world war two until 1972. The Okinawans have had it tough and still suffer living with huge American Military bases in their midst. Due to the strategic position of the islands it is doubtful that the military bases will be moved.

Kimono from this area has traditionally been made from the stalk of Banana plants. The woven textiles seem to have soaked in the sunshine and the hardship as well as the refinement and strength of the land and the Okinawans.

Taira Toshiko san grew up under the occupation and economically suffered most of her life. I've never met her but I have lifted a few inspirational patterns from her repertoire to use in my own weaving.

The process of making the threads is much like the traditional methods for making thread and weaving other plant fibers. The finished woven rolls of fabric are floated in the salt water to set the weave and color unlike their northern brethren which are laid to set on the cold frozen snow of the snowy regions of Japan. More or less Japan sits on a North-South Axis. The clothing tradition was enriched by the topographical and climate variations.

I would love to take a year off my busy life in the middle of Japan and head south to a slower paced life and study the Okinawan textiles. What a dream...


  1. Bryan that fabric is beautiful.
    What is the texture? stiff like some of the hemp or soft?
    Another lovely post. Thank you.

  2. I look with awe to these unbelivable textiles, you certainly have a lot of knowledge to share.
    And about studying the Okinawan textiles one day: why not, sometimes dreams come true. And if not, dreaming denotes a positive attitude to life!

  3. That fabric looks beautiful, thank you for telling us about it.

  4. I'm reading a full article of Taira Toshiko-san in the Kateigaho International magazine (Vol. 16) from my library. It's very interesting - thanks

  5. i'd love to visit okinawa and taketomi, but it costs as much to get there from honshu that from here to japan :(
    would love to see bashofu being processed and bingata printing.

  6. The cloth is crisper than hemp. It feels much as it looks. It does soften over time and when you wear it the humidity from your body softens it.
    I have some antique pieces that are as stiff as the day they were woven. The color stays much the same over time.

  7. i have loved these cloths since i discovered them. i have a little sample--beautiful. i would like to wear it, or try wearing it.

  8. I have the book "The Origins of Banana-Fibre Cloth in the Ryukyus, Japan" auth. Katrien Hendrickx. It is very detailed but fascinating.