Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at Textile Society of America 11th Biennial Symposium: Textiles as Cultural Expressions, September 4-7, 2008, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Copyright © 2008 Ann Marie Moeller


Ancient luxury fabrics, preserved from as early as the seventh century, testify to the long history of Japanese fascination with symbolic images on cloth. By the nineteenth century Japanese society had developed a complex vocabulary of symbols that was easily identified by both commoners and elites. This paper will explore sophisticated, implied messages expressed in this symbolic language in e-gasuri, a textile technique that came to full flower during the same century. E-gasuri is the Japanese term for the process of resist dying thread (ikat) which skilled artisans used to create pictures – sometimes simple, sometimes intricate-in fabric. Since the threads are dyed before weaving the woven images have blurred outlines which the Japanese find an appealing aspect of the e-gasuri esthetic. All echelons of Japanese society treasured the cloth made with this labor-intensive method and used e-gasuri into the early to mid-twentieth century. Subtlety and erudition are widely honored Japanese values. The paper will demonstrate how both traits can be discovered in the symbolism of e-gasuri textiles. Examples of nineteenth and twentieth century kimono, jackets and futon (bedding) covers will be used in decoding clever visual interpretations of Japanese celebratory phrases. Complicated combinations of common symbols will range from brooms, rakes and pine park signaling wishes for a long and loving marriage to eggplants intrinsic to a New Year’s greeting. E-gasuri textiles, with their indistinct illustrations, provided a medium well suited for expressing ingenious variations of everyday symbols that inferred familiar sayings and concepts.