Three Books on Japanese Quilts

Japanese Quilts
Jill Liddell, Yuko Wantabe
E. P. Dutton, NY, 1988 $24.95 Out of Print

The Changing Seasons: Quilt Patterns from Japan
Jill Liddell with Patchwork Quilt Tsushin
Dutton Studio Books, NY, 1992 $25.00

Sashiko and Beyond: Techniques and projects for quilting in the Japanese style
Saikoh Takano Chilton Book Company,
Radnor, PA 1993 $19.95

Reviewed by Addy Harkavy

Quilting in Japan is both old and new. Old in that applique, quilting, and patchwork have been used for centuries in Japan, and new in that contemporary quilters in Japan have adapted western-style quilting to produce some of the world's most fascinating and beautiful quilts.

Although Japanese Quilts, by Liddell and Wantabe, is now out of print, it is available in many libraries and as a used book. It is discussed here because it contains fascinating writing complimented by photographs of magnificent quilts. In short, it is an inspiration to any who are interested in Asian quilting in general and Japanese quilting in particular. "Threads of History," the introductory section, places quilting in Asia in an historical context that long predates the Western missionaries who brought with them their own forms of patchwork. Quilting was not only decorative but functional; quilted armor protected warriors in 16th century Japan, and later, bullet-proof vests were made by inserting plates of horn or metal into quilted channels. Not only did early Asian quilters conserve old textiles by recycling them into other functional objects, they created new fabrics and designs as have other quilters throughout the world. Book Review Image

Each of the following chapters discusses the type of quilt in question and provides an in-depth caption that helps readers move past the visual impact of each quilt to a greater understanding of its design, origin, and construction.

Liddell and Wantabe meticulously trace the merger of American patchwork with Japanese culture in a section titled "American Patterns--Hybrid Quilts" . Each of these quilts is visually stimulating and represents a transitional phase in which American patterns were approached with Japanese interpretations. At the end of this section, the authors show an innovative technique for piecing intricate curves. This spoke eloquently to me, since I am always on the lookout for more and better ways to execute designs in fiber. The next section, aptly titled "Japanese Designs" is simply breathtaking. Some of the motifs take my mind to motifs frequently seen in Japanese paintings, and others embody symbols, such as the origami crane. In the example shown, the crane appears three-dimensional, without disturbing the overall harmonious appearance of the quilt. Another quilt in this section, Iroha Characters, uses old blue jeans for the background and incorporates inner linings of neckties and woolen fabrics. Next, a collection called "Blue-and-White Quilts" shows an inner city design as well as a drunkard's path design that seem familiar yet exotic, as well as a baskets design that gives subtlety a whole new meaning. Other quilts in this chapter are equally spectacular and are more difficult to describe in American quilters' shorthand because their designs are Japanese in origin. The authors go on to Country Textiles and Kamon Quilts to tickle our imaginations and challenge us to go beyond the ordinary ourselves.

I have a copy of this book and refer to it again and again for inspiration and as a design resource. Look for it in your library, and if you can find a used copy, go for it!

Next on the list, Liddell returns with Patchwork Quilt Tsushin. This time the theme is based on the changing of the seasons, showing magnificent quilts to exemplify each. Like the previously mentioned work, this book is a feast for the eyes, the heart, and the mind. Beginning with a section on the traditional patterns of Japan, the authors move on to discuss the Japanese fascination with the changing of the seasons, followed by a magnificent examples that embody spring, summer, autumn, and winter themes, followed by more geometric works. Finally, The Changing Seasons offers tips, techniques, and patterns, along with pattern projects. The next-to-last section briefly covers Sashiko patterns, the topic of the next book to be reviewed.

The Changing Seasons is a book to have and to hold, even if you have a copy of Japanese Quilts.

Finally, Sashiko and Beyond: Techniques and projects for quilting in the Japanese style by Saikoh Takano provides photographs, descriptions, and directions that bring Sashiko within the grasp quilters outside Japan.

Sashiko means "little stabs" or running stitch in Japanese. This technique originated as a means of keeping several layers of fabric together and evolved to an art form characterized by relatively long stitches made with relatively thick thread. Though originally functional in nature, decorative sashiko came into vogue during the eighteenth century as a result of new prosperity and the availability of inexpensive cotton fabrics. As with so many other needlearts, sashiko has a regional character, with different regions of Japan boasting distinctive techniques and patterns. Today, sashiko is frequently used to in designs that include patchwork or applique.

Thorough and well written, Sashiko and Beyond begins with a fascinating introduction, followed by a discussion of materials and equipment. Then it's on to techniques, designs, and putting it all together. Finally, a chapter gives projects such as a placemat, tea cozy, cushion, drawstring bag, teddy bear jacket, vest (termed waistcoat), and three wall hangings that help the reader gain skill and confidence with this wonderful alternative to what those in the U.S. call traditional quilting. An appendix details Japanese decorative knots.

This book is notable for its helpful illustrations, its well worded and complete instructions, and its tone, which helps build confidence. Those interested in sashiko may have to go far to find a better introduction and general reference.


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